Skipper's Delight: All-Time Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats Lineup Overflows with Savory Fish

Paul Sturm
psturm@chillicothenews.com
California first baseman Dominic D'Anna had what could rate as the best-balanced hitting season of any Chillicothe Mudcat ever. He hit .400, but also clubbed six home runs, drove in 37 runs, and had a slugging percentage of exactly .600. His on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.102 remains a team career record and his 102 times reaching base via hit, walk, or hit by pitch is a single-season standard.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — As the likely-to-continue-expanding, COVID-19-related struggles with which Major League Baseball and the St. Louis Cardinals are grappling exemplify, organizing and operating a sports team – just as with any business, large or small – is a constant challenge. While rarely to the current extreme, the need to both macro- and micro-manage tests any person’s or organization’s skills, character, and capacity to endure.

That, two decades later, Grand River Entertainment’s Chillicothe Mudcats summertime, college-level baseball team “experiment” not only remains in existence, even if “on pause” this summer, but seemingly on solid organizational footing that includes a remarkable consistency of on-field success, is notable.

When the ceremonial first Chillicothe Mudcats pitch was thrown on June 1, 2002, by the late Dennis Kepner, whose suggestion it was to name the team “Mudcats,” the MINK League with which the team affiliated consisted of seven teams. Of those seven, only the Mudcats and the Clarinda (Iowa) A’s – largely a single-family operation dating back to the 1950s – still exist (the Nevada team dates to 1985, but played in Kansas’ Jayhawk League until 2009). In less than 20 years, 13 teams have exited.

However, with the Mudcats as an anchor, the league’s membership has significantly steadied the past decade or so. Prior to Ozark’s unexpected departure following last season, seven of the eight 2019 league clubs had been members for at least a decade and 2017 addition Jefferson City seems destined to be a solid, long-term member.

As the Mudcats organization and MINK League navigate the current COVID-19 detour and look ahead, our review of the team’s history – presented the past two months while awaiting new history to be made – concludes with this article subjectively spotlighting an “all-time lineup” of the best Mudcats players.

The first 18 summers of Fish baseball have included, fittingly, a head coach named Fish (Shad in 2002-03) and a player nicknamed “Fish” even before he swam into the local pond. They’ve seen 11 Chillicothe or Livingston County residents wear the hometown team’s uniform, just as have residents of 40 states and a handful of foreign lands. Along that way, more than 70 players either have been drafted by Major League Baseball organizations or signed professional contracts with them or independent minor league clubs, and, of those 70-plus, two have put on big-league uniforms.

The 18 teams have produced 16 winning records and one break-even won-lost mark with one, solitary losing campaign. Two league titles and three appearances in a national tournament have been earned, helping the team develop a loyal following that generates a per-capita game-attendance rate equal to or surpassing any of their league brethren.

Against that backdrop of achievement, these are the players – position by position, following baseball scorekeeping’s position-numbering system – whose play this writer (the only media member to have covered the Mudcats since their inception, including having seen seven of their eight National Baseball Congress World Series tournament games at Wichita, Kan., and at five MINK League parks) has evaluated as at the head of the class in this school of Mudcats:

Starting pitcher – Tyler Minto, 2009

Why – The Mobile, Ala., resident out of Louisiana’s Nicholls State University was virtually impeccable in pacing the Mudcats to the league title. In a 1968 Bob Gibson-esque performance, Minto set or tied team records for starts (10), wins (7), innings pitched (69-2/3), and earned run average by a starter (0.63), as well as starting four of the team-record eight shutouts that club posted. … All that stood between him and being the only 8- or 9-games winner in team history were a pair of complete-game, 2-1 losses. … In his final start, the bullpen blew what would have been his eighth win by allowing a run in the ninth inning after he’d thrown six shutout frames in what eventually became a 4-1, 15-innings victory in the National Baseball Congress World Series tournament. … His 60 strikeouts are tied for third-most in team history and his ERA is third-lowest ever overall. His strikeouts-to-walks ratio (60:11) is sixth-best.

Who’d he beat outBrian Wyatt (2004 - 6-1 record, 1.07 ERA, team-record walks-to-innings-pitched ratio (5:50-1/3), third-best strikeouts-to-walks ratio)

Relief pitcher – Aaron Kleekamp, 2008

Why – The Washington, Mo., resident via Hillsboro, Mo.’s Jefferson College combined availability (team-leading 13 appearances), endurance (34 innings), and effectiveness (0.53 ERA, 51 strikeouts, 14 hits, five total runs). His ERA and hits-to-innings-pitched ratio are second-lowest ever among those throwing at least 20 innings.

Who’d he beat outScott Limbocker (2009 - team-record 0.00 ERA in 13 appearances, 21-2/3 innings, 4 saves, 1-1 record, 10 hits, ); Jack McNellis (2019 - 7 saves in 7 chances, third-most saves in a season, team-record 0 walks in 19 appearances and 17-1/3 innings, team-record strikeouts-to-walks ratio (29:0), and led bullpen to team-record-tying 12 saves)

Left-handed pitcher – Mike Felix, 2005

Why – The Panama City, Fla., resident who was in the process of transferring from Auburn University to Troy (Ala.) State notched a team-record 69 strikeouts in 51-2/3 innings when not regularly starting in the outfield. He rang up a then-team-record 15 Parkville Sluggers on July 7, still the second-most in team history, and also had a dozen – tied for fourth-most – in his next start. Were it not for some bouts of wildness – he walked 31 and hit six more, his 5-2 record in 9 appearances likely would have been better, along with his still-outstanding 2.03 ERA. He surrendered only 26 hits.

Who’d he beat outLimbocker (2009 -  Except for his final outing, he might have been the top reliever and top lefty. Gave up four unearned runs after having two outs and bases empty in team’s second ’09 NBC World Series game, costing it advancement to the third round of the winners’ bracket and potentially a much-longer run in the tourney. Prior to that, he’d allowed only one run (unearned) and eight hits in 21 innings across 12 outings.)

Right-handed pitcher – Minto

Why – While some relievers had particular numbers that surpassed his, the depth and breadth of his accomplishments in the starting role, as well as his unswerving excellence carries the day rather easily.

Who’d he beat out – Wyatt, Kleekamp, McNellis

Catcher – Nolan Metcalf, 2019

Why – Even though it did produce the organization’s only major league position player, the backstop position hasn’t been the most star-studded spot through the years, particularly from an offensive standpoint. Thus, with his performance both behind the dish and at it, the Granger, Ind., resident out of Kansas University is an easy choice. … He led last year’s team in on-base percentage (OBP) (.465), slugging percentage (SP) (.589), and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) (1.054), as well as games played (41), runs batted in (35), runs scored (41), doubles (15), extra-base hits (21), sacrifice flies (3), and times hit by a pitch (11). In most of those, he ranks among the top five for a season and/or career. … Hit 5 home runs, second-most on the team. … He also threw out a solid 31 percent (8 of 26) of opponents trying to steal.

Who’d he beat outCaleb Joseph (2005-06 – The only Mudcats position player to go all the way to the major leagues did so largely on his defensive prowess – calling games, handling pitchers, receiving pitches, and controlling the running game. He demonstrated his developing abilities in those areas in his two years in Chillicothe, which sandwiched his freshman year at Lipscomb University. He cut down 17 of 43 would-be basestealers (nearly 40 percent) as a Mudcat and committed only five errors in more than 50 career games. At bat, he hit .289 in light use in ’05 and .280 in split duty with the ’06 league champions.) … Dallas Hord (2007-08 - Closed his career with the Fish with a strong second half of ’08, highlight by a 5-RBI game and a pair of 4-hits games – one of which was the second and most-recent “cycle” ever produced by a Mudcats batter on July 19, 2008. Despite not being particularly fast, the Ozark, Mo., resident exploited the spacious gaps at his home park to collect seven career triples while batting .269 in ’07 and .311 in ’08. Defensively, he cut down 13 of 35 basestealers, including an excellent eight of 16 his second year.)

First base – Dominic D’Anna, 2008

Why – A West Hills, Calif., resident out of California State University at Northridge, he produced one of the very best hitting performances for a season by a Mudcat ever for head coach “Jud” Kindle in 2008, then followed Kindle to the new Sedalia Bombers team Kindle organized the next year. … Considering both hitting for average and run production, the lefty swinger – purely on swinging the bat, not other offensive contributions – slightly exceeded 2003 Fish Steve Martin, posting a higher OBP (.502) and OPS (career team-record 1.102), while batting an even .400 with 68 hits, six home runs, 21 extra-base hits, a .600 SP, and driving in 37 runs. … His 101 times reaching base safely via hit, walk, or hit by pitch is the most in a season in team history with Martin the only other Mudcat to reach triple digits.

Who’d he beat outPaul Trenhaile (2013 – Owner of the all-time highest single-season and career batting averages in team history with his .434 mark, the Hannibal resident who played at Truman State U. at Kirksville also has the best single-season and career OBP at .517 and, at 1.099, barely missed joining D’Anna as the only Fish with a career OPS of 1.100 or higher. His 2013 OPS is third-best for a season behind Edgar Ramirez (2005) and D’Anna.

Second base – Josh Mayo, 2002-03

Why – Another west coaster who found summer success in the heart of the midwest, the Yuba, Calif., resident from his hometown Yuba College was the best overall player for the charter club, then returned in 2003 after his extended college season to even more productive in the same number of games played. … Playing second most of ’02 and early in his ’03 stint before shifting across the keystone to shortstop after Orlando Diaz, another 2002 returnee, departed early, there was no “holding the Mayo” by opponents. He had 48 hits in his first year here, then at least 44 his second (no statistics for several late-season games are available), creating a team career record with 92 hits. … He produced a team-high .388 batting average in 2002 and .338 mark in 2003, leaving him with a career mark of .363, also the best of any player to be with the team longer than one season. … Among multi-year players  he’s the team career record-setter for OBP at .430. … His 56 career RBI are second only to 2002-03 teammate Travis Dunlap’s 66 in the career rankings and his 25 career extra-base hits are third behind record-holder Tom Huntingford (36) and Ramirez (34) and he’s tied for fourth in career home runs with six.

Who’d he beat outTanner Bily (2013 – Arriving in mid-to-late June and find himself on a hefty, highly-productive roster of position players (18 different players got into at least 16 of the 47 games), Bily put together some of the team’s best-ever averages and ratios, but had less than 90 plate appearances and only 74 at-bats across a mere 22 games. When in the lineup or coming off the bench, the Anaheim Hills, Californian’s bat was loud, hitting .432 – only .002 behind teammate and team record-holder Trenhaile – while driving in 23 runs. His RBI-to-games ratio his third-highest in club annals and his 1.45 hits-per-game rate is sixth-best.)  … Taylor Johnson (2012 – Bily’s big splash as a late-addition second baseman mirrored the performance of Johnson a year earlier. Signed in late June, he came here from Dripping Springs, Texas, and was like a leaky faucet with the stick, producing hits – particularly for extra bases – with monotonous regularity. … A lefthanded hitter with more pop than his 5’8”, 170-pound stature would have suggested, he ripped 19 extra-base blows in only 109 at-bats and about 120 plate appearances. Of those, 15 were doubles, tied for third-most in Mudcats history despite his far-fewer opportunities. With virtually half of his 40 hits sending him to at least second base, his penchant for stinging the ball in the alleys and down the lines left him with a huge .596 slugging percentage, fourth-best for a season in club history. … He also was the first Mudcat to begin a home game with a home run, leading off the bottom of the first in that manner on July 9.)

Shortstop – Edgar Ramirez, 2004-05

Why – Until the 2005 Mudcats began play in the Central USA Regional tournament at Clarinda, Iowa, following their regular season, the San Luis, Ariz., resident who was going to Mesa CC in his home state rated as a very good Mudcat who had followed in Mayo’s footsteps as a multi-year mainstay on the infield, but lacking the Californian’s overall impact. He had followed a 2004 debut season in which, playing mainly third base, he’d batted a pedestrian .287 and scored a team-leading 30 runs while collecting 33 hits with a 2005 regular season in which – as the regular shortstop, even though it wasn’t his best defensive position – he’d improved to a .357 average with 15 extra-base hits in 29 games and 112 at-bats following his June 15 arrival. Then, he became a monster masher. … Never a factor in the MINK League title race after a dismal 1-6 start (the team won 11 of its last 13 in league action), the club’s 14-3 overall finish to the regular season did give hope that claiming the organization’s first-ever berth in the NBC World Series tournament by winning the regional was attainable. That came within one game and a few innings of happening, largely thanks to Ramirez. … Beginning with a 3-for-5 performance with a home run and four RBI in an opening-round victory, he lit up Clarinda’s Municipal Stadium for a shocking 14 hits in 24 at-bats over five games (.583 average, incomprehensible 1.208 slug), swatting four home runs in five contests while also raking three doubles and both driving in and eight runs. He had a 5-hits game in the losers’-bracket final before pounding future long-time major league lefthander Tony Watson for two homers and a double that nearly “left the yard” in a season-ending 5-3 defeat. … His regional-tourney explosion left him with team single-season records of a .669 slugging percentage – a whopping .059 ahead of runnerup Martin – and 1.122 OPS. … Added to his more-muted 2004 output, Ramirez finished with a career-record 64 runs scored, 87 hits (second only to Mayo), 50 RBI (third all-time), and six home runs (all in 2005), which ties him for fourth on the career list.

Who’d he beat outRyan Busch (2012 – Joined with late-addition Johnson to be the prime offensive catalysts and forces for the team which set club records for wins in a season (33), hits (510), and runs (296, a total surpassed the next year). The Falcon Heights, Minn., right-handed hitter led the team with 60 hits and 27 RBI while batting .370. He also stole 13 bases in 17 tries, the second-best theft total on the team. He put up those numbers while playing 44 of the team’s record 54 games.)

Third base – Brett Sowers, 2009

Why – With Ramirez’s greatest success coming when he played mostly shortstop and Travis Dunlap having only played the position about 15 times during his powerful and productive record-setting 2003 season, the all-time Mudcats third baseman debate eventually came down to Sowers and 2017 Fish Anthony Lantigua. In a close decision, the Englewood, Colo., resident who came in from Yavapai (Ariz.) CC gets the nod, despite his injury-shortened lone season as a Mudcat. … Prior to the early July injury which kayoed him for the rest of that MINK League title-winning season, Sowers had amassed a .500 slugging percentage and driven in 24 runs in 25 games, one of the best rates of run production ever by a Fish. He hammered four homers in that first month of the season, including being one of only 12 Mudcats to do “touch ‘em all’ in back-to-back games. Considering the team ended up playing 49 games, his RBI and home run paces could have led him to full-season totals challenging the team’s single-season records (9 HR, 45 RBI). … He batted .309.

Who’d he beat outAnthony Lantigua (2017 – The team’s pronounced sag after a blazing start and final 24-22 record somewhat overshadows the very fine season the Belleville, N.J., resident had. He batted a team-best .362 and had a lofty .475 OBP boosted by a team-high eight hit-by-pitches. Stealing 17 bases in 22 tries helped him score a team-high 34 runs and he had a very good .958 OPS. Hurting him in comparison to Sowers was his relative lack of run production. He drove in a mere 18 runs in 116 at-bats, even though the team batting average was a comparatively-lofty .294, fourth-best in team annals.

Left field – Darian Sandford, 2009-10

Why – The St. Louisan out of the Kansas City area’s Park University was an undeniable, indomitable blur on the bases, regardless of the foe, but also more than held his own at the plate by playing to his strength – speed. … He played only a few 2010 games, excelling again, before being drafted by and quickly signing with the Kansas City Royals’ organization. Although released by KC after two seasons in the rookie league, he continued to play professionally in independent leagues, including three games in a Mexican League, through 2019 and actually got one more shot at minor league ball in 2017 when he got into 50 games with the Washington Nationals’ AA farm team in Harrisburg, Pa. Still daring in his early 30s, he stole 82 bases for his 2018 independent club and 74 more last year. … The undisputed catalyst of the 2009 MINK League champs who then earned the organization’s first-ever win of a NBC World Series game – with Sandford scoring the first two runs in that 4-1 15-innings victory, he swiped a team single-season record 50 bases in 63 attempts. When he swiped nine more in 10 tries in his four 2010 games before getting drafted, he left behind a team career records of 59 thefts and 73 attempts. … Using both a contact approach to swinging the bat, supplemented by plenty of bunts, he batted .351 for his career here, getting 74 hits (sixth-most all-time). His 69 hits in 2009 matched his early-season teammate Matty Johnson’s total of the prior season as second-most in a season in history behind Steve Martin up until then. That number still ranks tied for fourth. … Sandford’s career on-base percentage of .423 is second-best to Mayo’s .430 among multi-season Mudcats.

Who’d he beat outJustin Blasinski (2017 – A runs-generating force, he had an amazing start to the season in that regard (13 RBI in his first six games), his 42 runs batted in is the second-most to Dunlap’s record 45. The left-handed hitter swatted four home runs among his 55 total hits and batted .333. He owns the team record for sacrifice flies in a season and career with seven.)

Center field – Cory Ford, 2011

Why – Assigned to center field in this mock lineup – Martin was shifted to right because of his stronger throwing arm, this Bella Vista, Ark., resident who played for Oklahoma Wesleyan University used the whole field to have more extra-base-hit production than might have been anticipated. … Of his 70 hits – third-most for a season in club history, 22 went for extra bases, including 17 doubles, four triples, and an inside-the-park home run. The 17 2-baggers matched Tom Huntingford’s 2004 total as the team single-season record and his extra-base-hits total shares (with Huntingford and Ramirez) the single-season runnerup spot to Martin’s 23. … Leading off in every one of the 47 games he started, he batted .354 in 198 official at-bats – the third-highest AB total in a season behind M. Johnson’s record 201 in 2008 and Sandford’s 199 in 2009. … He also shares another team record – for most games played (51), the same total 2011 teammate Logan Moon got in.

Who’d he beat outThomas Lerouge (2015 – One of only six Mudcats regulars ever to average .400 or higher for a season, hitting that number right on the nose and his lofty rate of 1.53 hits per game makes him one of the team’s best hitters ever. He had reasonably good run production with that average, plating 20 teammates even though he often hit leadoff or second in the lineup. His OBP (.434), slug (.521), and OPS (.988) also were notable, but, in this consideration, were undermined a bit by the Yucaipa, Calif., resident’s appearing in only 30 games.

Right field – Steve Martin, 2003

Why – Some 17 years after his lone season with the Mudcats and 14 years since his tragic death in a 1-car Ohio car crash, the late Loudon, Tenn., resident out of the University of Alabama-Birmingham still could be argued with great conviction to have had the best season ever by a Mudcats position player and to have been their “greatest” or “best” player ever, regardless of position. … Given that it was only the club’s second year of existence, most of his massive 2003 season totals were team records, but the numbers only grew and grew in stature as most remained unsurpassed for years and more than a decade and many still are No. 1 on the charts. … Still standing as Mudcats single-season records are his 76 hits, 23 extra-base hits, eight triples, and 44 runs. … Career-wise, his .610 slugging percentage remains tops and his 1.62 hits-per-game rate stood at the peak until last year when Logan Eickhoff topped it at 1.74. … From a single-game perspective, his seven RBI against Nevada on July 7 has been equaled only by Michael Klein in 2014, a game in which he became the first Mudcat ever to hit for the “cycle” (home run, triple, double, single) and the first to crack a grand slam homer. … Martin also was the first Fish ever to reach base safely 100 times via hit, walk, or hit by pitch and, to this date, is one of only two to do so – D’Anna being the other with a new-record 102 in 2008. … Not just a threat with a bat in his hand, the lefty-hitting Martin – routinely the leadoff man in the lineup – stole a then-record 31 bases in 35 attempts. Although Sandford and Peyton Cormane (2018) eventually swiped more, his 89% success rate is No. 2 still behind  Cormane’s 95% among those Mudcats with at least 30 attempts. Martin also had the first of now-8 4-steals games in team history – the single-game record.

Who’d he beat outTom Huntingford (2004-05 – Sharing both rosters with Ramirez, the Canadian (West Vancouver, British Columbia) had similar, solid numbers both summers he came south of the border. In doing so, he set the team’s career record with 36 extra-base hits. His 84 career hits are tied (with M. Johnson) for third-most behind Mayor and Ramirez and his 48 RBI are fourth-most behind those two and record-holder (66) Dunlap. Had not he slumped after a very fast start to his second season, Huntingford might have elbowed his way past Ford for a spot in this “starting nine,”  but he still managed to close 2005 with four home runs and a .309 batting average.

Designated hitter – Zach Esquerra, 2011

Why – Although some followers of the game prefer a DH with a good mix of on-base skill with power and run production, traditionally the role has been looked as needing mostly the latter two. This La Habra, Calif., resident out of California Baptist University filled that bill to a “T.” … Not quite an “all-or-nothing” batsman, but – with a team-record 51 whiffs in 154 at-bats – not that far from it, when Esquerra put the ball in play, big things usually happened – none bigger than his historic walk-off grand slam in the ninth inning of the June 22 game against St. Joseph, the first walk-off homer in Mudcats history and one of only two to date. … Not quite three weeks later, he crushed a record-tying three home runs, drove in five runs and scored three in a game at Springfield against Ozark. … His biggest game, however, might well have been his 6-RBI outburst, which included a 3-runs home run and bases-loaded triple, in a Central USA Regional tournament losers’-bracket game against Omaha Diamond Spirit. He also scored three times that day. … The following day, in a season-ending loss, the big right-handed hitter blasted another home run, allowing him to tie Jason Clark’s single-season record of nine that still stands. Those two also continue to share the team’s career record for circuit clouts with those nine. … Esquerra’s 40 RBI that season – more than a third of which were delivered in the three just-cited games – remain No. 3 on the single-season list and his 21 extra-base hits are tied for fifth. … He’s one of only a dozen Fish to “go deep” in consecutive games. … Although he batted only .260, his power is spotlighted by his slugging percentage being more than twice that – .532.

Who’d he beat outTyler Bullock (2008 – Not added to the squad until July 8 when C/3B/DH David “Bubby” Williams was lost to an injury, the hefty (6’4”, 275 pounds) lefty from DuQuoin, Ill., came in swinging a big bat and never stopped. Appearing in only 17 games – almost exclusively as DH, he provided major protection and production behind No. 3 hitter D’Anna, setting a still-team record for RBI per game with 21. He stroked 22 hits in those 17 games, as well, including a couple of long balls, and finished with a .338 batting average. He took the “hitter” part of his position’s title literally, accepting only four bases on balls in 70 plate appearances.)

Utility player – Logan Eickhoff, 2019

Why – The La Vista, Neb., resident who’d just been a freshman at nearby North Central Missouri College in Trenton came to the team labeled as an outfielder and saw his share of time there, including starting in all three flyhawk posts, but was utilized just as often in a 3-man catching rotation with Metcalf and Brady Welch and plenty of times on the infield at second or third base or at shortstop. … That versatility not only helped allow head coach Caleb Bounds to utilize other players at their primary positions regularly while still giving players days off as needed, but also let the coach keep Eickhoff’s highly-productive bat in the lineup virtually daily. … Playing in a team-high 41 of the 42 games for the 26-16 squad, he established new team records for hits per game in a season and career with an average of 1.76, handily surpassing the late Martin’s prior record of 1.62. … He also just missed catching Martin’s total hits record, finishing with 72 – second-most ever – when he went hitless in the season finale. He also had a crack at breaking Trenhaile’s record for season batting average entering what turned out to be the last game, settling instead for a .416 mark that is fourth all-time behind Trenhaile, Bily, and Martin. … Not just a “punch-and-Judy” hitter, he collected 19 extra-base hits, including seven triples, and had a .566 slugging percentage. His 34 RBI were second to teammate Metcalf’s 35 on the team, but also are the sixth-highest total in team history. … His single-game highlight on his way to being voted by league coaches as MINK League co-player of the year – the first Mudcat ever to win or share that honor – was in the team’s first postseason game since 2012. He ripped Sedalia pitchers for five straight hits, including a single-game record three triples, and had 12 total bases as the host Mudcats advanced to the North Division championship game. His five hits in five at-bats that night followed a triple in his last at-bat of the regular season, allowing him to tie the team record for consecutive at-bats with a hit. In becoming the 11th Fish ever with a 5-hits game, he simultaneously became the 12th with six straight hits. … Eickhoff also supplemented his hitting prowess with 11 stolen bases in 13 tries, helping him score 40 runs, one less than Metcalf. Both now reside in the top five for runs scored in a season.

Who’d he beat outSandford (2008-09 – The switch-hitter generally split time between left or center field and second base, but played more often in the outfield than Eickhoff, leading to the decision to list him there, particularly in light of Eickhoff’s extreme versatility.) Mark Robinette (2010 – the Tulsa, Okla., product not only was regularly used in the outfield or either of the corner infield spots, but was among the MINK League North Division champs’ best pitchers. Offensively, the right-handed hitter participated in 35 games in which he didn’t pitch and one in which he did start on the mound (one of the few times a Mudcats coach has eschewed the DH in a game). He hit a lofty .347 in 150 at-bats and actually led the club with 52 hits he shared the RBI lead with Tyson Parks with 30 each and had a very respectable .473 “slug.” Of his 52 hits, more than a fourth were for extra bases, including a pair of home runs – one a slam. He also stroked a team-high five sacrifice flies, second-most in team history.)

In wrapping up this final reflection of Mudcats history as they point toward beginning play in the ’20s next year, any of the organization’s 11 head coaches thus far surely would relish the opportunity to construct a batting order using the selected lineup of position players.

If I were to have that chance, if not including utility man Eickhoff, my lineup card would look like this:

1. Martin, rf

2. Ramirez, ss

3. D’Anna, 1b

4. Mayo, 2b

5. Metcalf, c

6. Esquerra, DH

7. Ford, cf

8. Sandford, lf

9. Sowers, 3b

Such an arrangement would allow for an excellent mix of high batting average, on-base percentages, and pop through the top half, potentially giving Esquerra’s pure power a chance to deliver multiple runs with one swing of the bat. The bottom third then would provide a chance to reignite further scoring between the hitting and speed of Ford and Sandford and the run-producing skill of Sowers.

If viewing – with significant justification – Eickhoff’s play last year as worthy of being somewhere in a “best of” lineup, I would insert him in right field, shifting Martin over and removing Ford. Based on the raw comparison of numbers between Eickhoff and Ford, that would make for an even-more potent lineup.

Wanting Eickhoff’s team-record hits-per-game rate high in the order, as well as to keep the big bats of Ramirez and D’Anna in the top half, I’d drop the “original” 2-6 men down one spot each. This would balance the spacing between lefty hitters Martin, D’Anna, and (potentially) Sandford, while still having Sandford’s ability to get on base and into scoring position with his legs theoretically giving Sowers the RBI opportunities he proved so effective at converting. The rearrange lineup would look like this:

1. Martin, cf

2. Eickhoff, rf

3. Ramirez, ss

4. D’Anna, 1b

5. Mayo, 2b

6. Metcalf, c

7. Esquerra, DH

8. Sandford, lf

9. Sowers, 3b

Outfielder Steve Martin of the 2003 Chillicothe Mudcats established a bushelful of team records - a number of which still stand - during his spectacular summer as a Mudcat. The late Tennessean has the most hits, extra-base hits, triples, and runs scored in a season and the highest slugging percentage for a career.