By Eric Gallanty (@ericgallanty)
We now have the full picture of the 2016 Syracuse Chiefs with the release of the roster today, and it looks familiar. Plenty of former Chiefs and former big leaguers will be in Syracuse on Opening Day. Some highlights of the roster from Kevin:
The roster includes some of the top prospects in the Nats’ system. Trea Turner returns to Syracuse along with Pedro Severino who is set to open the year behind the plate. Severino has an impressive resume of throwing out baserunners as he’s moved up the Nats system to far and should be a fun watch.
The Chiefs starting rotation looks almost identical to the five that they ended the season with, and should be a strength again this year. A.J. Cole, Taylor Jordan, Taylor Hill and Paolo Espino all return to Syracuse. Nationals Minor-League Pitcher of the Year Austin Voth rounds out the starting five.
The Chiefs will trot out multiple former major leaguers out of their bullpen this year. Rafael Martin and Matt Grace were the backbone of the 2014 and 2015 Chiefs bullpen and should hold the back end this year as well. Also in the pen, Sammy Solis, Nick Masset, Aaron Liffey, and Erik Davis all have major-league experience.
The starting infield will be the same one that helped the Chiefs win 11-straight games in August with 2015 I.L. All-Star Jason Martinson, Turner, Scott Sizemore, and Matt Skole. Nate Freiman joins the Chiefs after being traded for Tyler Moore last month. Freiman is thought to be the tallest position player in Major-League history at 6’8.
The outfield features three familiar Chiefs and one newcomer. Matt den Dekker and Caleb Ramsey each spent time with Syracuse in 2015, while Brian Goodwin was part of the 2014 I.L. North champs. Joining that trio is Tony Campana who returns after missing 2015 with an ACL injury.
It’s a roster that should play quite well in the I.L. this year.
You may be wondering about the weather in Syracuse, as Mother Nature dropped about five inches of snow on us over the weekend. Well, we are lucky enough to have the reigning Triple-A groundkeeper of the year in John Stewart, and he and his team are living up to that billing. Over the last 24 hours, with the temperature still well below freezing and without the use of heavy machines to help, they’ve transformed the field from this…
Amazing work by the crew
We are excited to introduce an new feature to our lineup of Chiefs coverage this season. Once a week, we will be releasing the Syracuse Chiefs Inside Pitch podcast. Set to be release every Saturday during the season, Inside Pitch will feature highlights, interviews and more from around the Chiefs, the I.L. and baseball. This will expand on what we’ve done in the past with all of our pregame interviews and postgame highlights. We really want to dive in to some topics that interest us as broadcasters and you as fans.
The podcast starts on Wednesday with a special 2016 Chiefs season preview. Then we’ll start our regular schedule with a podcast Saturday featuring thoughts on Opening Day memories, what to expect from the Chiefs and Nationals. In addition, we’ll look at how Syracuse’s first opponent, Lehigh Valley, might be a preview of the next successful rebuilding plan in baseball.
We look forward to your thoughts on our new podcast. For comments and suggestions we invite you to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or tweet us @chiefsradio.
By Eric Gallanty (@ericgallanty)
Despite the snow outside, we are just four days away from the Opening Day when the Chiefs will host the IronPigs to kick off the 2016 season. The Chiefs will look a bit different, with a return to their traditional red white and blue color scheme. That won’t be the only change around the International League this year. Here’s a what’s new to the I.L. in 2016 Stuff You’ll Like:
- New logos, and colors in Syracuse, Louisville, and Norfolk.
- The IronPigs will have a new uniforms set in 2016. They’ll even have a new name for one day this summer. (I vote witout)
- New managers in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Charlotte, and Toledo
- 13-game winner with Toronto last year Drew Hutchinson is set to start the season with Buffalo.
- Former Chief and National Tyler Moore will suit up for the G-Braves this summer. He joins a stockpile of Atlanta prospects in Gwinnett.
- The Twins #3 prospect will see time in Rochester. The Reds top pitching prospect will also start in the I.L.
You can check out the full 2016 International League Preview here.
Plenty more to come
“There are days and moments when you question why you’ve put yourself through the torment, the agony, the grind of this game…
There are moments when you know exactly why. That is one of those moments”
– Kevin Brown, June 21, 2015
The 2015 Syracuse Chiefs season can be summed up quite well by the words that Kevin said as Tony Gwynn, Jr celebrated what we’ve deemed the top moment of the season. There were so many of those magical moments, reminders of why this game is so special to so many. Whether it was late-inning comebacks, outstanding pitching performances (by pitchers and at times, infielders), or the longest win streak in the league, the 2015 Chiefs exceeded anything that could have been reasonably expected when they sat at 19-44 between doubleheader games on June 14th. We’ve been through the each of our ten best moments. So before we put a final bow on 2015, check out the links below, relive the moments, and then take a listen to the sounds of the summer of 2015, 10 down to 1.
The Sounds of the Summer:
1. Absolutely Perfect
But it almost didn’t happen.
For two hours and eleven minutes, we all waited for the Chiefs and Bisons to play on that Sunday. Father’s Day is one of the most special dates on the baseball calendar every year, and no one wanted it to be cancelled do to the threat of rain. As it turned out, that delay proved to be a nice setup for what would unfold a few hours later.
As we waited through those two hours, Kevin went on the video board and hosted the longest Conductor’s Corner ever. It featured a lot of laughs and craziness involving peanut butter (a story for another day). But what also happened is a number of dads and sons walked in and talked about how much Father’s Day meant to them, how much being there together that day meant to them. Later, Kevin and I spent time on the radio talking to the day’s special guest, Dwier Brown, who played Kevin Costner’s father in Field of Dreams, and connected a generation of fathers and sons through the iconic scene at the end of the movie. The significance of the day and all the reminders of it is why this moment beats out an 11-game win streak for number one.
The game itself was outstanding, and produced two of the best starting performances of the season. Taylor Jordan allowed just two hits in seven scoreless innings and Jeff Francis struck out seven in eight three-hit, no-run Koufax-like innings. The game was scoreless into extras.
The bottom of the tenth developed perfectly. Lead off single, sacrifice bunt, and Gwynn, Jr. to the plate with the winning run on second. And the rest, once again, was absolutely perfect.
I shook Tony’s hand as he left the celebration line and brought him over for the post game interview. Tony said later that when I asked him what that moment meant to him, it was the first time it dawned on him the magnitude of getting the game-winning hit, on Father’s Day, the first one with out his dad. Like Kevin, I was so impressed with how Tony handled the whole season, but especially that week, where the anniversary of Tony Sr.’s death and the first Father’s Day without him both fell. There had to be so much on his mind that week, and it all culminated in the perfect moment.
The hit didn’t happen at the Major League level but it still got a lot of deserved attention. National outlets from the likes of ESPN, SportsCenter, CBS Sports, Yahoo Sports, Major League Baseball, SB Nation, and many more all featured the iconic moment of the Chiefs season.
The storybook ending didn’t end that Sunday. Less than a month later, Tony and his wife gave birth to their fourth child. It was their first son. His name? Anthony Keith Gwynn III.
We are almost there. This time next Thursday, the Syracuse Chiefs will suit up in their new uniforms for the first time and host the Lehigh Valley IronPigs to open the 2016 season. Its been a successful Spring Training for all things Nationals, as Washington held the best Grapefruit League record (for what that’s worth). Some of the key contributors from this successful spring, last year’s magnificent Chiefs finish, and even the 2014 Chiefs Division Championship winner should be joining Syracuse this year. Here’s a twitter-themed Stuff You’ll Like of what we know so far about the potential makeup of the 2016 Chiefs…
Everyone mentioned here won’t necessarily be a Chief, and some not mentioned here will be in the clubhouse next week. These tweets will turn in to a clean, 25-man roster, which we will have for you as soon as it is released. Plenty more to come in the next few days. We’ll wrap up 2015: A Chiefs Odyssey tomorrow (check out Kevin’s #1 moment from earlier today), and start to break down some of these potential Chiefs next week. For now, enjoy your last weekend without Chiefs baseball. It’s right around the corner.
1. Father and Son
I’ve said it all along – despite the Chiefs’ less-than-stellar overall record, last season didn’t lack for memorable moments. Cutting down this list to 10 wasn’t easy. Stopping the list at 15 or 20 wouldn’t have been easy, either. 2015’s most memorable moment, however, was never in doubt.
Kids who are into sports – as I was, and, reader, as I’m guessing you were – frequently gain that love of sports from their fathers. My dad taught me my childhood love of the Yankees, the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers. Posters and program covers of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera adorned my childhood bedroom. Brett Favre ornaments hung on the Christmas tree every December. (They still hang.)
There was nothing better than attending a baseball game or celebrating a championship with my dad. I learned my love of the game from him. He bought me a pitching net that I bounced fastballs off of in my backyard. He hung a tennis ball on a string from a tree branch in our front yard and turned one of my Little League baseball seasons around. He taught me how to shoot a basketball, how to throw a football and how to swing a golf club. (The last of those isn’t aesthetically pleasing. Sorry, Dad. That one’s on me.)
My story’s not unique, though. Many of us have been fortunate to have that fatherly connection in our lives. Many of us want to be our dad when we grow up. I was never in that boat – my father’s an engineer during his day job. (I never gravitated toward his way of manual labor and his scientific mind, unless you mean the science of Rafael Martin’s slider.)
But some of us have that chance. Some of us get to follow in our dad’s footsteps, as enormous as they may seem. Some of us – like Tony Gwynn, Jr.
To be honest – I felt bad for Tony last year. I didn’t just feel bad because of the pain he had to endure after losing his father to cancer in June 2014, at the age of 54. I felt bad because Tony had to face a reminder of that death every week. It’s the first thing on any reporter’s mind. Every seven days or so, I trudged down to the clubhouse to ask Tony if he’d talk to this person or that person. He hid it well, but it wore on him a bit by the end of the season. How could it not? Who wants to be reminded that their father – the man they loved, the man they idolized, the man whose line of work they followed despite an untouchable, Hall of Fame legacy – is no longer there?
I expressed my feelings to Junior near the end of the season. “Look,” I told him, “if you want me to stop bringing this interview requests to you…”
“It’s all good, man”, Tony said. “I get it.”
He meant that. He understood that despite the pain it brought, that was part of his life. It’s right there in the name – Tony Gwynn. In my five years of covering the Chiefs, I can hardly think of anyone more well-equipped to deal with that level of attention than Tony Gwynn, Jr. He’s a terrific young man with a wonderful spirit. He greeted every reporter and television camera with the same infectious smile and upbeat personality. That’s just how he operates.
Anyway – Tony could have helped himself out with media requests if he wasn’t so darned dramatic last year. He’d already delivered a handful of walkoff and clutch late-game hits by last Sunday, June 21st – Father’s Day. One year and five days after Tony, Sr. passed away. The first Father’s Day he didn’t get to spend with his father around.
In a tie game in the tenth inning, Kevin Keyes singled. Ricky Hague sacrificed him to second. And Anthony Keith Gwynn, Jr. delivered the most beautiful moment of 2015.
Thanks, Tony – for the memories on the field and the grace and class in which you handled yourself off it. At the end of the day, that’s what 2015 was all about.
(One final note before I sign off on this countdown and turn the last word over to Eric: Tony was gracious enough to join me the day after his game-winner to talk about his father and his own fatherhood. I enjoyed this conversation and hope you will as well.)
Kevin already covered some of the highlights of those magical 11 days. But here are some other details about the incredible streak:
- Syracuse became the first team to hold the I.L’s longest winning and losing streak in the same season since the 2007 Chiefs (9 wins/10 losses).
- Unlike the Chiefs 12-game losing streak where eight of the 12 games were decided by three runs or less, six of Syracuse’s 11 wins were by four runs or more.
- Syracuse outscored its opponents 67-22 during the streak, allowing three runs or less nine times.
- The Chiefs trailed after the completion of a full inning just once in 99 innings played in the 11 games.
- Syracuse batted 12 times after allowing a run in the previous half inning. The Chiefs then scored at least one run in eight of those 12 innings, and scored more runs than they allowed in the previous half inning six of those eight times.
- The Chiefs had five different hitters who hit at least .300 during the streak. Syracuse’s pitching staff held a 1.91 ERA over the streak.
I’ll always remember the streak as Kevin and I, along with our two outstanding broadcast interns Josh Hess and Andrew Grella spent hours sifting through media guides and binders of newspaper clippings from the last 30+ years and storage rooms of random items trying to confirm when the longest Chiefs win streak had been. That led us to the year 1979, and with the help of our esteemed Press Box Manager, Donald “Donnie Baseball” Johnston, we located an online archive of the Syracuse Post Standard from 1979, the day Syracuse won its 12th straight that year. The article confirmed for us all the information we had been searching for.
The streak helped launch the late-season surge that nearly had the Chiefs reach third place from the 6-team division cellar just two months earlier. What a stretch it was.
2. 11 Up
The thought of this Chiefs team coming one victory short of a franchise win streak seemed unfathomable up until the moment it happened. This is a Chiefs team that was 43-67 heading into the streak. A Chiefs team that lost 19 of 20 games and 25 of 28 in a stretch from May to June. A Chiefs team that hadn’t won more than four consecutive games heading into the streak – but had lost four or more in a row on six separate occasions beforehand.
Frankly, the odds of this group winning 11 consecutive games were about as high as…oh, let’s say for hypothetical’s sake, the odds of a 10 seed with 13 losses making the Final Four.
You’ve already read about the beginning of the streak: August 3rd, in a Stephen Strasburg-pitched game vs. Pawtucket. The PawSox would become frequent punching bags from that point forward. Some highlights…
- August 4th: Matt Skole and Matt den Dekker blasted back-to-back home runs in a 3-1 win over Pawtucket. (#2)
- August 6th: Paolo Espino threw eight shutout innings in a win over the PawSox. By length and runs allowed, it was the Chiefs’ most effective start of the season. For all of one day. (#4)
- August 7th: Another one we’ve covered: Richard Bleier’s complete-game shutout of the Sox. (#5)
- August 9th: A.J. Cole finished off seven straight wins against Pawtucket with one of his strongest outings of the year; seven innings, three hits, one run, one walk and six strikeouts. (#7)
- August 11th: Matt den Dekker and Emmanuel Burriss delivered two-run triples in the same inning. That was more than enough in a rapid-fire finishing off of Lehigh Valley. (#8)
- August 13th: The streak’s most thorough beatdown; an 11-2 drubbing of the IronPigs, highlighted by a four-run first. (#10)
- August 14th: The win streak’s last day was arguably its most impressive. The Chiefs knocked IL ERA leader Scott Copeland out with an eight-run barrage in the fourth inning; an inning that included five extra-base hits, among them a three-run home run from Kevin Keyes. (#11)
The only team with a longer win streak in Chiefs history? The 1979 Chiefs, who lost in the seventh game of the Governor’s Cup finals.
3. Finally Over?
In sports, great moments are not always defined by wins. In fact, many times, the most impactful moments can come out of losses. This moment is not a Syracuse Chiefs win, but it would eventually lead to a lot of them.
Syracuse came to NBT Bank Stadium on June 5th in its worst stretch of the season, having dropped 11 games in a row and 18 of 19 overall. But the theme that has carried through the whole season still applied to a streak high on drama even if short on wins. 15 of the Chiefs 18 losses from May 15th through June 4th were by three runs or less. 10 times over those 19 games, Syracuse was either tied or held the lead from the 7th inning on. Sure, the record wasn’t there, but this was a team that was ready to break the streak. And June 5th seemed like the day.
The Chiefs battled back against the first-place RailRiders, putting runners on base in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. Syracuse still trailed through, 2-1, as Jose Ramirez toed the rubber for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the ninth. Ramirez struck out Mark Minicozzi and Matt den Dekker, and it looked like the Chiefs were headed to a twelfth straight loss. But Syracuse still had something left to say about that:
Bases loaded. Two outs. Tyler Webb coming on to face Josh Johnson. One hit away from ending the streak.
Here is why, in my opinion, this moment ranks so high for me. As Josh Johnson came to the plate, NBT Bank Stadium did not feel like a place hosting a random June game between the first and last place teams in the I.L. North division. It felt like a playoff game. The place was rocking. And it speaks to the magic of what minor league baseball can be. I’d argue it was as loud as the stadium was all year.
Okay, back to it. Chiefs down 2-1. Bases loaded, two out. Tyler Webb against Josh Johnson…
So close. Yet to extras the game went. And as had unfortunetly been a theme of those couple of weeks, things fell apart from there. Syracuse, frankly couldn’t afford an extra-inning game with its bullpen overworked to begin with. Eric Fornataro was asked to pitch in the 11th, on just two days rest from an emergency spot start. And Scranton/Wilkes-Barre took advantage:
The game really got crazy from there, as Josh Johnson finished the inning on the mound (not the first time Josh would pitch on the year). The RailRiders ended up with eight runs in the 11th, and Josh gave himself a C for his efforts.
It felt like the day the streak was going to end, and the Chiefs fans responded as such. But for one more day, it wasn’t meant to be.
Was Caleb Ramsey safe? Well, you can decide for yourself…
That’s baseball sometimes. Syracuse would finally win the next day, ending their season-long 12-game losing streak.
June 5th didn’t result in a Chiefs win. But it was an incredible day at the ballpark, and one worth remembering.