Scrappers end the year with highlights

I have a bucket list. Doesn’t everybody? There’s a short list of places I want to go and events I want to see, though they’re all pretty much sports-related and out of my control. Except for one – visiting Disneyland Paris.

Everything else goes with seeing one of my respective teams win a championship and actually being there to witness it. Above all, being the die-hard baseball fan that I am, keeping score at a no-hitter is very high on my list.

I’ve come close. I saw Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Yusmeiro Petit twirl a one-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 4, 2009. In 2012, while covering the Champion softball Division III state championship, pitcher Lindsay Swipas didn’t allow a hit until the top of the seventh inning.

The area’s most recent milestone on the mound was achieved by the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. In a year marred by the second-worst record in the franchise history, Luis Gomez, Carlos Melo and Kerry Doane combined to pitch the first 9-inning no-hitter in the Scrappers’ 15 years of existence at Batavia on Sunday, Sept. 1.

“Gomez came out, walked one and was strong through six innings,” Doane said. “We knew he had a no-hitter going. “That’s the exciting part – just watching it. I didn’t know if I was going to pitch that game or not. The eighth inning rolls around and I start playing catch. I got called in and was excited for the chance to pull it off.”

Doane struck out two in the ninth inning for his first no-hitter – watching or playing.

“You can’t really think about it,” said the 23-year old Pompano Beach, Fla. native. “As a baseball player, it doesn’t just happen. You have to go and play at the highest level that night. It was a pretty cool thing as the whole team gathered on the mound and jumped around.

“That changes the whole mood of just about everybody. Finishing strong is the way you want to do it.”

That’s what the Scrappers did for the final two weeks of the season. They won five of their last eight games and finished 30-44 – 17 1/3 games back from Pinckney Division champion State College Spikes. But the biggest improvements and rewards didn’t come from the standings or wins – it came from a name.

Mahoning Valley catcher Sicnarf Loopstok won Minor League Baseball’s seventh annual Moniker Madness contest, which pits 50-some players against each other to see who has the best name out of the 180 North American farm teams and 4,500 farm hands.

Loopstok, whose first name is ‘Francis’ spelled backwards, beat out the likes of Stryker Trahan, Giuseppe Papaccio, Jose Jose and Stone Speer. Teammate Michael Goodnight was even part of the contest, selected by an online fan vote. Goodnight finished in 14th place.

“Sicnarf has a way better name than I do,” Goodnight said. “He beat out like 50 guys nominated for this in all of the minor agues. That’s something very cool.”

Last year’s champion, Rock Shoulders, was not eligible for the 2013 contest. Moniker Madness has previously been won by Seth Schwindenhammer (2011), Rowdy Hardy (2010), Dusty Napoleon (2009), Will Startup (2008) and Houston Summers (2007).

So, while Loopstok won MIP for Most Interesting Player, I’d like to give an MVP award to first baseman Nellie Rodriguez, who is an MIP in his own right.

“He improved so much,” said Scrappers hitting coach Shaun Larkin. “It’s been plan and approach. His swing is picturesque. He understood what he can do, while not trying to do too much. He developed an open mind of using the whole field to hit. His pitch selection has been real well because of that.

“You got a guy who’s that big, plays first and hammers the ball, I’d say he’s a power hitter with a great future.”

Rodriguez hit nine home runs with the Scrappers, which is tied for third best in a season in team history. Larkin also hit nine as a Scrapper in 2002.

“When I was here, I struggled early on and tried way too hard,” Larkin said. “That experience, specifically, with these guys at this level has been really good for them and myself. I know what it feels like. Without saying ‘I’ that approach was definitely helpful with these guys because I saw myself in them. All these guys have what I’ve had.”

Rodriguez was sent down from Class-A Lake County to short season Mahoning Valley in June.

“It was better for me to get sent down,” he said. “I learned more this year than ever playing the game. The game doesn’t change, but I can change myself.”

Even though the record may not have shown it, the 2013 Scrappers season wasn’t a total wash. Unless you count the eight rain outs and 245 minutes of worth of weather delays.