LINCOLN, NE – The 2018 Lincoln Saltdogs season was another successful edition of “America’s Pastime” in the capital city. Outstanding moments and a third-straight winning season marked the 18th summer of pro baseball at Haymarket Park.
“Haymarket Park was full of energy in 2018 because of our talented players and the exciting promotions organized by our front office staff,” President/GM Charlie Meyer said. “The team reached impressive milestones and made lasting baseball memories with its thrilling style of play. We believe the franchise’s successes are due to the continued support of the Lincoln community, our corporate partners and our season ticket holders.”
The Saltdogs finished the season 51-48 and closed strong by going 18-12 in August. While 2018 did not feature a trip to the playoffs, it did see plenty of home runs. We mean A LOT of home runs. Like, the second most in franchise history and the fourth most in league history. The 116 bombs made the Saltdogs one of the most prolific home run hitting teams in the American Association’s 13-year existence. Big boppers like Brandon Jacobs, Christian Ibarra and Curt Smith all finished in the top eight in the league in long balls. Jacobs’ 22 dingers tied for second in the league and the second most in franchise history. Ibarra and Smith each set career highs with 20 and 18 blasts respectively.
When they weren’t hitting dingers, the Saltdogs were busy playing flashy and consistent defense. A year after setting the league record for fielding percentage, the 2018 ‘Dogs finished second in the league with a .978 FLD%. The team really flashed the leather late in the season, going 11 straight games without making an error in the middle of August.
The pitching staff overcame injuries and roster turnover to post its best month in August. The throwers recorded the third best August ERA in the league with a 3.65 mark in the final month of the year. It was more and a point lower than their ERA in any other month.
There were several individual standouts on the pitching staff. First, Austin Robichaux earned the team’s Pitcher of the Year Award after being the only hurler to stick in the starting rotation for the whole season. The tall right-hander carried a no-hit bid until two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning at Cleburne on August 23rd. His one-hitter was the 15th in league history and the Saltdogs’ third since 2006. The Louisiana native tied for the league lead in both complete games (3) and shutouts (2).
Lincoln native Derek Gordon had another standout season for the Saltdogs. The younger brother of Alex Gordon led the team with an 8-1 record and posted a solid 3.51 ERA. He moved to the bullpen in mid-June and dominated. Gordon went 5-1 with a 1.43 ERA over 25 relief appearances and did not surrender an earned run over his last 11 outings. The Lincoln Southeast graduate fanned 79 batters and moved into fifth place in franchise history with 176 career punchouts. His career 8.5 strikeout/9 innings rate is the sixth best ever with the Saltdogs and his 17 wins is the fourth most.
Several other Saltdogs moved into the career record books in 2018. Right-handed pitcher Shairon Martis cemented himself as an all-time great. The Curacao native now sits third in career wins, tied for third in games started, second in innings pitched and second in strikeouts. With his team-high 22 home runs, Jacobs jumped to a tie for fourth in franchise history with 45 career home runs. He is tied with Ian Gac and trails just Josh Patton, Curt Smith and Bryan Warner in round-trippers. Christian Ibarra was second in the league in walks and moved his career total to the sixth most in franchise history. Cesar Valera continued to produce extra-base hits and moved to fifth place in career triples.
Curt Smith’s accomplishments warrant their own paragraph. The sixth-year Saltdog led the team in hits, RBIs and extra-base hits while finishing second in the league in total bases and second among active players in slugging percentage. He sits second in Saltdogs career charts in games played, RBIs, hits, triples and home runs. The Lincoln legend played in his 1000th professional game in 2018. He earned a postseason All-Star award and was the league’s Player of the Month for August.
The team’s individual standouts garnered recognition from the American Association. Reyes, Ibarra and Oduber each earned Player of the Week honors while Tamburino and Robichaux each received Pitcher of the Week accolades. The five weekly honors tied for the most ever received by a Saltdogs team.
Aside from the baseball numbers, there were outstanding moments in 2018. The memorable games started with the team’s first win. Mike Tamburino tossed 6.1 no-hit innings against Sioux City on May 20th to kick off a four-game win streak. That streak included a sweep of Wichita and two walk-off wins. On May 22nd, Lincoln overcame a 10-1 deficit in the fourth inning to beat the Wingnuts 11-10 on a walk-off home run from Angel Reyes with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Two games later, Ibarra scored on a wild pitch to walk-off the Wingnuts and vanquish eventual league Relief Pitcher of the Year Daniel Tillman.
The walk-offs did not stop there. Lincoln won four more games in walk-off fashion, including two more against Wichita. They swept the Chicago Dogs because of two walk-offs. Jacobs smacked game-ending double on June 22nd and Randolph Oduber did the same in extra-innings on June 24th. Manager Bobby Brown circled the team’s home finale as his top game in 2018. The ‘Dogs rallied from down 3-0 to win on a Curt Smith sacrifice fly in the eighth inning and earn the sweep of Cleburne.
First-class guests highlighted the 2018 promotional schedule. New Nebraska football coach Scott Frost threw out the first pitch on Opening Night. Famous comedian Larry the Cable Guy hosted Git-R-Done Night in August and participated in game-activities throughout the night. Jimmy Buffet Tribute band Tom Watt and the Fruitcakes returned to Haymarket Park in June for the reactivation of the popular Jimmy Buffett Night.
Haymarket Park hosted special events outside of the Saltdogs games. The organization welcomed “celebrities” from KLKN-TV, Alpha Media, Broadcast House and the Lincoln Journal Star to participate in the Lincoln Media Softball Challenge in August. Later that month, the Saltdogs hosted Lincoln Fire and Rescue/Lincoln Police Department Appreciation Day, which featured a home run derby after the game.
2018 was the 18th season of Saltdogs baseball in Lincoln. For more information on the Saltdogs, follow the team on Facebook and Twitter/Instagram @saltdogsball.