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This article was published 6/9/2021 (263 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was unprecedented, bizarre, filled with twists and turns.
After 99 games in 111 days, the Winnipeg Goldeyes closed out their eventful 2021 season on Monday afternoon with a 9-3 loss to the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks at Shaw Park in front of 2,754 fans.
The Goldeyes finish the year 50-49 — 8.5 games behind the Milwaukee Milkmen for the third and final playoff spot in the North Division. The Fish didn’t play a full 100 game season as they had a rainout with the Kane County Cougars Aug. 22. Since it was the last meeting between the two clubs, the game wasn’t rescheduled.
The Goldeyes haven’t qualified for postseason play since winning the American Association title in 2017.
"I think we did have a great team. I think it’s one of those things where maybe a few balls fall here and there we’re probably in there, but I think you got to give a lot of credit to the other teams that did make it," Goldeyes veteran shortstop Wes Darvill told the Free Press after the season finale.
"They’re really good teams, too. But I think we’ll reload and come back at it next year."
The Fish didn’t get the job done this year, but the fact they even finished above .500 is an impressive feat considering the hand they were dealt. The Goldeyes didn’t play a game in Winnipeg until Aug. 3 as Canada-U.S. border restrictions kept them out of the Great White North, forcing the team to play out of Jackson, Tenn., for over half the year. Despite playing in front of a league-worst 579 fans per game at The Ballpark in Jackson, the Goldeyes stayed afloat during that stretch, going 30-31 before getting the green light to head up to the Manitoba capital. In 2020, the Fish never made it to Shaw Park as they spent the entire season as a travelling team based out of Fargo, N.D.
"Being on the road for two years was tough. We had a great group of guys, but being back here, you can’t beat it. The fans, the electricity in the stadium, it’s phenomenal," said first baseman Kyle Martin.
But home cooking wasn’t enough to get the Fish into the playoff hunt.
In 19 games in downtown Winnipeg, the club went 12-7. Players and coaches were required to be fully vaccinated in order to cross the border and play, leading to some interesting nights at Shaw Park. The rule forced the Goldeyes to say goodbye to non-vaxxed team members such as starting pitchers Pete Perez and Joey Gonzalez, closer Jose Jose, setup man Bud Norris, outfielder Jay Gonzalez, and hitting coach Kash Beauchamp.
It also put visiting teams with low vaccination rates in a pickle, leading to them signing local players such as pitcher Marc-Andre Habeck. The Winnipegger, who has experience in the Italian Baseball League, pitched against his hometown team this summer for three different clubs: the Sioux City Explorers, Kane County, and Fargo-Moorhead.
"It was a really cool moment for a lot of those (local) guys," said Darvill.
"Especially (Habeck), he came out and put it all out there. You got to appreciate how much fun it probably was for him to play in front of his home fans. He gave us a run for his money, for sure."
The year was far from a total disappointment for the Goldeyes, though. Regardless of what the standings said, Martin gave Fish fans a reason to watch the team until their final out. The 28-year-old from Keller, Tx., tied the American Association’s single season home run record of 31 which was originally set by Chicago Dogs first baseman Keon Barnum in 2019. Unfortunately for Martin, he’ll now have to settle for a tie for second as Milwaukee outfielder Adam Brett Walker II hit a record-breaking 32nd home run of the season on Sunday.
While Martin just missed out on the home run crown, he did, however, break the league’s all-time RBI record. A home run on Sept. 3 pushed him to the top of the list with 104 runs batted in. Martin finished the year with 106 RBI — and a .280 batting average — as he had two hits on Monday and drove in a run. In 2020 with the Goldeyes, Martin hit .301 with 16 home runs and 51 RBI in 60 games.
"It’s phenomenal, especially to do it with this group of guys. I have to thank them because they’re the ones getting on base for me so I can help drive them in," Martin said. "...I just continually built off of the previous season. I had a really good year last year and then I had some things I wanted to work on. Once they finally snapped in during the offseason, I just hit the ground running."
Darvill, who has now played five seasons for Winnipeg and has played with the likes of Josh Romanski and Reggie Abercrombie in previous years, had high praise for Martin’s bat.
"I’m still in awe watching him hit even though I watch him hit all the time. All the home runs he hits, his ability to get the ball in the air, his ability to hit the ball to all (sides of the) field, it’s a pleasure to watch him play, but also work," said the Langley, B.C. native.
"We get to see him behind the scenes where a lot of people don’t get to see him."
It remains to be seen what’s next for the MVP candidate. Could Martin, who was drafted in the fourth round of the MLB Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015, be in line for another shot at the big leagues?
"If it happens, it happens," Martin said. "But I’d love to be back here."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.