After the final three games in the Midwest League's regular season, the Great Lakes Loons found themselves with a 33-37 second-half record (67-73 on the year), in sixth place in the Eastern Division, and ineligible for the playoffs.
You wouldn't know it by the way they ended the season.
Second-year Loons manager John Shoemaker said that he was "just happy with the effort they gave." In their final series of the season, against the south Bend Silver Hawks, the Loons showed why with a voracious will to succeed that, despite their miscues and mental gaffes, cut through like shot of penicillin.
On September 1, in the first game of the series, starting pitcher Joel Lima and relievers Matt Shelton and Craig Stem held the Silver Hawks to a single hit in a 3-0 victory. All three were dominant in their individual performances, combining for eight strikeouts and only Lima allowing a walk, which he did three times.
In Game 2 on September 2, James Baldwin delivered what has become his trademark: a game-winning hit, ensuring a 4-3 victory. Baldwin stated that he "just wanted to come through." Once again, he did, just as he has several times this season.
Defensively, Joe Winker made the biggest mark on the night. Not only did he make several big plays, but he also added a bone-crunching catch, as he hung on despite crashing chest-first into the cement wall on the first base side of right field. He recovered nicely, however, and added a home run later in the game, evening the score 3-3 before Baldwin's heroics took center stage.
The final game, however, was something of an anomaly, but not one the Great Lakes squad was unfamiliar with. With an engaged crowd on hand to celebrate Labor Day, the Loons managed to total six hits and no runs scored, compared to allowing 15 hits and nine runs in a lopsided defeat. Despite their attempts to counter the South Bend offense, sloppy defense and mental mistakes cost the team several rally opportunities.
At the end of the day, fans and team management could not argue with the fact that they had, in fact, had one of their better seasons. The 2012 campaign ranked fourth-best in team history and--though they were rocked with consistent player turnover, having suited over 50 players due to promotions and injuries--the Loons were able to finish with a respectable showing in the final stretch of the season.
After the final game, all of the Loons' players and coaching staff gathered at the exits in order to personally thank each and every fan in attendance for their support this season. They signed autographs, posed for photographs, and gave each person who wished, a few moments of their time, and did so with genuine generosity and graciousness.
As the season's end finally sank in, however, Shoemaker was candid with his usually-reserved thoughts.
"We were a little inconsistent, but we had a lot of progress in some areas," he said. "[We] came close but couldn't get over the hump. Hopefully, these guys can continue to improve and do well next year, wherever they're playing."
Personal Post-Game Interview, James Baldwin (Loons Outfielder), 09/02/2012
Personal Post-Game Interview, John Shoemaker (Loons Manager), 09/03/2012
The author, D. Benjamin Satkowiak, is a successful entrepreneur and published author, who has tailored works on various sports, health and fitness topics. He currently serves as a Yahoo! Contributor Network "Featured Contributor," covering the Detroit Tigers , Detroit Lions , Great Lakes Loons and Notre Dame football. He is also the editor of the LooNation, the largest Great Lakes Loons fan site on the internet.
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