LINCOLN, NE – The 2017 American Association baseball season was a campaign of milestones for the Lincoln Saltdogs and was highlighted by the franchise’s first Central Division Championship since 2014.
“2017 was another fun-filled season of baseball for the Lincoln Saltdogs complete with many team achievements,” President/GM Charlie Meyer said. “We’re proud of the efforts of the front office staff, coaches and players. We are grateful for the continued support of the Lincoln community, our corporate partners and season ticket holders.”
The second year of the Bobby Brown-era was a good one. The Saltdogs finished the regular season with a 58-41 record, the second-most wins in franchise history. Brown was rewarded with the league’s Manager of the Year award, the second time a Saltdogs manager received the award (Tim Johnson, ’06).
Brown benefitted from retaining both of his assistant coaches, Pitching Coach Dan Reichert (4th season) and Hitting Coach Tom Carcione (2nd season). Reichert’s pitching staff compiled a 3.45 ERA, the best ERA in the league and the lowest in franchise history. Meanwhile, the offense posted a .270 batting average and blasted 97 home runs, the fourth and third-highest totals in the league respectively.
The Saltdogs defense was incredible in 2017. The team finished with a .982 fielding percentage in the regular season, breaking the league record of .980. The Saltdogs committed just 65 errors, shattering the previous franchise-low of 84 miscues.
It was an incredible season to cheer on the Saltdogs at Haymarket Park. The team finished the regular season 35-17 (.673) at home. The team broke a franchise record twice by winning 12 consecutive home games two separate times.
Part of the Saltdogs’ success at home came because of clutch hitting. The team won an incredible nine games by the walk-off, including five straight home games from May 29-June 7th. The walk-off streak tied the 1986 Houston Astros for the most consecutive home games won by a walk-off in professional baseball history.
The most memorable home game might have been on August 21st. Haymarket Park was the official eclipse watch site for the City of Lincoln. 6,956 fans packed the ballpark to witness the first total solar eclipse in the United States in over three decades. The Saltdogs, wearing alternate uniforms featured in Sports Illustrated and on Sports Center, rallied to win the game 8-5.
There were several individual performances that received recognition throughout the season. Cesar Valera was named to the league’s midseason and postseason All-Star lists. The infielder dazzled with diving plays at second base throughout the season and excelled at the plate. He notched 128 hits and a .328 batting average, both the third-highest totals in the league. He recorded the second-most triples in franchise history by racing to seven three-baggers. He started 98 out of 99 games, the fourth-most in Saltdogs history. The Venezuelan was a magnet for the ball, getting plunked 15 times, the second-most in the league and in franchise history.
Dashenko Ricardo earned midseason All-Star honors and compiled a solid season behind the plate. The catcher threw out 16 runners and hit .270 with six home runs.
Curt Smith continued his ascent up the Saltdogs career record marks. He hit .322 with an incredible .424 on-bae percentage, the fifth-best in franchise history. This season he passed Josh Patton for the second-most home runs in Saltdogs history and sits at 56 long balls after the season. He moved into third place in the career charts for doubles, hits, at bats and RBIs. Smith smacked his 1000th career hit in the regular season finale at Gary SouthShore. The native of Curacao had hit streaks of 19 and 17 games, two of the 10 longest in franchise history.
A couple of rookie bats helped jump-start the Saltdogs offense midway through the season. Joe Robbins hit .302 over 49 regular season games. He hit an inside-the-park home run and played six different positions for the Saltdogs. He hit for the cycle on August 21st, the first Saltdogs player to do it since Pichi Balet in 2006. His five hits in that game tied the franchise record. Robbins hit .375 with three home runs over four games in the playoffs.
Nathaniel Maggio brought a lefty approach and power-numbers to the squad. He hit .288 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs over just 49 games. The rookie hit a home run to start the top of the ninth inning in game four of the playoffs.
Derek Gordon’s tremendous season highlighted a marvelous year for pitchers. Gordon finished the regular season 9-4 with a 3.46 ERA and led the team in innings pitched and strikeouts. He earned the team’s only win in the playoffs while pitching seven shutout innings against the Winnipeg Goldeyes.
The Lincoln-native registered three complete games and tossed a complete game shutout on July 13th against the Salina Stockade. He earned one American Association Pitcher of the Week Award and was the league’s Pitcher of the Month for July. The right-hander was 5-0 with a 1.54 ERA over six starts. The team won eight straight games in which Gordon started, from June 27-August 5th.
Bennett Parry won the league’s ERA title with a near-perfect 1.92 ERA. The lefty battled through injuries to rack up a 3-2 record over 13 starts.
Right-hander Brian McAfee joined Gordon in throwing a complete game shutout. His came on July 17th against the Cleburne Railroaders. McAfee posted a 4-1 record with a 1.67 ERA over six starts before having his contract purchased by the Seattle Mariners on July 31st.
Cesilio Pimentel was the other Saltdogs player to have his contract purchased. The lefty was acquired in a trade with Fargo-Moorhead on July 3rd. He didn’t allow a run in his first 12.1 innings pitched while occupying a bullpen spot. Eventually, he moved to the rotation and 1-2 record with a 3.81 ERA before his move to the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
Remarkably, the Saltdogs’ wins leader was in the bullpen. J.R. Bunda went 10-1 over a team-high 41 appearances in 2017. The win total is tied for the third-most in franchise history. The second-year Saltdogs pitcher ended the season with an impressive 2.48 ERA and a team-high 28-inning scoreless streak.
Cameron McVey and Michael Wagner combined to become a shutdown duo in the late innings. McVey, the setup man, had a 1.62 ERA and struck out 48 batters over 33.1 innings. Wagner compiled a 2.84 ERA and finished the season tied for the second-most saves in the league with 21. The Saltdogs were 46-1 when leading after eight innings.
Fans came out in impressive numbers to support the Saltdogs. Regular season attendance totaled 172,712 people, about 3,000 more than 2016. Fans enjoyed events and promotions such as Haymarket Park Beerfest, Husker Heisman Night, the Eclipse Game and Bark in the Park.
2017 was the 17th season of Saltdogs baseball in Lincoln. For offseason information on the Saltdogs, follow the team on Facebook and Twitter/Instagram @saltdogsball.