The Fact that I am writing the team awards without at least a championship appearance is tough, if not just down right sad. I felt like we had the team this year to actually compete and make a deep run, but it felt like the only time that pitching and hitting showed up in the same game was the season opener. It was a tough year overall, one that I will highlight throughout this post.
Stef Blackstone (SS, 2B, CL)
Stef was undoubtedly our MVP for the year, although arguments could easily be made of his competitive advantage, being young and in college, I don’t think we could count those. Stef was one of the best players in the league when he was with the Jays, and we were lucky enough this year to have him join up with other former Jays (Brandon, Billy, and Coach Nolan ha.) Stef led the team in batting average, hits, stolen bases, and triples. If we played in a league where pitchers actually cared about guys stealing bases, it would have opened up even more opportunities for our offense to score runs. Not only was Stef our leadoff hitter he anchored us down in the middle infield. We lost our second baseman early this year, and our shortstop had multiple military commitments. If everything goes right, Stef would have been our super utility guy, startiung every game, freeing up multiple guys to pitch and giving rest to some of our older team members. Either way, I am sure things would be the same. Stef stepped up and helped us out monumentally, playing both positions without missing a beat, making plays that most normal PGH NABA AA guys wouldn’t. Even on the rare occasion that Stef booted a ball his arm strength would make up for it and it would be an out. When not pitching, Stef stepped up and shut teams down on the mound. It was truly fun to watch.
Pitcher of the Year
Brandon Blackstone SP
Brandon was once again our anchor this year. Starting off strong with what the MLB would label a ‘notable achievement,’ a shortened No hitter. Brandon pitched most of this year at less than a hundred percent, and it didn’t show. He went out there and continuously gave us a chance to win. Brandon led the team in appearances, innings, wins, shutouts, and ERA. Not only was Brandon productive, he always wanted the ball, no matter the situation. As a manager that is a relief to have in your back pocket, a guy who no matter what is going to be competitive and give you a chance to win. After the first couple weeks of the season I thought I would have a tough decision between three horses when it came time to decide who our Pitcher of the year would be, but when Billy went down, Brandon stepped up and powered us to the playoffs. “Who are you guys throwing,” was a question that we would run into a lot at the beginning of the year, but it quickly turned to the random surprised comment, “Brandon isn’t starting?” Without B, I don’t know where we end up this year. I definitely don’t think we get a chance in the Semi finals, Brandon shut down the Devils when our bats fell asleep, and it was a fun game to catch. It was truly one of those games where I felt like whatever I thought out, that pitch would be executed. I couldn’t have asked for better. Honestly it was one of those seasons.
Offensive Player of the Year
T.J. Morgan (OF, DH)
To me TJ is the Nelson Cruz of PGH NABA, seemingly ageless, and one of the toughest outs in the league. TJ was the Left hook of our “one two” punch at the top of the lineup this year. Not surprisingly, once that change was made, we started rolling to wins, and eventually rolling to the Four Spot in the regular season. Hitting behind the smooth swing, and watching him just hit rockets really made it easy to be a three hole hitter. TJ was running right with Stef in the batting average conversation right up until the last week of the season, when it seemed like the two of us could not hit water if we fell out of a boat, not saying that TJ wasn’t making great contact, he was, but the baseball Gods decided that nothing was to fall. I also think TJ has a bout 3 or 4 homeruns if we played every game at the Pond. TJ was the heart of our offense, and without a doubt one of the Pillars of the Duck soul. Driving long distances to shit on baseballs and giving us a chance to win (and help me to 2nd in the league RBI race) are just more reasons that TJ earns this award. I could say more, but its all been said before.
Defensive Player of the Year
Kenny Rayl (3B)
Kenny was, in my opinion the best third baseman in the league this year. Anything that was hit down that way, I felt like he had a chance get it, no matter the shortstop, the left side of this infield was something I knew that I didn’t have to worry about. I hear some jabroni make a comment this year that was something like “he’s only solid if you hit it at him,” then two plays later Kenny made some diving play that led to someone else on that team saying “it looks like we just shouldn’t hit it to third base,” and all I could do was laugh. Having Ken at the hot corner was one of the saving graces of the Ducks this year, and the infield definitely didn’t feel right if he was out.
Ducks New guy of the year
Ben Doak (OF, P 1b)
Doak was as solid of an addition as it gets, coming in a quarter of the way through the season and maybe missing one game. Doak added some lefty power to an already lefty heavy order. Hitting a definite Home run at spring hill that was called a double (it hit the second of two fences by the batting cage,) and then a little league homer that I would have labeled an actual homerun had I known the other manager a little better. Doak was not only solid at the plate, he was a solid fourth outfielder, pitcher, and heir apparent to Clark at first base. I truly cannot believe that we got so lucky with two straight slugging first baseman. Oh, did I mention that he pitches, pairing what seems like 72 different pitches with an uncanny pick off move from the left side is something that the Ducks have not had since I came on in 2017. Doak is a welcomed addition to the team, and hopefully a corner stone for years to come.
This season was tough, who knows where we stand if 2/3s of our weekend games weren’t in the first month of the season. If Billy doesn’t get hurt, Randy’s schedule doesn’t limit him to weekends, and some other things that are out of our control don’t happen. It was said in another article that I made different mistake than I did last year, which is true, some of them were the opposite of the mistakes I made in the previous year, and maybe I will find a healthy medium in here somewhere. I can’t help but blame myself for us falling short, attendance wasn’t great this year, but not only did I manage poorly at times, I had my worst year at the plate since like, 3rd grade. Its insanely frustrating. I think as a team we need to do more baseball things, while I was watching the Olympic game between Japan and the US this morning I felt like I was watching a Ducks game. Starting extras with guys on first and second, the US team swung away and tried to make the big play, then in the bottom half Japan came up, bunted the two men over and then hit a single to win, you know, baseball things. We don’t do them, but really we don’t need to in the regular season, we are a solid club, a lot of talent, and in my honest opinion the second best team in this division, if it wasn’t for age and attendance I think we would be 1. This team was my favorite I have played on in the last ten years, and second best ever to a team I played on with fellow Duck Steve aka Goose when we were youngsters.
They say hindsight is 20/20, and honestly that factors in for this year, I am not saying we would have made it to the championship, but it would have been an easier road if we would have just played to lose our last couple regular season games. Instead, I thought we could win out, and D2, who is now in the championship, put a halt on us getting the third seed. Its unfortunate, we had the tools this year to smoke the field, but things didn’t plan out. I’ve been playing baseball for 23 years now, and have yet to win a championship. Hopefully, next year is the year.