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Scrappers season comes to anticlimactic end

NILES — The inaugural season of the MLB Draft League proved to be a summer of highs and lows for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.

The Scrappers began their season by winning six straight games and they held on to first place for the first month of play.

But, the season ended with the cancellation of six of the Scrappers’ final seven scheduled games. Bringing an exciting season to a somewhat sluggish ending.

On Friday, the Scrappers season-finale was canceled “to allow for additional testing and contact tracing of members of both teams.”

The cancelation came one day after a West Virginia player tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the cancelation of Thursday’s game.

Last weekend, the same two teams had a three-game series at West Virginia erased when a total of five players tested positive for COVID-19. The Scrappers and Black Bears were able to squeeze in one game this week as the home town Scrappers defeated West Virginia 7-5 in what proved to be the final game of the season.

The Scrappers were expecting crowds of nearly 4,000 both Thursday and Friday.

“This was a tough blow, this was a rough way to end the season for sure,” said Scrappers general manager Jordan Taylor. “It would have been nice to end on a strong note but certainly we are always going to emphasize player, coach and fan safety. From that standpoint, we have no regrets.”

The season began with a limitation on the number of fans permitted at Eastwood Field. Once those restrictions were lifted in early June, the Scrappers averaged roughly 2,500 fans per game – nearly on par with their attendance figures from 2019. The 2020 season was canceled because of COVID.

“The community’s receptiveness to our return was tremendous,” Taylor said. “Our sponsorship was back to what it was in 2019, our group sales were at similar levels. Fans were spending more at the ballpark. Fans used distributed tickets at a rate that we haven’t seen in fifteen years.

“Honestly, we feel as though we have a very promising future.”

The Scrappers finished with a 27-28-2 record, good for third place in the six-team league. The pitching staff struggled much of the season, which was the result of a constant revolving door. The pitching staff had a large turnover two weeks into the season. Then, during the six day draft break, the Scrappers were forced to replace 14 of their 15 pitchers.

Meanwhile, the starting lineup remained relatively intact throughout the course of the season and, as a result, the offense thrived, averaging just under seven runs per game.

Scrappers outfielder Bobby Sparling led the league in batting average (.371), hits (63), doubles (17) and total bases (93). The Daytona State Junior College product finished second in the league in RBIs (43), three shy behind teammate Jason Hinchman.

Five of the top nine run-producers in the league — Hinchman, Sparling, Sam Crail, Jarrod Belbin, and Dan Harwood — all played for the Scrappers, who also produced six of the top nine leaders in hits.

“We kind of fed off of each other all year long,” Sparling said. “I was fortunate because I had these guys hitting in front of me and behind me all season long. Pitchers couldn’t hit around anyone in our lineup. It really helped my game.

“This was a lot of fun, this league was a great challenge with a lot of top talent. It made us all better players.”

Designed to showcase talent ahead of the mid-July Major League draft, the MLB Draft League appeared to achieve its goal. As of this week more than 80 players from the league signed professional contracts since this summer’s draft.

“I think some players were taking a wait-and-see approach to see how things played in our first season before they would commit to this league,” said MLB Draft League president Kerrick Jackson. “Given the number of players that were noticed and were either drafted or signed as free agents, I think we caught the eye of the baseball world.

“We’re poised to grow from here. There is no reason to believe we can’t make great strides from this point forward.”

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