Sugar Land throws a party for returning champs
For the second time in three years, the Sugar Land Skeeters have beaten the Long Island Ducks to bring home the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball championship.
The series went to the fifth and deciding game Sunday night with the Skeeters winning it all 4-1 behind a complete game pitching performance by series MVP James Russell. The series began with two victories by the Skeeters at home in Constellation Field, followed by two losses in New York to set up the final game. Two years ago the Skeeters swept the Ducks in three games to claim their first championship.
Hosting the first two games, the Skeeters won the first one 5-4 in 13 innings. They trailed 3-0 after the first inning, but tied it at 4 in the eighth. Javier Betancourt’s sacrifice fly in the 13th brought home Tony Thomas for the win. The second game was all Skeeters 10-0 behind a complete game shutout by pitcher Konner Wade.
In Game 3 in Long Island, the Skeeters took an early 2-1 lead, but the Ducks scored two in the eighth and held on to win 3-2. In Game 4 on Saturday, the Skeeters drew first blood with a run in the first, but the Ducks scored six over the next three innings. The Skeeters picked up a couple runs late, but fell 6-3. In the final game, the Skeeters scored four runs off 12 hits while Russell limited the Ducks to one earned run on seven hits.
On Monday the team returned to Sugar Land where they were treated to a victory celebration in Sugar Land Town Square. Mayor Joe Zimmerman read a proclamation and welcomed the team home.
“The Sugar Land Skeeters are 2018 Atlantic League WORLD champions!” he said. “We won it in 2016, we come back, we won it again in 2018; these guys deserve a real round of applause.”
Stadium announcer Shane Brown served as the master of ceremonies and introduced each of the speakers.
Team owner Bob Zlotnik expressed thanks to the team and the fans.
“I want to thank the players,” he said. “This is probably the most effort I’ve seen one of our teams put forth in the seven years that we’ve been in existence.”
He also credited first-year manager Pete Incaviglia for putting together a winning team.
“Pete was either wise enough or lucky enough to get a group of guys together that played hard the whole season and we won the first half, won the second half and won the championship, so it’s very difficult to pull a trifecta like that,” he said. “A lot of credit goes to the players and the coaches.”
He got a lot of cheers from the hundreds gathered in the square when he thanked them.
“We appreciate last of all but not least the fans, especially in the playoffs. … We all notice, we all care, and we all appreciate it.”
Special Advisor Deacon Jones, who helped bring a team to Sugar Land, was elated.
“Woo, this is awesome! I never thought I’d see another championship,” he said. “That last game, I thought I was gonna die!”
He also thanked the fans.
“Thanks so much, I really appreciate it. I want to see you back next year,” he said.
Next up was team President Jay Miller.
“I can’t say that I’m surprised that we’re here. ’Cause I’m going to start with the fans. You guys were there all year,” he said.
He called Incaviglia, “the glue of this organization.”
“Last night when we won that thing, it just never gets old. We’ve got guys here that have World Series rings. One of them’s right in front of me (Dan Runzler); he’s got two of them with the Giants.”
“Pete is just unbelievable the way he deals with players,” Miller continued. “The players love him. Fifteen guys came through here this year and went to other teams and that’s what we’re here for. We want these guys to play here and hopefully have a chance to get up to the Big Leagues.”
He then shared his dream.
“We’ll do it again; 2016, 2018, and again in 2019, that’s the goal!” he said.
Incaviglia had a lot of praise for his players.
“I can’t begin to tell you about the players we have here; the heart, the pride, the desire, the willingness to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played every day. A manager can measure a lot of things but he can’t measure a man’s heart. I was fortunate enough to have 25 guys at all times that had the biggest hearts that I’ve ever had the privilege of managing in this club,” he said.
He also thanked the fans and made a promise.
“I can’t thank you all enough for all the support that you’ve given me, this organization, and I promise you we’ll grind until the end to win another championship in 2019,” he said.
League President Rick White was in town for the first two games and was impressed by what he saw.
“It’s been exciting,” he said. “You know, last night’s game – 13 innings, what was it 17 pitchers used in the game – an exciting finish. It couldn’t have been better baseball.”
He said the fact that both teams made the championship by going extra innings in their respective Game 5’s in the division series made the playoffs much more interesting.
“I have every expectation this series is going to go long as well,” he predicted. “Long Island is a better team than we’re seeing tonight. They’re just not getting the timely hits. And I think when we go back to their place it’ll be a little different. So I expect it’ll be a good season.”
White also talked about next year when the High Point (N.C.) Rockers join the league.
“While there have been issues that have affected North Carolina that have been weather-related – and our hearts go out to all the people that have been displaced and have been affected that way – High Point was not terribly damaged in the hurricane. So they remain ahead of schedule in terms of construction and they’ll be ready to go on opening day.
“The ownership group there is remarkably stable. It’s the first time in my experience that a baseball team will be owned by a charitable foundation,” he said. “I think that’s a first in all of professional sports, actually. We think that’s going to be really innovative and as people learn more about the Rockers they’re going to be even more enthused about how that team came to be and what they mean in the community.”
When it comes to talking about expansion, the discussion naturally turns to Texas where the Skeeters are the lone team in the Lone Star State.
“I was with a developer earlier this evening that was looking at a location not too awfully far from here; an adequate distance away where the teams wouldn’t compete with each other in any way other than on the field,” he said. “That’s part of probably a dozen or so cities that we’ve been in conversation with over the last two years.
“These things take time. The gestation period between the first conversation and the ballpark can be two, three years, but I am confident that, say in the next five years, we’ll have a western division and that’s been our objective,” he said. “We need to get some company for the Skeeters in Texas.”