When the 2018 season began for the Sugar Land Skeeters there were more questions than answers.
The team was under the leadership of first-year manager Pete Incaviglia and most of the former players were gone. It was the first year without Gary Gaetti at the helm and nobody really knew what to expect.
“Last year we only had three guys returning to the club,” Incaviglia said. “This year’s a little different.”
As last season wore on, players came and went on an almost daily basis. There were more than a dozen called up by Major League teams and a couple more from Mexican leagues. A few went down with injuries, but mostly Incaviglia kept trading players as if he had a lousy hand at five-card draw.
The results were phenomenal! The Skeeters kept on winning! They clinched an early playoff spot by winning the first half of the Freedom Division. They went on to win the second half as well and were by far the most dominate team in the Atlantic League.
When the playoffs arrived, however, the magic seemed to wane. They had to go the full five games to win the Freedom Division over the Lancaster Barnstormers and then went the distance again in the Atlantic League Championship Series against the Long Island Ducks. The Skeeters won the championship – their second in three years – but did so with several come-from-behind victories, nail-biters, and even a walk-off grand slam!
This year the Skeeters are a known commodity going into Opening Day on April 25 at Constellation Field.
“It’ll be interesting,” Incaviglia said. “Everybody’ll be coming after us this year.”
Incaviglia has re-signed most of the core players from last year and even added some game changers from the Major Leagues, including James Loney and Ryan Schimpf, to name a couple.
“I think this is going to be the best opening day roster we’ve ever had,” said Skeeters General Manager Tyler Stamm. “We’ve had some pretty good teams too. In 2013 we won 95 games, last year we won 81 in a shortened season, we probably would have won 90 if it had been a 140-game schedule, if not more.”
Last year’s season was a week short due to there being only seven home teams. The Atlantic League was between teams (the Bridgeport Bluefish folded and the High Point Rockers start this year), so it reactivated the Road Warriors, a traveling team, to help flesh out the schedule.
Make no mistake, the rest of the league will be gunning for the Skeeters, especially the Long Island Ducks. The Skeeters beat the Ducks in 2016 and again this year to win the league championship. The Ducks have lost three consecutive championships and are 3-4 overall in the championship series.
New this season are the High Point Rockers, based out of North Carolina. Their logo features a wooden rocking chair and their mascot is a rocking horse. It will be interesting to see how this new team fares this season. I know from having lived in North Carolina that it is a strong baseball state with a real love of the game.
“I just got back from the Atlantic League tryouts and got to know their staff a little bit,” Incaviglia said. “I hear they’ve got a nice stadium, a good place to go visit.”
Of course he said that before it was announced they painted their visitor’s locker room pink.
One of the things that will really make this season interesting are some new rules and equipment being tested in the Atlantic League through a new deal with Major League Baseball. One of the most anticipated changes is the installation of the TrackMan radar system. Not only will it assist the umpire in calling balls and strikes, but it will also provide real-time statistical and radar tracking data from Atlantic League games to MLB clubs. It will show speed and location of pitches in real time.
“The TrackMan’s a really interesting deal,” Incaviglia said.
Also making the game more interesting are some rule changes. Incaviglia is reserving judgement until he sees how the rules play out in the game.
“Until you see how they work, you don’t know how it’s going to affect it,” he said.
The new rules include:
• No mound visits permitted by players or coaches other than for pitching changes or medical issues;
• Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters, or reach the end of an inning before they exit the game, unless the pitcher becomes injured;
• Increase size of first, second and third base from 15 inches square to 18 inches square;
• Require two infielders to be on each side of second base when a pitch is released (if not, the ball is dead and the umpire shall call a ball);
• Time between innings and pitching changes reduced from 2:05 to 1:45; and
• Distance from pitching rubber to home plate extended 24 inches, in the second half of the season only, with no change to mound height or slope. That means the mound will be moved back two feet after the all-star break.
To the average fan, the game will look the same. To baseball purists, it will be a whole new ballgame. Basically, the changes are being made to speed the pace of the game and to make it more exciting by putting the ball into play more often.
With so much to look forward to and a championship to celebrate, I can’t wait for Opening Day on April 25. I hope to see the stands full for what could be the first day of a revolutionary new period in Skeeters baseball. We have the traveling trophy and this time we’re playing for keeps! Y’all be sure to come out and enjoy the fun!