A noon start brings hope

Mitch Longo beats the throw home on Jecksson Flores’ sacrifice fly (Photo courtesy Harrisburg Senators)

It’s difficult not to compare and contrast the 2022 Senators with the team we saw last year. Manager Tripp Keister and many of the same players returned to City Island. Familiar faces back in familiar places. I’m guessing there’s a German word that describes the tendency for humans to do that.

On Tuesday night, Portland starting pitcher Brayan Bello and four relievers, each throwing harder than the last, shut down the Senators for most of the game in a deflating 7-1 loss that was never in doubt. It looked like more of the same for a team who last year went 42-76, batted .228, and scored a league-low 432 runs.

Wednesday’s day game (by the way, am I the only one that finds it odd this was the schedule immediately after the pomp and circumstance of the home opener?) featured another highly touted starting pitching prospect in the Red Sox system. And like Bello 16 hours earlier, Portland southpaw Jay Groome shoved.

The former first-round draft pick overwhelmed the Senators allowing a lone infield single in five innings. Groome’s surgical precision of efficiency (and the Senators’ nadir in their approach) culminated in a five-pitch inning that ended his day after delivering just 49 pitches.

I feel pretty confident saying that the Senators would have finished the game with a whimper last year, seemingly going through the motions and trying to get off the island as fast as possible. Odds are better than good it would have been a shutout.

But Wednesday afternoon, this year’s edition of the team flipped the script.

Jecksson Flores tied the game up, lifting a fly ball just deep enough with two strikes on him to score Mitch Longo from third base. A walk and hit by pitch loaded the bases for Harrisburg’s hottest hitter, K.J. Harrison.

After starting the at-bat with three straight balls, Portland reliever Dylan Spacke worked it back to a full count. But on the payoff pitch, Harrison laid off an offering off the plate to move everyone up 90 feet and give the Senators the lead. Two pitches later, a wild pitch bounced towards the home dugout, allowing runners to advance for a 3-1 advantage.

A Portland rally in the ninth plated a run but couldn’t find the equalizer giving the Senators the 3-2 victory.

Perhaps it was just a bad day on the bump for Spacke, or maybe it was something more. Something we rarely saw last year. That possibility makes this team infinitely more watchable for the remainder of the season.

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Senators eye 2022 Opening Day with optimism

Jackson Cluff
Photo by Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Baseball players are creatures of habit. The ups and downs of the game are tempered by the same routine every day.

Last year, that was tested as COVID restrictions severely limited what you could and couldn’t do and when you could do it.

“It felt like it was a sprint every day,” Harrisburg Senators manager Tripp Keister said. “It never really slowed down because of the rules and the hours you could be at the ballpark. It was tough.”

“Last year, there was a lot of uncertainty,” infielder Jackson Cluff added. “Even in minor league baseball, we talk about how the teams are random, and you can move from one roster to another just like that. But there is a sense of camaraderie that still needs to happen in a locker room. There were a lot of people who didn’t know each other trying to get to know personalities.”

But as the Senators open their 2022 campaign on Friday evening at Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona against the Curve, the hope is most of that changes back to the familiar this season.

“What a difference a year makes,” Keister said. “This time last year, we had no idea what we were going to be able to do. There were so many unknowns. This year I feel more comfortable that it’s going to be a normal season.”

There are still COVID-related rules to be followed, but they are more relaxed and less stringent than a year ago.

“It’s a little bit easier to socialize and spend time together,” Cluff said. “There are fewer restrictions on when we can show up to the ballpark and when we can leave. That just plays a big role in being comfortable with your teammates, trusting each other, and getting to watch how people go about their business.”

Coming off a 42-76 record last year, where they batted .228 and scored a league-low 432 runs, the skipper sees brighter times ahead for this squad.

“I had tremendous respect for the guys last year,” Keister said. “We did struggle. Look at the record. We struggled in every facet. But they gave me everything they had. It’s hard to get beat. In the minor leagues, they say wins don’t matter, but they do for morale, for coming to the park every day.”

“I think last year’s offensive group was a work in progress all year. I feel really good about where we are coming into the season.”

And with that optimism coupled with a Major League team firmly entrenched in rebuild mode around superstar Juan Soto, players have to realize they could find themselves on the precipice of realizing their dreams sooner rather than later.

“If you’re this close in an organization where we are right now, and you don’t see you have a tremendous opportunity in front of you, I don’t know what to tell you,” Keister said. “Get hot. Go put together a great month and see where it takes you.”

Notes: Ronald Herrera gets the Opening Night nod as the right-hander squares off against Altoona’s Carmen Mlodzinski…the rest of the rotation follows as: Richard Guasch, Cole Henry, Steven Fuentes, and Evan Lee…minor league free agents Wilson Garcia, Mitch Longo, and Rudy Martin should all add a veteran presence both in the clubhouse and in the lineup.

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That Was The Week That Was: May 18-23

vs. Altoona Curve (Pirates)
2-4 (6-12)
6th Place – Double-A Northeast, Southwest Division

The six-game set hosting the Curve was representative of where the Senators stand three weeks into the season. The offense isn’t going to give you much, but if the pitching, both starters and relievers, can continue at this level, it provides Harrisburg a shot at victory each night. This week’s series visiting Bowie will be a good test of the staff as the 13-4 Baysox are in the top half of the league in most offensive categories.

⚫ With starters Mario Sanchez, Sterling Sharp, and Carson Teel leading the way, the Senators’ rotation is doing a good job throwing strikes and pitching to contact. Harrisburg may be dead last in the Double-A Northeast as a pitching staff in strikeouts, but they’ve also allowed the least number of walks while throwing the least number of pitches per inning. They have also rolled over a league-leading 16 double-plays so far, which has gotten them out of numerous jams.

⚫ After beginning the season 0-for-16, Alex Dunlap broke out in a big way in the Senators’ 6-3 victory over Altoona on Saturday night. In the seventh inning, the backup catcher doubled down the left-field line and scored a batter later on Cody Wilson’s two-bagger. Tied 3-3 an inning later with men on first and third and one out, Wilson laid down a safety squeeze bunt that scored Rhett Wiseman and kept the late rally going. 

It was a great call from Harrisburg manager Tripp Keister too, as Dunlap has struggled to put the ball in play (seven strikeouts) and is a candidate for an inning-ending double play. The skipper knew he could trust Dunlap to get the bunt down, and Wiseman’s insertion earlier as a pinch-runner paid off as the outfielder beat the play at the plate.

⚫ I know I highlighted him two weeks ago, but reliever Gabe Klobosits continues to impress at the back-end of the bullpen. The Auburn University product has dominated in his first go-round at Double-A.

In six appearances over eight innings, Klobosits struck out 14 batters, including six in two frames on Sunday afternoon. The 6-foot-7 right-hander sits in the mid-90s with his fastball and has displayed excellent command throwing 75% strikes with 26 swing-and-miss strikes (out of 70 thrown).

Klobosits hasn’t allowed a run in his last 18 appearances over 27.1 innings dating all the way back to July 11, 2019. 

⚫ It took 18 games, but the Senators played their first extra-inning affair of the season on Sunday. In 2019, Harrisburg played in 15 such contests (over a 139 game season) with a 7-8 record.

Who’s Hot:
Jakson Reetz .357/.500/.429 (5-for-14)
Sterling Sharp 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K

Who’s Not:
Osvaldo Duarte .053/.182/.053 (1-for-19)
Jhon Romero 1.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 K

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That Was The Week That Was: May 11-16

vs. Richmond Flying Squirrels (Giants)
3-3 (4-8)
6th Place – Double-A Northeast, Southwest Division

Thursday night, the Senators were a part of history. Not the kind they’d like, however.

Starting pitcher Matt Frisbee and three relievers combined to no-hit Harrisburg for the first nine-inning no-hitter in Richmond team history. The Senators’ team batting average slipped from a ghastly .131 to a dreadful .118, and frankly, as bad as the offense has been in the early season, it almost felt like it was bound to happen sooner rather than later.

Cole Freeman led off the next game with a single up the middle putting thoughts of back-to-back ineffectiveness on the back burner. You might be able to look at Wednesday night’s futility as the absolute nadir of the Senators’ struggles at the plate. Because since then, the Senators have gotten timely hits as they reeled off three straight victories to end the Flying Squirrels’ series. In each of the wins, Harrisburg has answered right back in the bottom half of an inning after Richmond tied or took the lead.

⚫ Harrisburg’s pitching has been the saving grace for the team so far. In this series, the starting rotation provided something they didn’t show in the first six games: a chance to win by keeping the games close and out of an early hole. The five starters combined this week to allow 12 earned runs over 33.1 innings (3.24 ERA).

The relievers continued their impressive start, for the most part putting up goose egg after goose egg. Richmond managed only four earned runs off the bullpen in 20.2 innings of work. Six relievers have yet to allow an earned run, and Frankie Bartow has yet to allow even a baserunner in three appearances.

⚫ Drew Mendoza and Jackson Cluff, the top-rated position player prospects for the Senators, both went on the shelf in the Richmond series. Mendoza has yet to go officially on the injured list, but he hasn’t played since leaving in the seventh inning of Wednesday night’s game. In his first at-bat, the corner infielder fouled a ball off his right foot.

Cluff landed on the 7-day IL after coming up hurt when Vince Fernandez knocked the ball out of the shortstop’s glove, sliding in on a stolen base late in Thursday’s game. Cluff appeared in obvious pain but stayed in the game after a visit from trainer T.D. Swinford.

Humberto Arteaga takes Cluff’s place on the active roster, while Osvaldo Duarte has played short the last three games and gone 5-for-12 at the plate.

⚫ Last week, I lamented about the Senators’ struggles on defense when they committed 11 errors in six games at Somerset. To say they cleaned it up at FNB Field would be an understatement. Harrisburg committed just three errors against Richmond, with only one as a fielding miscue.

⚫ One interesting tidbit from the media Zoom session from the home opener is that the Senators (and the Patriots) were only able to have pre-game batting practice in three of the six days in Somerset. Their batting cage is still under construction, and rain limited what could and couldn’t occur on the field.

“Statistics only tell me what has already happened,” Senators’ manager Tripp Keister said. “I don’t want them to cloud the work and optimistic view they can have each night. Now, if they start letting that bother them, then I need to talk to them about that.”

The skipper hopes two straight weeks back on City Island gets the team back into a routine where the results will follow.

“We’re just trying to be better today than we were yesterday,” Keister said.

Who’s Hot:
Cole Freeman .300/.364/.400 (6-for-20)
Nick Wells 5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K

Who’s Not:
Rhett Wiseman .071/.133/.143 (1-for-14)
Jhon Romero 2.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K

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That Was The Week That Was: May 4-9

@ Somerset Patriots (Yankees)
1-5 (1-5)
6th Place – Double-A Northeast, Southwest Division

The Harrisburg Senators are lucky they got out of Somerset with one victory in their opening six-game series. The offense was anemic. The fielding even worse. The team comes home to FNB Field to right the ship as they take on the Richmond Flying Squirrels beginning Tuesday evening.

  • The Senators scratched out a measly 22 hits in the six-game set as they managed to push across only 13 runs. Their .120 batting average ranks 120th out of 120 minor league teams after a week of play. That’s correct — dead last.

    Where do I even begin?

    The team has struck out a total of 66 times, including four games in double-digits. Harrisburg led for a total of only three of the 54 innings they played against the Patriots. Nine of the 13 position players are hitting .100 or lower.

    The struggle with such a small sample size at the outset of the season is pinpointing the issues. Is this a by-product of 20 months without real games? How much can we attribute to ramping back up to game speed after an abbreviated spring training? Or are some players overmatched at the Double-A level? 

    We’ll need more time and more at-bats to figure out the answers to those questions.

  • The struggles are not just limited to the Senators either. The four Nationals’ affiliates have begun the season with only three wins against 21 losses. Fredericksburg (Low-A) was swept in their opening series, while the other three mustered only one win apiece.

    Washington’s minor leaguers are hitting a cumulative .173, and only the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings are above the dreaded Mendoza line. It’s bad all over. So that means no help is coming from above or below the Senators. Everyone in the system is looking for the same answers.

  • When you’re scuffling at the plate as much as the Senators are, the last thing you can afford to do is give the opponent extra outs. But that’s precisely what they did last week at TD Bank Ballpark, committing 11 errors and allowing a passed ball.

    At the hot corner alone, the Senators have botched four ground balls from three different third basemen. One of those, Manuel Geraldo, also misplayed two other balls at second base. Shortstop Jackson Cluff has already thrown two away.

    Once again, it’s not a problem that appears to be limited to just the Senators. The other three teams in the Nationals’ organization have committed 27 errors led by Fredericksburg’s 14 in the first six games. 

    Usually, cold and rainy April weather is justification for sloppy play in the first month. You can’t make that excuse this year. Perhaps the way teams approached spring training and handled the coronavirus restrictions adversely affected their readiness for the season. It sure seems like they’re still playing catch-up.

    “I think we’re going to have to be very patient at times,” manager Tripp Keister said during Media Day last Monday. “I don’t want to use the word sloppy, but there was definitely a rush to get guys ready after Major League camp. Quite frankly, we haven’t had a chance to cover everything we want to do.

    “I’ll give you an example. We did bunt plays with the pitching staff, and we did bunt plays with the infielders. But we never did bunt plays with them together. We’re going to do those today. But things like that, it’s my job to address anything that hasn’t been covered.”

  • The highest-ranked prospect on the team, southpaw starter Tim Cate, has been roughed up in both of his outings. In fact, of the eight home runs the Harrisburg pitching staff has allowed, Cate has accounted for half of them. And all of them were in the first inning in both games putting the Senators in early deficits.

    Cate’s struggles begin with getting and staying ahead of hitters. Too many times in his dreadful starts, the lefty put himself in hitter’s counts, and the Patriots made him pay.

    Cate pitched to a 4.91 ERA and 0.55 WHIP while batters hit .154 off him when ahead in the count. But get behind, and the offensive fireworks go off to the tune of a 23.14 ERA and .455 batting average.

  • Trying to find a glimmer of hope in the darkness…

    In the lone victory on Wednesday night, a trio of bullpen arms, Gabe Klobosits, Alberto Baldonado, and Frankie Bartow, combined to throw four scoreless innings. But more impressive was their ability and willingness to command their pitches in the strike zone. Too many times, pitchers at this level will nibble because they’re afraid of getting beat. Klobosits and Bartow showed otherwise in their first taste of Double-A.

    Klobosits did it again on Sunday. So far, the 36th round draft pick has been unleashing bullets firing 25 strikes on 34 pitches.

    Now, can we get the guy a uniform top he’s not swimming in?
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Have You Seen Me Lately? (Players Edition)

051717_Ward, Drew 117 D3S_6808

Old friend Drew Ward stays in the Northeast Double-A League with the Erie SeaWolves

Wondering where some of your favorite former Senators will be playing in 2021? Here’s a comprehensive list as the minor league season begins…


Matt Adams – Colorado Rockies
Richard Bleier – Miami Marlins
Brad Boxberger – Milwaukee Brewers
Jimmy Cordero – Chicago White Sox
Wil Crowe – Pittsburgh Pirates
Ian Desmond – Colorado Rockies (opted-out)
Ross Detwiler – Miami Marlins
Wilmer Difo – Pittsburgh Pirates
Adam Eaton – Chicago White Sox
Paolo Espino – Washington Nationals
Erick Fedde – Washington Nationals
Lucas Giolito – Chicago White Sox
Brian Goodwin – Chicago White Sox
Bryce Harper – Philadelphia Phillies
Yadiel Hernandez – Washington Nationals
Greg Holland – Kansas City Royals
Sandy Leon – Miami Marlins
Jose Marmolejos – Seattle Mariners
Tommy Milone – Toronto Blue Jays
Oliver Perez – Cleveland Indians (DFA’d on 4/28)
Nick Pivetta – Boston Red Sox
Wilson Ramos – Detroit Tigers
Robbie Ray – Toronto Blue Jays
Anthony Rendon – Los Angeles Angels
Tanner Roark – Toronto Blue Jays (DFA’d on 5/1)
Victor Robles – Washington Nationals
Trevor Rosenthal – Oakland A’s
Joe Ross – Washington Nationals
Pedro Severino – Baltimore Orioles
Juan Soto – Washington Nationals
Craig Stammen – San Diego Padres
Andrew Stevenson – Washington Nationals
Stephen Strasburg – Washington Nationals
Wander Suero – Washington Nationals
Michael Taylor – Kansas City Royals
Blake Treinen – Los Angeles Dodgers
Trea Turner – Washington Nationals
Phillips Valdez – Boston Red Sox
Austin Voth – Washington Nationals
Ryan Zimmerman – Washington Nationals
Jordan Zimmermann – Milwaukee Brewers


Dakota Bacus – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Joan Baez – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Kyle Barraclough – Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (NYY)
Tres Barrera – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Rafael Bautista – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Austin Bibens-Dirkx – Oklahoma City Dodgers (LAD)
Bryan Bonnell – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Ben Braymer – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
AJ Cole – Buffalo Bisons (TOR)
Aaron Fletcher – Tacoma Rainiers (SEA)
Steven Fuentes – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Luis Garcia – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Taylor Gushue – Iowa Cubs (CHC)
Kelvin Gutierrez – Omaha Storm Chasers (KCR)
Daniel Johnson – Columbus Clippers (CLE)
Alec Keller – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Carter Kieboom – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Ian Krol – Toledo Mud Hens (DET)
Reynaldo Lopez – Charlotte Knights (CWS)
Kyle McGowin – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Justin Miller – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Jake Noll – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Ronald Pena – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Raudy Read – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Jefry Rodriguez – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Adrian Sanchez – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Steven Souza – Oklahoma City Dodgers (LAD)
Jacob Wilson – Las Vegas Aviators (OAK)


James Bourque – Tennessee Smokies (CHC)
Taylor Guilbeau – Amarillo Sod Poodles (ARZ)
David Masters – Arkansas Travelers (SEA)
Drew Ward – Erie SeaWolves (DET)


Osvaldo Abreu – Arizona Diamondbacks
Aaron Barrett – Washington Nationals
Ryan Brinley – Washington Nationals
Andrew Istler – Washington Nationals
Jackson Tetreault – Washington Nationals
Austen Williams – Washington Nationals


Zach Collier – Southern Maryland Blue Crabs (Atlantic League)
Steve Lombardozzi – Long Island Ducks (Atlantic League)
Michael Martinez – High Point Rockers (Atlantic League)
Kevin McGowan – Lexington Legends (Atlantic League)
Eury Perez – Sioux City Explorers (American Association)
T.J. Rivera – Long Island Ducks (Atlantic League)
Darian Sandford – York Revolution (Atlantic League)
Derek Self – Lexington Legends (Atlantic League)
Chuck Taylor – Sussex County Miners (Frontier League)
Adam Brett Walker – Milwaukee Milkmen (American Association)


Danny Espinosa – Acereros de Monclova (Mexican League)
Quincy Latimore – Netunno (Italian Baseball League)
Mitch Lively – CTBC Brothers (Chinese Professional Baseball League)
Rafael Martin – Saraperos de Saltillo (Mexican League)
Logan Ondrusek – Leones de Yucatan (Mexican League)
Carlos Rivero – Algodoneros Union Laguna (Mexican League)
Luis Sardinas – Mariachis de Guadalajara (Mexican League)
Sammy Solis – Acereros de Monclova (Mexican League)
Neftali Soto – Yokohama DeNA BayStars (Japanese Baseball League)
Jesus Valdez – Toros de Tijuana (Mexican League)
Cesar Vargas – Sultanes de Monterrey (Mexican League)

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The greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history: No. 1

Welcome to the last in a series of posts ranking the greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history (otherwise known as when baseball returned to City Island in 1987). Just a reminder that this is one man’s humble opinion. I’m sure I’ve missed ones you remember more fondly, but this is my list.

The previous one (Nos. 40 through 2) can be found here.

So without further ado…

1. Milton Bradley – A Slam to Remember (September 20, 1999)

For the 3,171 fans in attendance on that fateful Monday night at then RiverSide Stadium and the thousands more listening to the broadcast, no one will forget the way the bottom of the ninth inning unfolded to give the Senators their fourth straight Eastern League championship.

The Norwich Navigators plated two insurance runs in the top half of the inning to push their advantage against Harrisburg out to a seemingly insurmountable 11-7 lead. After reliever Oswaldo Mairena recorded the last out of the previous frame, Norwich manager Lee Mazzilli chose to stay with the southpaw for a match-up against the Senators 4-5-6 hitters, all left-handed. 

But looming in the Norwich bullpen was Joe Lisio, the hard-throwing right-hander who led the Eastern League with 33 saves in 1999, in case the Senators started a rally. 

The rest they say is history.

What follows is an oral history of those memorable six minutes on City Island recreated with the help of Geoff Morrow’s 10th year anniversary stories of The Slam, Andy Linker’s One Patch of Grass, television coverage from ABC27’s Gregg Mace, and interviews with Milton Bradley from the 2000 Senators’ team program and Andy Tracy by the author.

Andy Tracy: It was amazing. I think it was the last night we had to play. We got stuck in a hurricane up in Connecticut. We got back home and it rained all night.

Todd Vander Woude (former Senators’ General Manager): Everyone had enough of the rain delays, and I remember talking to the umpire crew chief before the game. He had a great line, saying, “Unless we see Noah coming on the Ark, we are going to play this game.”

Barry & Margie Fealtman (Senators’ fans): We were sitting in the red seats behind home plate. Next to us were pitchers from the opposing team. We overheard them talking about winning the championship. As the inning grew closer to the end of the game, they decided to go down to the clubhouse and put the champagne on ice so it would be ready.

Milton Bradley: I had struck out three times already. My last at-bat was a strikeout. My last at-bat in Harrisburg was a strikeout. I didn’t want Norwich celebrating on our field. I went into the clubhouse and listened to the game on the radio. It was the best way for me to stay calm.

Andy Tracy: Milton went into the clubhouse during the ninth and was already out of his clothes and only in his boxers…He had his head down. He was very disappointed. It had been a rough year for him, and he gets really emotional about some things.

Steve Phillips (Senators’ hitting coach): He said he couldn’t watch right now. I said, “Well, we’re going to get some baserunners and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Barry & Margie Fealtman: We were standing by the Norwich bullpen when a good-natured Senators fan was leaving the game. He looked over at the visiting pitchers and congratulated them on winning the championship. A pitcher looked up and said, “Thanks, but the game’s not over yet.” How right he was.

Todd Vander Woude: As usual with my duties at a home game, I was not able to see much of the game. But I found myself standing at the first-base gate in the bottom of the ninth. I remember talking with Mayor Reed and Gregg Mace, joking that all we needed was a grand slam to tie the game.

Mark Mattern (former Senators’ broadcaster and Assistant GM): When the ninth inning started, I told my radio partner, Brad Sparesus, that if we get the tying run on base, I will go down the field for possible post-game interviews, all the time thinking, ‘Right, like that has a chance of happening.’ Anyway, the inning unfolds, I head down to the gate at the first-base dugout and finally realize how heavy the rain is.

Andy Tracy: I was just trying to get on base. I wasn’t thinking about a comeback.

Todd Vander Woude: We ended up getting a hit and a couple walks to load the bases, and (Jason) Camilli hit a ground ball to third, the third baseman got hurt and one run scored.

Milton Bradley: I think that was to my advantage. He was in a groove, throwing good. He was getting batters out. He was making good pitches. He had his rhythm going. Then the injury breaks it. Now (Lisio) has to stand out there, holding the ball with the rain coming down on him.

Todd Vander Woude: The lengthy delay due to the Norwich player getting injured seemed to really get the crowd going and the stadium rocking. Fans were pounding on the aluminum seats to make even more noise.

Milton Bradley: I heard one voice coming from the crowd saying “You can do it. We believe in you. Four-in-a-row. We are still here.” It was weird, that was all I heard. I said to myself, “I need to hit the ball hard.”

Brad Sparesus (Senators’ broadcaster): “It comes down to this. This incredible season. Three balls and two strikes. Two outs, bottom of the ninth. There’s a shot toward right field. Back is Glass at the wall. GONNNNNNNE!!! Grand slam!!! Grand slam!!! The Senators are Eastern League champions again!!!”

Joe Lisio (Norwich closer): When I let go of the pitch, I knew it was a mistake. I just missed my spot.

Milton Bradley: I just wanted to hit it. It was fastball middle-in. I hit it. When you make good contact, you don’t feel it. I was just watching it. It was on a line.

Doug Sisson: When Milton hit the ball, I knew we were going to tie the game because I knew Camilli could score on it. I saw (Norwich outfielder) Chip Glass going back…I thought it was going to be a double because the trajectory was too low. It was so foggy and the rain was coming, and you can never tell with those lights out there.

Andy Tracy: It wasn’t a towering home run. I thought it was off the wall, and Camilli could run so I thought he’d score [from first]. It was so rainy and damp, but he got it. It barely cleared the wall.

Wayne Rosenthal (Senators’ pitching coach): I was just yelling get up, get up, get up. When I saw Glass give up and that ball went over, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. I couldn’t help myself. I just went nuts.

Wally Ream (Senators’ fan): My wife, Kathy, our friend, Krysten Repman, and I were sitting just under the press box in Section 106. We remember seeing Milton Bradley’s hit go deep into the rain and fog, and at first we weren’t sure it cleared the fence. When we realized it did, everyone erupted in cheers and hugs.

Mark Mattern: Bang, that special sound when a ball hits the bat just so. It was hard for us to see, but it was gone. General manager Todd Vander Woude and I push through the gate, and maybe I pushed a little too hard. Woude ended up on the ground, but I had no time to worry about him then.

Todd Vander Woude: When Milton hit the ball, by the sound of the ball hitting the bat, I knew it was absolutely hit on a rope. It hit the second-tier billboard in right, and basically I could not walk. I was numb. To this day, I still think Mattern pushed me to the ground and stepped on me to get on the field.

Jeremy Salyers (Senators’ reliever): Somehow that ball got over the fence. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.

Milton Bradley: I didn’t know if it was going to stay up. I was going up the baseline and I was numb. I remember watching the ball fly and watching Glass. His shoulders slumped, I knew that was it. It was like the Twilight Zone. I ran around the bases. I didn’t realize we had won. I didn’t realize it until I rounded third and saw everyone crowded around home. I realized I didn’t come to Harrisburg in vain.

Joe Lisio: My heart went down to my stomach because I knew we had lost the game…To this day I still think about it. It was the worst experience I ever had in baseball, in life, by far.

Mark Mattern: I look to my left, and I swear the entire team was out of the dugout and about four feet off the ground.

Todd Vander Woude: The team was just going nuts on the field, and the crowd was the loudest I can ever remember.

Christian Parker (Senators’ winning pitcher): I put my head between my legs and started crying. This is an unbelievable thing.

Mark Mattern: I finally get to Milton and he starts to cry as he is talking to me, and, of course, I start to cry. I don’t think I ever cried on a broadcast before or since. Kind of ironic for me as a broadcaster, the greatest moment in my sports life, and there I am, with the hero of the moment, too choked up to speak. It was great.

Milton Bradley: I just wanted to do something. It was kind of my way of saying thanks to the fans of Harrisburg, my teammates. That was for them, I was secondary right there.

Jamey Carroll: This is unbelievable. I couldn’t be any happier for Milton Bradley. The guy has been through the roughest times, and he has come through for us time and time this year. Our team has been through the most amazing stuff all year long. Nobody believed in us except for ourselves. We persevered. People were saying we were the worst team ever to come through here. Maybe we proved them wrong tonight.

Steve Reed (Harrisburg Mayor): We’re a swing away from extinction and he hits a grand slam. This is the most historical hit in Central Pennsylvania baseball history. No question about it. One for the storybooks. 

Doug Sisson: With apologies to my daughter, this could be the greatest day of my life.

Andy Tracy: We pretty much partied all night, and the fans stayed with us on the field.

Todd Vander Woude: I was at the stadium until about 5:30 a.m., couldn’t sleep and ended up doing many local radio shows at 7 a.m.

Andy Tracy: That was one of my favorite years. I learned a lot about myself that season, I learned a lot about the game. And there was that inning that nobody will ever forget.

Milton Bradley: I always dreamed of something like this and I never thought it would happen.

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The greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history: Nos. 5 to 2

Welcome to the eighth in a series of posts ranking the greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history (otherwise known as when baseball returned to City Island in 1987). Just a reminder that this is one man’s humble opinion. I’m sure I’ve missed ones you remember more fondly, but this is my list.

The previous one (Nos. 40 through 6) can be found here.

So without further ado…

5. Carlos Adolfo – Evening the Series (Sept 17, 1999)

After losing the opening game to Norwich, the last thing Harrisburg wanted to do was sit around waiting for two days and nights of rain. So when they eventually took the field at Dodd Stadium after back-to-back postponements, it was imperative to get out to a fast start in Game 2 if the Senators hoped to win their fourth straight Eastern League championship.

Carlos Adolfo provided that spark for Harrisburg. The outfielder unleashed a long drive into the trees beyond the left-field wall in the fourth inning to give the Senators a 1-0 lead. 

“You can’t be nervous out there,” Adolfo told The Patriot-News’ Andy Linker. “Now, you’re seeing more intensity. You have to concentrate a little bit more now.”

The Senators kept their foot on the pedal as they streaked to a 5-0 advantage. It was one they would use all of as the Navigators rallied for four runs in the eighth inning off reliever Rodney Stevenson. But that was as close as Norwich would come as Harrisburg evened the best-of-5 EL finals at one game apiece.

4. Bob Natal – Punching Their Ticket (September 7, 1991)

Canton-Akron’s starting pitcher Grady Hall had stifled the high-flying Senators’ offense for five innings. The southpaw worked on a four-hitter while his Indians’ teammates had given him a 2-1 lead.

Nothing seemed amiss as Hall began the sixth inning by inducing league MVP Matt Stairs to ground out to second base. Archi Cianfrocco managed to reach base, though, as he followed with an infield single handcuffing shortstop Sam Ferretti. 

That brought Harrisburg’s hottest bat, Bob Natal, to the plate. The Senators’ catcher was locked in for the whole series, and this game was no different as he was already 2-for-2. 

Hall tried to mix things up, opting to go with a split-finger fastball, but the pitch stayed up, and Natal made him pay for the mistake with a 365-foot bomb past the flag poles. 

“It was something in the zone,” Natal told The Patriot-News’ Skip Hutter. “He hadn’t made too many mistakes to that point. I’m just hot right now. It’s playoff time.”

The homer gave the Senators a 3-2 lead they would maintain to send them to their third Eastern League championship series in the first five years of their return to City Island. 

3. Josh Johnson – A Little Help from Dad (June 11, 2013)

Johnson crosses home plate after the home run

The loss of a parent is a situation many of us have struggled through or are dreading the day it comes.

For Senators’ infielder Josh Johnson, that day came on May 26 when his father, former Major Leaguer Larry Johnson, passed away suddenly due to a heart attack. JJ returned home to Florida and spent two-plus weeks on the temporary inactive list attending to family issues. 

Since he’d been away from baseball that entire time, the original plan was to ease him back and not even think about playing him when he first returned. Instead, Johnson responded positively after a workout and batting practice. Manager Matt LeCroy felt comfortable to call on the infielder to pinch-hit in the sixth inning of a scoreless duel.

The skipper mentioned to Brian Goodwin that it would be pretty amazing if Johnson mustered a home run in that spot.

Hitting from the right side of the plate against Richmond’s Jack Snodgrass, the switch-hitting Johnson turned on a 2-2 pitch launching the offering over the left-field wall for the game’s lone run.

“Sure enough, he ended up doing it,” LeCroy told The Patriot-News’ Tim Leone. “I got emotional. I was excited. All the guys in the dugout were going crazy. For him, I can’t imagine what that meant. A special moment.”

“Once I hit it, I knew I got it,” Johnson said. “The only thing I could think of was my dad. I got really emotional…That was the best moment of my life. That was the best feeling I had ever had. You combine anxiousness, nervousness, sad, happy. You can’t explain it.”

2. Tom Prince – The Stuff of Dreams (September 10, 1987)

Reading reliever Todd Frohwirth stood on the RiverSide Stadium mound needing just one more out to send the Phillies to the championship series. That Frohwirth, who had logged time with the Major League Phillies that season, even found himself on the playoff roster was a point of contention that did not make Harrisburg manager Dave Trembley happy in the least.

All that stood between Frohwirth, the R-Phils, and a berth in the finals was Harrisburg’s Tom Prince. The Senators down to their final out and trailing 3-2 needed a miracle.

The catcher, who had clubbed only six home runs in 430 plate appearances during the regular season, stunned everyone on City Island when he lined the first pitch he saw from Frohwirth over the left-field wall to tie the game up and grant the Senators a stay of execution. 

In the 13th inning, Lance Belen sliced a bases-loaded single to lift Harrisburg to the dramatic 4-3 comeback triumph in the do-or-die Game 5. Three days later, the Senators swept a day-night doubleheader to best the Vermont Reds and win the Eastern League championship in their first season of existence.

“I didn’t want the people of Harrisburg to remember me as making the last out,” Prince told The Patriot-News’ Nick Horvath. “They’ve been too fantastic. It’s my biggest thrill in baseball.”

Horvath summed it up brilliantly:

So it was left to Prince, who etched his name in Harrisburg sports folklore and created an unforgettable, electric RiverSide moment with his home run, to add the exclamation point of thanks for the players. Later, Prince said the home run was for the city. He’ll forever remain, even in the big leagues someday, one of Harrisburg’s adopted sons.

Some 20 years from now, when the home run of Thursday night tale is retold, Game 5 vs. Reading in 1987 will have been seen by 30,000 fans. If there is anything like a balance sheet between players and city, consider the bottom line even.

Without a doubt, Prince’s home run was the biggest hit in Harrisburg for at least the previous 35 years. In team history to this day, it would only be surpassed in 1999 by our entry at #1.

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The greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history: Nos. 10 to 6

Welcome to the seventh in a series of posts ranking the greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history (otherwise known as when baseball returned to City Island in 1987). Just a reminder that this is one man’s humble opinion. I’m sure I’ve missed ones you remember more fondly, but this is my list.

The previous one (Nos. 40 through 11) can be found here.

So without further ado…

10. Bryce Harper – Ready for Primetime (August 12, 2011)

Photo courtesy Will Bentzel / Harrisburg Senators

If this countdown were for most viewed Harrisburg Senators’ home runs, Bryce Harper’s walk-off bomb against the Trenton Thunder would be tops on the list without a doubt.

First of all, you have an announced attendance of 7,177 for a fireworks Friday night game against the Double-A affiliate of the both loved and hated New York Yankees. Over the years, I’m sure the number of people who claim they were there has also at least doubled.

Throw in that it comes off the bat of the overall No. 1 2010 draft pick and top prospect Harper, and the highlight repeated on SportsCenter all night and next day. The Senators’ official video has 71,564 views. Some fan along the third-base line has a video on YouTube with over 11,000 views. Mine (yes, you heard that right) has 8,583. 

Harrisburg was down 2-1 entering the bottom half of the ninth inning when Leonard Davis singled with one out bringing the wunderkind up to bat.

After falling behind 0-2, Harper worked the count to full before he crushed a hanging curveball from Ryan Pope over everything in dead center. For Harper, it was his first and only home run he’d hit in the friendly confines of then Metro Bank Park.

2011 was the first season I covered the team day in and day out from the press box, and I took precisely one video from my phone all season. At that moment, you just felt like the 18-year-old kid was going to do something special.

“It’s always nice to win a ballgame. It’s always fun to walk a team off and go enjoy it with your team,” Harper told The Patriot-News’ Andy Shay. “Leonard Davis was on fire tonight. Having him in front of me, I think that was huge. He had three hits tonight. If he’s not on base, I don’t know if it’s the same kind of situation.”

9. Wes Chamberlain – One Man Wrecking Machine (September 3, 1989)

I’ve written before about Game Threes and the contest’s inherent pivotal nature in a five-game series. Go up 2-1, and you’re only one win away from clinching. Go down 2-1, and now you have to win or go home for two straight games. It’s a mental burden that weighs heavily on a team’s collective mind.

Now add in getting down 2-0 early in that game, and you can see how the pressure to respond with runs becomes its own living thing with each inning that goes by without scoring.

In times like that, you need the guy that isn’t fazed by the moment to step up. It also doesn’t hurt if he was the Eastern League Most Valuable Player either.

A one-out single by Tony Longmire in the fourth inning set the stage for Wes Chamberlain, who crushed a Greg McMichael slider nearly 400 feet over the left-centerfield fence to erase the two-run lead Canton had built. It brought the Senators back to even and let everyone in the Harrisburg dugout breathe a sigh of relief.

“That was a big point,” Harrisburg starting pitcher Keith Richardson said to The Patriot-News’ Skip Hutter. “McMichael was throwing really great with great location. It made a big difference for us.”

Two frames later, Chamberlain delivered an RBI single that gave the Senators a 3-2 lead and opened up the floodgates. Harrisburg would go on to the 14-4 victory over the Indians, giving them the upper hand in the series.

“When you’re staying within yourself, you are going to have success,” Chamberlain said. “I try not to get cheated on my swings, but I’m not chasing the pitchers’ pitches as much. I think the whole team is playing within itself.”

8. Vladimir Guerrero – Slam Ball (Sept 8, 1996) 

Banged up and in a slump.

That would best describe Vladimir Guerrero as the Senators began their 1996 Championship Series against the Portland Sea Dogs. 

Despite an MVP season where the outfielder batted .360 and slugged .612, the 21-year-old Dominican hurt his right shoulder late in Game 2 of the Southern Division playoffs and sat out Game 3 of that series with the injury. When he did play, Guerrero struggled, going 1-for-12 against Trenton.

So, when he ripped a double in the first inning of Game 1 off Portland starter Tony Saunders, all indicators signaled Guerrero was back and healthy. Three innings later, he removed any remaining doubt with a grand slam that highlighted a nine-run fourth inning giving the Senators a 10-3 lead on their way to a 15-3 rout.

“Sometimes during the season, we let Vladdy do all the work,” Senators manager Pat Kelly told the Patriot-News’ Andy Linker. “But right now, we’re a better team than we were in the regular season, and that’s catching people by surprise.”

“We were waiting for that,” Jose Vidro said of Guerrero. “We need that guy. When he’s hot, we’re going to win.”

7. Talmadge Nunnari – Comeback Complete (September 8, 1999) 

For seven innings, the Erie SeaWolves held the Harrisburg Senators’ bats at bay as they built up a 6-2 lead in Game 1 of the Southern Finals. It shouldn’t have been surprising, though, as the SeaWolves won 81 games while locked in first place since May 28, and beat the Senators in 10 of 16 head-to-head games during the regular season.

But then the Senators, beginning their quest for their fourth straight Eastern League championship, started the comeback. Home runs by Andy Tracy and Brad Wilkerson (see #26 on our countdown) cut the SeaWolves’ lead down to 6-5 with only three outs left against Erie closer Mike Bovee.

Milton Bradley reached first as he led off the ninth inning with a hard grounder to shortstop Chuck Abbott ruled an error. The mercurial outfielder advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Jamey Carroll, bringing up Talmadge Nunnari.

A base hit probably scores the tying run, but Nunnari had other ideas.

The first baseman lined Bovee’s first pitch of the at-bat over the wall in left-center, giving the Senators a 7-6 lead they’d hold on to despite some nervous moments in the bottom half of the frame to secure the win.

“It’s crucial to win any game in a short series,” manager Doug Sisson told Linker. “But if we had lost, I would have said this one doesn’t matter.”

6. Scott Hodges – Holding Out for a Hero (September 4, 2000)

The Harrisburg Senators and Akron Aeros entered the last day of the regular season tied with 74-67 records and one playoff spot still up for grabs.

Win and the worst that can happen is a one-game playoff. Lose, though, and you leave your fate to the other team and the baseball gods.

So after spotting Bowie four runs in the early going of the must-win game, the Senators finally found their groove against Baysox starter Juan Figueroa in the sixth inning. Henry Mateo and Josh Reding singled before Noah Hall walked to load the bases. Jeremy Ware dumped a change-up into left-field, cutting the lead in half and chasing Figueroa from the game.

Southpaw reliever Scott Eibey was summoned to face Scott Hodges, setting up a lefty-on-lefty matchup. The Harrisburg third baseman weakly fouled off Eibey’s first offering, a slider.

Eibey went back to the well for another slider, but this time the result was drastically different as Hodges crushed the ball over the center-field wall for his first Class AA homer and a 5-4 lead.

“He came back at me with the same slider,” Hodges told Linker. “I picked it up and had good extension on it.”

Harrisburg would tack on another two runs before recording the final out, but for all intents and purposes, Hodges homered his team into the one-game playoff which the Senators would win 8-1.

“With what this game meant, that’s probably the biggest swing for us since the last game of last year,” said manager Doug Sisson.

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The greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history: Nos. 15 to 11

Welcome to the sixth in a series of posts ranking the greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history (otherwise known as when baseball returned to City Island in 1987). Just a reminder that this is one man’s humble opinion. I’m sure I’ve missed ones you remember more fondly, but this is my list.

The previous one (Nos. 40 through 16) can be found here.

So without further ado…

15. Tyrone Horne – Keeps the Dream Alive (September 9, 1994)

A stellar regular season doesn’t mean much if the carriage turns into a pumpkin once the clock hits twelve in the postseason. After winning an Eastern League-best 88 victories, the 1994 Harrisburg Senators looked in danger of getting swept out of the playoffs after dropping the first two games in their semifinal matchup with the Bowie Baysox.

Harrisburg staved off elimination in Game 3 with a 2-1 victory and would need a repeat performance to force a fifth and deciding game back home on City Island. Tyrone Horne made sure the Senators returned home to play, and not just pack up their belongings and say their long goodbyes.

The left-fielder drove in a season-high four runs on three hits, including a two-run home run to give the Senators a 7-3 lead in the 7th inning they wouldn’t relinquish.

“We were down,” Horne said to The Patriot-News’ Andy Linker. “But we had faith in ourselves.”

Facing future MLB closer Armando Benitez, Horne turned a tense 5-3 game into a comfortable four-run lead for the Senators demolishing a fastball over the 50-foot scoreboard in right-center.

14. Geoff Blum – The Natural Cycle in Style (August 6, 1998)

When Geoff Blum stepped into the RiverSide Stadium’s batter’s box in the eighth inning, he already had generated a productive day at the plate.

In the first inning, the infielder singled off the right-field wall, coerced a broken-bat double to right in the third, and tripled down the right-field line in the sixth. That left Blum a home run away from becoming only the third Senator to hit for the cycle, joining Matt Stairs in 1991 and Jose Vidro in 1996, since baseball returned to City Island in 1987. However, his feat would be even rarer as Blum was poised to hit for the cycle in order.

So, when Blum’s spot in the order came up against New Haven reliever Heath Bost was he trying to make history with a long ball? “To be honest with you, yeah, I was,” Blum told Linker.

The then 25-year-old worked the count from Bost to 2-1. Blum sat on a fastball, thinking the right-hander didn’t want to fall behind 3-1 in the at-bat and rocketed the offering over the right-center wall.

“I got lucky and guessed right,” Blum said.

Besides the individual feat, the long ball put the Senators ahead over the Ravens on their way to the 3-2 win with Blum driving in all three runs. The victory was also Harrisburg’s 11th in the last 15 games as it chased Trenton and Akron during the remaining month for a playoff spot.

13. Geoff Blum – The Difference Maker (Sept 16, 1998)

In a short five-game playoff set, Game 3 is typically the one that changes the course of the series. Go up 2-1, and you’re only one win away from clinching. Go down 2-1, and now you have to win or go home for two straight games. It’s a mental burden that weighs on a team’s collective mind.

During the 1998 Eastern League Championships, Harrisburg and New Britain were deadlocked at a game apiece, setting up the critical Game 3.

The Senators came out of the gate strong, scoring two in the top half of the first inning to knock the Rock Cats on their heels. But not everyone in the Harrisburg dugout was pleased with only two runs as they had the opportunity to blow it open early.

“They shut the door on us pretty quick,” manager Rick Sweet said. “I wasn’t happy we only got two in the first inning. I wanted more. I didn’t think two would be enough.”

The skipper was right. Two runs weren’t going to be enough to win this night, but three would do the trick.

That came courtesy of Geoff Blum as he led off the sixth inning with a solo shot off a fastball from New Britain starter Jason Bell. In the end, the long ball made the difference for the Senators as they hung on for the 3-2 victory and putting them one win away from claiming their third straight championship.

“It turned out to be a bigger run than we anticipated,” Blum said.

12. Hiram Bocachica – Hello Ball! (September 4, 1997)

There’s nothing quite as draining as surrendering runs in the top half of the first inning and putting your team in a hole before they even get a chance to bat.

In 1997, Hiram Bocachica was a master of ruining the opposing pitcher’s mood and his team’s chances. The middle infielder homered to lead off the game four times during that regular season, with three of them coming on the game’s first pitch.

The fourth time he did it that year, in Game 3 of the Eastern League Southern finals, was undoubtedly the most important.

Harrisburg never trailed in the pivotal contest after Bocachica deposited Bowie starter Chris Curtis’ initial offering off the third tier billboards in left-center. The Senators would go on to win 5-3 to take control of the series.

“You’re up 1-0 before you even throw a pitch,” Harrisburg starting pitcher Trey Moore said. “That sets the tone of the game.”

11. DaRond Stovall – Holding Out for a Hero (August 29, 1996)

It had been six days since the Senators won their last game. For a team trying to secure the second and final spot in the Eastern League Southern Division playoffs, it was not an ideal time to ride the skids of a five-game losing streak. Fortunately for Harrisburg, Canton didn’t seem motivated to take advantage as they also slumped into the season’s final days, leaving the Senators with a magic number of three games.

Individually, DaRond Stovall wasn’t doing much better during that same stretch. The outfielder was mired in a 2-for-21 slump and subsequently benched after striking out three times the previous game.

But as the Thursday night contest against the last place Bowie Baysox went into extra innings tied at 1-1, Stovall was used as a pinch-runner. Two frames later, his spot came up in the batting order with the bases empty and two outs in the 12th inning.

Stovall deposited the 1-1 pitch from Bowie reliever Matt Grott over the left-center wall to give Harrisburg the 2-1 walk-off victory and a tighter hold on the remaining playoff spot.

“I thought he was a little tired,” manager Pat Kelly told Linker. “And [outfielder Jesus] Campos has played well this year; this was a chance to get him into the lineup. As it turned out, this gave us a fresh at-bat in the 12th inning.”

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