Scrappers rev up honors

Mahoning Valley pays homage to Packard car, legacy

Tribune Chronicle / Eric Murray Mahoning Valley Scrapper Josea Nelson, left, is wearing a Mahoning Valley Packards jersey, as his teammates and coaches did on Saturday, to honor the National Packard Museum — celebrating the Packard car, legacy. Also pictured is Staten Island catcher Jason Lopez and home-plate umpire Matt Baldwin.

NILES — On Saturday night, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers transformed themselves into the Packards. This was to honor of the former car company and manufacturing facility’s proud Warren roots, which includes the Packard Music Hall and the National Packard Museum in downtown Warren.

Unfortunately for the Packards, they had some car troubles late in the ballgame. MV carried a two-run lead into the sixth, but a breakdown in the top of the inning put the Staten Island Yankees right back in the contest. Eventually, a Yankee home run in the top of the eighth put Staten Island ahead for good as they downed the Packards, 3-2.

With runners on second and third base, Nolan Jones (.291 average) smashed a triple to right field to bring in Jason Rodriguez and Ernie Clement, giving the Packards a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third.

MV was moving along quite well until the sixth inning when mental errors cost them. Kyle Higashioka, who made his Major League debut with the New York Yankees earlier this year, led off the inning with a double before a Jason Lopez walk quickly put runners on first and second with no outs. Two quick outs appeared to put the Packards on their way to ending the inning, but that’s when they experienced some mechanical issues.

A Jason Rodriguez passed ball scored Higashioka, cutting the deficit to 2-1. Kendall Coleman then smacked a ball toward third baseman Jones, who committed his 15th error of the season, scoring Lopez from third to tie the contest.

Tribune Chronicle / Eric Murray Nolan Jones makes an adjustment while batting Saturday against Staten Island at Eastwood Field in Niles.

Staten Island’s (32-19) Timmy Robinson blasted a two-out home run to left field in the top of the eighth, giving the Yankees the lead for good. For the Packards, the game slipped through their hands, despite striking out 15 Yankees.

“They pitched really well, we’re a play away from winning this one — and a hit or two,” Carlin said. “(But) I’m happy with my team, they’re swinging the bats and pitching kept us in the game the whole time. It’s one of those where tip your caps, (Staten Island) came out on top.”

Carlin, in his first year as the Scrappers’ skipper, is pleased with what he’s seeing from his team thus far — and for good reason. MV has been competitive start-to-finish as it nears Monday’s New York-Penn League All-Star break, as the Scrappers find themselves with a narrow lead in the Wild Card standings and just a 1 1/2 game deficit to West Virginia for the Pinckney Division lead.

“It has to do with our hard work, the routines and their daily actions is what leads to the results at night,” Carlin said. “They’ve been putting in the work, so they’ll get rewarded by the fruit it produces.”

Rewarding indeed. Three Scrappers — shortstop Jesse Berardi, first baseman Ulysses Cantu and right fielder Oscar Gonzalez were all recently named to the New York-Penn League All-Star team.

Tribune Chronicle / Eric Murray Mahoning Valley Scrappers pitcher Eli Morgan throws against the Yankees.

Berardi is batting .304 and displaying solid defense at short, while Cantu leads the team in home runs (four) and has 19 RBIs. Gonzalez, meanwhile, was the Arizona League MVP this past spring, and has translated well to the NY-PL thus far, as he leads the team with 25 RBIs to go along with a .302 batting average.

The Scrappers (29-22) rank second in the league in batting average (.261) and sixth in runs scored (220). MV, however, has excelled even more on the mound, as MV ranks third in ERA (3.12) and fourth in strikeouts (451).

What it all adds up to is a Scrapper ballclub that could make the postseason for the first time since 2009. To continue the momentum from here on out, Carlin believes that the growing confidence of his players and continued hard work can lead to good things.

“I definitely think you could tell our hitters are a little more confident, (and) you see (it in) our bullpen guys and our starting pitching,” Carlin said. “They’re getting more comfortable, they’re used to the league (now).

“The effort, the energy, the competitiveness of the team has been outstanding. It’s something that we’re gonna message to them after the all-star break as well. They’ve been playing their butts off and they’ve done a fantastic job, it’s been fun.”

MV finishes its series with Staten Island today at 4:05 p.m, before going on hiatus for the All-Star break. Starting next Wednesday. MV resumes the second half of the season with a six-game road trip, starting in Batavia.