Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Fish made Winnipeg fans' hearts sing with unlikely wild-card playoff run
WICHITA, Kan. -- Just how the Winnipeg Goldeyes were able to win the American Association championship title may have surprised some onlookers but not those inside the team's clubhouse.
The Goldeyes won the 2012 title on Friday night with an 8-3 win over the Wichita Wingnuts. The Goldeyes swept the Wingnuts 3-0 in the best-of-five series to earn the first baseball title for the Goldeyes since 1994 in their inaugural season when they won the Northern League title.
It's also the first title since 1994 for any professional sports team in Winnipeg.
The Goldeyes, who had led the North Division for 53 days to start of the season before ending up 10 games back of the North champion Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, got into the playoffs with the wild-card berth. The Goldeyes then embarked on a six-game winning streak as they swept both Fargo in the semifinal series and Wichita in the final.
"We didn't just sweep them, we curled them out of here!" shouted Goldeyes first baseman Josh Mazzola, grinning with pride at the win and his clever reference to one of Winnipeg's favourite winter sports.
"Joy, happiness, I'm just so thrilled, honoured privileged. This is something so great, it's so much bigger than the guys on this team," said shortstop Price Kendall, who started the season at second base but changed positions due to injuries.
"I can't stress how much this organization has taken care of me. It made me feel like family. We had fans coming down all the way from Winnipeg, that's a hell of a drive!" said Kendall, referring to about 30 fans who made the 1,510-kilometre trip to Wichita. "They came down to support us. This is just awesome."
Amos Ramon, the Goldeyes third baseman who has made Winnipeg his home for the past couple of years, said the team is proud to bring Winnipeg the professional sports championship it has waited so long to celebrate.
"I just can't believe we just did this. I'm just so glad we did this for them!" Ramon said. "I think the key was that the core of us were able to stay together and, combined with the players that were added, find a way to get it done.
"In the first game against Fargo (a 4-2 win when Ramon hit a two-run home run, had a pair of doubles and three RBI), I think the light went on and we all said 'You know what, we can do this.'"
Key late-season additions included the Aug. 6 trade to obtain outfielder Mike Coles and relief pitcher Chris Allen, the Aug. 14 trade for reliever Jack Van Leur and the Aug. 21 addition of designated hitter Barbaro Canizares. The biggest impact came from the June 18 signing of pitcher Brian Beuning.
Beuning, a Minnesota State Patrol trooper, used part of his parental leave to chase his dream of winning a championship with Winnipeg and became the team's closer in the playoffs.
Position players Ramon, Kendall, Mazzola, centre-fielder Chris Roberson, catcher Luis Alen and outfielder Kyle Day were with the Goldeyes since training camp. Yurendell de Caster started the season with the Goldeyes but left to play in Mexico, missed 10 games and then came back.
The top three pitchers in the starting rotation, Ace Walker, Chris Salamida and Matt Rusch were with the Goldeyes all season, while fourth starter Todd Privett was added June 27. In the race to earn the wild-card playoff berth and through the playoffs, Forney used only three starters -- Walker, Salamida and Rusch -- since the Goldeyes swept both Fargo-Moorhead and Wichita.
In Friday's championship-clinching win over Wichita, Ramon had two hits and an RBI, Alen hit a three-run double and counted four RBI, Roberson hit a two-run double and Coles had an RBI.
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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 16, 2012 B2