Home, sweet home

Scrappers blast 4 HRs to win home opener

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Scrapper CF #12 George Valera is greeted in front of the dugout by teammates after hitting a 2 run home run in the 6th inning against the Batavia Muckdogs in the 2019 season home opener Sunday evening.

NILES — Mother Nature tried her best, with rain and the threat of a tornado, but that wasn’t enough to stop Opening Day for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.

The weather obviously didn’t impact their offense as they outscored the Batavia Muckdogs, 9-7, Sunday evening at Eastwood Field, hitting four home runs in the process.

“A good first game for the guys in front of the home fans and for the city,” Scrappers manager Dennis Malave said. “Glad the way it went tonight.”

The Scrappers (2-1) put three runs on the board in the second inning, coming on Bryan Lavastida’s bases-loaded double. Lavastida plated all three men on base with Jonathan Engelmann, Johnathan Rodriguez and Henderson De Oleo all scoring.

The bats remained quiet for the Scrappers until the sixth inning when George Valera blasted a home run to right field, scoring Raynel Delgado to push the lead to 5-2.

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Scrapper SS #11 Brayan Rocchio dives safely back into 1st base as Batavia's 1st baseman #26 Evan Edwards waits on the pick-off throw during 3rd inning action.

Even though tornado sirens were blaring a little over an hour before start time and the players were not expecting the game to be played, the team stayed mentally ready.

“As a team and as an organization you’re better off preparing with the mindset that we’re going to play and that’s what we did,” Malave said. “We kept our heads in the game and the guys came out played the game and played the way we like to play the game.”

Batavia had a productive seventh inning that couldn’t have ended quickly enough for the Scrappers. The Muckdogs (1-1) piled on five runs to take a 7-5 lead. That’s where the Scrappers’ mental toughness made a big impact.

Stepping on the field in the bottom of the seventh was a far different team than the one that just conceded five runs. The team has been together since playing together in the Arizona League and that has united them when things get tough.

“These guys have been playing together since Arizona as a team,” Malave said. “This is just the quality of these guys. They’re going to fight, they’re going to compete every single pitch and that’s what they did again.”

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Scrapper pitcher #16 Matt Turner delivers a pitch during 3rd inning action against the Batavia Muckdogs.

Brayan Rocchio hit a two-run bomb to tie the game at seven, setting up Delgado to head to the plate with two outs and a chance to take the lead.

Delgado hit a solo homer, giving the Scrappers the lead, a lead they wouldn’t let up.

“The seventh started with a line drive to center field and we kept it going with the home run,” Delgado said. “I just tried to stay with myself and get a good pitch to hit. I got the good pitch and I was able to drive the ball.”

That mentality comes from not trying to rush things. As Malave said, the team can only face one pitch at a time.

“We just go one pitch at a time,” Malave said. “We can only take one pitch at a time, we can only play the game one pitch at a time and these guys are really good at doing that.”

The Scrappers take on Batavia once again tonight at Eastwood Field. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Malave, who at this time 20 years ago was suiting up for his debut with the Scrappers, is still happy to be back representing the team and the city of Niles. While he wasn’t with his wife and kids on Father’s Day, he still had a familiar face in the crowd cheering him on.

“It (debuting with the Scrappers) is a great memory,” Malave said. “Very happy to be back. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate Father’s Day even though I don’t have my wife and kids with me here tonight.

“I have my host dad (Bob Bixler) here in the stands so it was a really good opportunity to go back and be grateful and thankful for what the Scrappers and the city has done for me and all the players that have been here through the years.”