Trenton Thunder media relations guru Bill Cook recently sent out a press release about the team putting tickets for the postseason on sale. But you won’t find it on here.
Because I covered the 2009 team…which makes me skeptical for the 2011 group of guys. And that year’s squad and this season’s version of the Thunder have a lot in common.
Two years ago, the Thunder were in the thick of the Eastern Division playoff race, but after being as high as seven games over .500 on June 5th, they couldn’t get back over that mark for the final 42 games of the season. But they battled with the New Britain Rock Cats until the very end, playing them in nine out of that year’s final 12 games, but ultimately ended up being eliminated in Connecticut in the second to last game of the season in a heartbreaking 6-4 loss. That team finished with a 69-72 record.
This year’s team is in a position to…well, be in a similar position. At one point this year, Trenton was a whopping 15 games over .500 and seemed like an absolute lock to be playing in the postseason. But a rough patch has them at 62-62. With 18 games left in the year, the Thunder are locked in a battle with those very same Rock Cats and the Reading Phillies for the final playoff berth. And eight of their final 12 contests are played against New Britain, with the last four of those coming in the last series of the regular season in Connecticut — just like 2009.
Of the four remaining players who were on the season-ending roster two years ago (Wilkins Arias, Austin Krum, Josh Schmidt, Kanekoa Texeira) and two coaches (Tony Franklin, Tommy Phelps), it’s been a hot topic of conversation in the clubhouse.
“It’s funny that you mention that, because it’s pretty close to the same race that we were in in 2009, where we have New Britain who’s right there with us, and we get to play them in seven or eight of the last games of the season,” said Austin Krum, who hit .234 in 77 games as the regular center fielder for the 2009 team.
“I think we took it to the second to last game of the year. There’s definitely comparisons, we’re right in it. We haven’t been playing very well and we’re still there, so I think if we can pick it up good things will happen.”
Franklin has been the manager in Trenton for the past five seasons now, and it’s fair to say that 2009 was a bit of a disappointment for him considering he led his first two Thunder teams to back-to-back Eastern League Championships. He agrees that there are parallels between the two teams, but hopes…well, he knows what he has is enough.
“It’s kind of hard to compare, it’s like apples and oranges,” he said.
“That team had its own personality, and this team has its own personality. You take what you’ve got each year and you try to do the best you can with it. I do know this, I think the team this year has a little more speed based on ability than that one had. That one had more offensive power potential. So in that regard, it’s a little different between the two teams. But when you’re down the stretch, you’ve got what you’ve got.”
But is, as Franklin loves to say, what the Thunder currently have enough?
“I do, for sure,” Pope said.
“I think with the some of the veteran guys we have, mixed with some of the younger personalities, I think that the team is gelling more now at the end of the season compared to the beginning. Just because of the veteran humor that we have coming with Tex and the guys. It may lighten the load for some of the younger guys if they’re stressing. But having some of the veteran guys here has helped out the team a bunch.”
The schedule for the Thunder is not an easy one. They play a three-game set against the Bowie Baysox, who currently hold second place in the Western Division, and then split the final 15 games between Eastern Division-leading New Hampshire and, of course, New Britain.
“We are definitely saying it’s going to be a battle against New Britain,” said Texeira, who pointed out that 2009 has been frequently discussed in the bullpen in recent days.
“We’ve got eight games left against them, so hopefully we can split four and four or maybe even go five and three. But with our luck, who knows what’s going to happen?”
Franklin, however, has his sights set a little higher than just sneaking into second place this time around. The division lead, he says, is a realistic goal.
“This time around, we have about 15 games left to prove to ourselves where we stand with that,” he said.
“In 15 games, with that kind of stretch, anything can happen. Hopefully we get hot and we take off and make a run at it and maybe possibly catch the first place team. Not only are we thinking second place, there are enough games left where we can make a strong push and try to get that first spot as well.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com