Last year, the Emeralds scraped together a 34-42 record, and a five-game winning streak would prove to be the longest of their season.
But a renovation of the Emeralds, which consists of new coaches and players, has resulted in a new—and historic—culture.
In need of only one more win to set a new Northwest League winning streak record, the Emeralds ended the suspense early by scoring seven runs in the first four innings. They would go on to rout the Vancouver Canadians 9-3 on Tuesday night in front of a record crowd at PK Park, and extended the winning streak to 14, which broke a record set in 1969.
“It’s great for this town,” manager Pat Murphy said. “It’s great for the Eugene Emeralds. This organization has been around a long, long time. To bring them a record, that’s something they can remember, something they can enjoy, and something for our players to enjoy.”
This is a team that should still be getting acquainted, but instead have bonded over the fact that they aren’t individuals from highly touted college programs or have experience playing in front of thousands of fan.
They’re a pieced together group of kids dominating on a stage designed for grown men.
“These are all first-year college kids,” Murphy said. “Most teams have more second and third year players. And (the Emeralds) are all from relatively small college programs. It’s just kind of neat for them to experience this together. They’re a really great group.”
For the players, they too understand the importance of the record.
“It means a lot,” said catcher Matt Colantonio, who went 2-for-3. “A lot of good baseball players come through this league. We have a lot of young talent and when you put things together like we have—14 in a row is great, but we can definitely get better than that.”
Only riding a record-winning streak could explain how, despite 13 strikeouts, two errors in the first inning, and 10 runners left on base, the Emeralds (17-2) were able to win by six runs.
Cory Spangenberg has been an offensive leader through the beginning of the season, and for him, it was just another ho-hum day at the plate, as he went 2-for-5 with an RBI and two opposite field doubles.
His first double came with two outs in the bottom of the first inning, and was followed by walks to Lee Orr and Travis Whitmore to load the bases.
Canadians starting pitcher Blake McFarland couldn’t find the zone for a third batter in a row as a walk to Kyle Gaedele brought in the Ems first run of the game tying the game at one apiece.
Jose Dore, who was playing in only his fifth game this season, struck out on a curveball with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Free passes would continue to pester McFarland while he was on the hill in the second inning.
After a walk to Colantonio, Jace Peterson scored the catcher from first with a double to left centerfield.
“I got a pitch out over the plate, and I just tried to drive the ball,” Peterson said. “I got a good pitch to hit, and I hit it, and fortunately it was double.
“I’m excited about how things are going and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Peterson would advance to third on a ground out by Mykal Stokes. Spangenberg would then drive in Peterson with a ground-rule double on a ball that sliced away from the left fielder and over the wall down the line.
The second inning extended the Emeralds lead to 3-1 over Vancouver (11-8).
While the Emeralds have been an offensive juggernaut this season, they rank second-to-last in the Northwest League in home runs—but on this night, they proved that they do have the long-ball as an option.
In the fourth inning, a grand slam from Orr—giving him a team-leading three home runs on the year—gave the Ems a six-run lead and closed the book on McFarland.
“That’s probably the farthest ball I’ve ever hit opposite field,” Orr said. “It’s always fun to get the big hit that puts us out and gets us the big lead. It makes us feel more relaxed and keep on going on and winning.”
It was Orr’s second home run in as many games, and he says it’s a result of trying to become a more consistent hitter.
“I’m just trying to work on the consistency part of it,” he said. “One good swing a night is good, but I’m looking to keep getting better and make it two or three good hits in a row. Instead of having a rough (at-bat) and then having a good one, just make it more consistent.”
In the next inning it was Dore’s turn.
After striking out in his first two at-bats, Dore’s home run to right field would be part of the two-run inning for the Emeralds.
By the end of the fifth inning, every Emeralds batter had reached base and all but two crossed home plate.
Colin Rea, whose 1.29 ERA leads the Emeralds starting pitchers, was at times erratic but remained efficient.
Rea committed two errors in the first inning—each on pickoff moves to first—and the first error lead to a Canadians run.
Rea (3-0) would last five innings while constantly worked out of jams, as he allowed seven hits but only one run and earned the win.
“Colin (Rea) didn’t have his best stuff, but the pitchers have competed, which is one of the themes we have tried to stress throughout the year,” Colantonio said of the Emeralds pitching staff. “We have a lot of good pitchers and a lot of good talent, but if a guy goes out there and doesn’t seem to have his best stuff, you go out there and compete your butt off and you’ll get wins.
“Three runs is not a lot at all, and when you have an offense like we do, you’re going to beat a team when they’re just scoring three runs.”
On Wednesday, the Ems will try to continue another streak—a win would give them five sweeps in a row. For the Emeralds, this has been a year of dreams—and it’s only July 5.
“Things are going our way right now and we got some good players—kids that are first-year players, but they’re hungry,” Murphy said. “It might be an advantage sometimes to have first-year players. I don’t know. I’m new at this.”
Maybe it’s an advantage to have a first-year coach, too.