REELING IN THE MUDCATS YEARS: Late Martin, Mayo, Dunlap, Ramirez excelled with bat as summer baseball team took root
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Outstanding team and individual performances are, almost by definition, a part of the fabric of sport and its appeal to fans.
Baseball, with the easily-observed and statistically-quantifiable individual execution of most of its action, historically has prospered by fans’ ability to understand and readily connect, emotionally and intellectually, when performance scales to exceptional levels.
From 2002 through last summer, the Chillicothe Mudcats college-level baseball teams and individual players have generated nearly-countless exciting moments and achievements which not only thrilled fans in that moment, but also became fond memories.
With Mudcats operations interrupted this summer by complications from the COVID-19 pandemic, a portion of the void that has left for the team’s fans is able to be filled by their recall of at least some of those moments. Given that the passage of time can dull some of those recollections, this “down time” provides the opportunity to comb back through pages of history and refresh some of those pleasurable memories.
Having already recapped the Mudcats’ overall history of diamond success and, then, their season-by-season team accomplishments, last week we peered more intently into specific games that produced the reaching of major team goals. Today’s re-examination will begin to blend the focus on particular games to highlight both those of exceptional team and/or individual performances.
Slicing the 18 seasons into segments, this flashback will survey the first six years (2002-07) of Mudcats baseball.
A chronological (by date, not year) capsule glance of highlights of the Mudcats’ first six seasons finds plenty of sterling individual and group performances.
The Mudcats’ first-ever road game is a 3-2 loss at the Kearney (Mo.) River Bandits. The 2002 MINK League game sees infielder Josh Mayo, one of the Mudcats’ early standouts, have hits in his first two at-bats. That gives him hits in 6-consecutive official at-bats, setting a team mark that since has been matched 11 times, but never surpassed.
Center fielder Steve Martin – arguably the best Mudcat ever, but destined to die in a car crash while playing in the minor leagues three years later – in 2003 becomes the first of six Fish ever to swipe four bases in a game without being caught (Darian Sandford and Peyton Cormane do it twice each) during a 6-4 home victory over the St. Louis Golden Spikes.
The original Mudcats drop their first-ever meeting with league power Beatrice, but the 2002 11-6 loss is the occasion for center fielder Seth Moulton to produce the team’s first-ever 5-for-5 game at the plate and for Mayo to be the first Fish to homer in consecutive contests.
In 2005, in a wild home slugfest, DH Bass powers a long ball from each side of the plate and drives in four runs in a 16-12 league loss to the Topeka Golden Giants. It’s the only time to date a Mudcat has homered twice in a game at Shaffer Park stadium.
Backed by center fielder Tom Huntingford’s five RBI and three hits, Ludlow resident and Southwest Livingston HS alumnus Clint Gilliland posts his first victory as a 2004 Mudcat in a 18-5 non-league blowout of the Springfield Generals. The runs total is a new team record at the time.
In 2006, Mudcats pitchers combine to strike out a still-record 19 North Kansas City Apartments batters in a 13-innings, 6-5 Chillicothe victory. Winner Cody Poche fans six in four shutout innings after Austin Baker and Spencer Highlander had whiffed five each and Rick Wells three.
Australian Will Bradley is convinced by 2004 head coach Brad Phillips that he’s well enough to play, despite having had a quadricep muscle tighten up significantly on the long bus trip to Beatrice, Neb. The coach turns out to be correct as the then-Central Missouri State University second baseman hits a grand slam – the second in team history – and drives in five runs in an 11-5 clubbing of the Bruins.
After visiting Beatrice (Neb.) wins a 14-9 slugfest in the opener of a 2002 doubleheader, Mudcats righthander Josh Kauten fires the first 1-hitter in team history, surrendering only a leadoff single in the fifth inning in a 2-0 victory.
Outfielder Chalen Tietje goes four for five with a homer, triple, four RBI, and four runs scored as the 2002 Mudcats unleash an 18-hits attack on the visiting St. Joseph Saints in a 12-4 win.
A scheduled 7-innings, non-league 2003 home game against an Excelsior Springs team is cut in half by rain, but still manages to make history when starting pitcher Wes Todd and reliever Matt Hancock hold the guests hitless in what goes in the books as the Mudcats’ first – and only, thus far – no-hitter and a 13-0 4-innings victory. The only baserunner the duo allows is a 2-outs walk issued by Todd in the third inning on a 3-2 pitch.
It’s part of a record-setting season for rubber-armed righthander Hancock, who’ll appear – always in relief – in 26 of the club’s 48 games, six more than any other Fish flinger ever. His amazing 52-1/3 innings are the most ever by a Mudcats bullpenner and his 56 strikeouts not only are the most by a Chillicothe reliever, but are sixth-most in team history. For his part, Todd’s short, but successful, start is one of 10 the lefty from Alabama will make in the 2003 season. That shares the team record with 2003 teammate Karnie Vertz and 2009’s Minto.
In one of the most-prolific offensive games in team history, 2003 standout Steve Martin becomes first of only two Mudcats to hit for the “cycle” (home run, triple, double, single), complementing that with a team-record seven runs batted in, including the team’s first-ever grand slam. Finishing his cycle with a seventh-inning double, he also scores three runs during the 16-0 home victory over Nevada that extends a then-record 8-games winning streak.
Their aforementioned 8-games winning streak ended the day before, the 2003 Mudcats take out their “anger” on a single, overwhelmed pitcher for non-league foe the Springfield Slashers. Facing the same hurler throughout their eventual 16-0 triumph, the Mudcats blast a team-record nine home runs, including Travis Dunlap becoming the first Fish with three roundtrippers in a game (since matched by Zach Esquerra in 2011 and Jack Grace last year). Going deep twice each are Josh Mayo and Jason Clark, who’ll end the year with a still-team-record nine. Travis Hodsdon and Craig Johnson, who goes five for five, also homer. Surprisingly, that all happens while standout Martin goes hitless, ending his string of 7-consecutive multi-hits games.
The Mudcats’ first-ever postseason triumph also is memorable for how it ultimately achieved.
Trailing Beatrice (Neb.) – which had won five of the teams’ six regular-season meetings – 6-0 midway through their losers’ bracket game in the World Series-qualifying Central USA Regional Tournament at Clarinda, they claw their way back within 7-6 after eight innings. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, Orlando Diaz leads off with a double and soon scores from third on a wild pitch, tying the score.
Jake Kauzlarich then singles and pinch-runner Gregg Wallis is bunted to second. A single and walk load the bags with still one out. After a second out is recorded, following the first pitch to Sean Richardson, the catcher’s return throw to the mound eludes the hurler and Wallis alertly dashes home from third for a walk-off win that clinches a winning season.
A thrilling and disappointing day all rolled into one sees the 2005 season conclude with a game that, it turns out, features three future major league players, but stars a Mudcat who never reaches the pro level nor even gets drafted.
First, in one of their tensest games ever, the Mudcats use a 5-runs top of the 13th inning to defeat the St. Joseph Saints 12-7 in an elimination game in the Central USA Regional before, letting an early 2-0 slip away, falling 5-3 to talent-laden Beatrice in a losers’ final from which the survivor would be assured of qualifying for the World Series.
In the win over St. Joseph, after squandering leads of 5-0 and 7-2, relievers Josh Dew and Mike Felix fire four perfect innings in extra innings and infielder Edgar Ramirez homers and doubles twice while ripping five hits. He scores the tiebreaking run after a leadoff double in the 13th.
However, because the blown leads in the St. Joseph game led to Felix – targeted to be the starter for the game with Beatrice if the Fish got that far – being used a couple of innings, head coach Phillips has none of his normal, regular-season starting pitchers available (some already had gone home after the regular season ended). As a result, he turns to Chillicothean Josh Norris, who has been effective as a middle and short reliever during the season, but had made only a couple of starts against non-league foes.
Matched up with a Bruins lineup anchored by future major league outfielder Jordan Danks and dueling with lefthander Tony Watson, who has pitched in the big leagues the past 10 years, Norris – with future major leaguer Caleb Joseph as his catcher – blanks the Nebraska team through three innings. With Ramirez ripping a pair of solo home runs off Watson – his second and third roundtrippers of the day – in the first and third innings, the Mudcats lead 2-0 after 3-1/2 innings.
A walk and a pair of singles off Norris let the Bruins tie it in the fourth, but he retires Danks on a fly ball to center to strand a man at second and keep it tied.
Ramirez, who completes his sterling 2-years Mudcats career this day having led the ’05 team in most offensive categories (including a .397 batting average and six home runs, then narrowly misses a third home run off Watson, banging a drive off the tall fence in center field at Clarinda’s Municipal Stadium for a 1-out double in the top of the fifth. However, he’s left on base.
Norris then blanks Beatrice in the bottom half, preserving the 2-2 tie, but a throwing error on a possible double-play grounder in the sixth leads to three runs, including a solo homer by Danks over the cozy right field fence.When the Mudcats score only one run after the third inning, they fall short of World Series qualification with a 5-3 loss.
(In the next installment in this series, 2008-13 games that produced remarkable and historic individual and team performances will be featured.)