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Monday, September 27, 2021

What a Ride - Looking Back at the 2021 Down East Wood Ducks

While the feelings are still raw, I thought it would be a good time to put down on paper (so to speak) my thoughts on the 2021 Down East Wood Ducks season.  First, a look at the just-completed Low A East Championship Series against Charleston, followed by my thoughts on this squad.
The Wood Ducks got into the Championship Series on the last day of the regular MiLB season after going 4-2 against Charleston and Salem losing to Delmarva Sunday evening.  The Woodies had to sit and wait as the Salem-Delmarva game played out before they knew whether or not they would be advancing to play... Charleston for a best-of-five series.

The Wood Ducks lost the first two games of the series at home, but Chris and I were able to get to both games, and enjoyed seeing our guys.  We hoped that the guys would be able to play til at least Saturday, when I would be able to be off of work and maybe make a trip to Charleston.
With there being uncertainty, we made sure to say our goodbyes to the players that we have met this season.  Not because we didn't have faith that they wouldn't be playing on at least Saturday, but because it wasn't a guarantee that I'd get to Charleston.  You never know, so we wanted to let the guys know how proud we were of them, and thank them for all of the memories they gave Chris and I this season.  He has interacted with this team more than any other Wood Ducks team that has come through here since 2017 (me too, but Chris really bonded with a lot of the guys).  Thomas Saggese came up maybe a month into the season, but always made time to stop and chat with us.
I could tell that Jose Acosta really enjoyed fist bumping Chris before every game.
Chris really enjoyed Nick Lockhart; Nick would chat with Chris at the clubhouse door as Chris would sit on the bleachers right by the door.  They bonded over food, and my ability to pay for hot dogs, apparently.  Nick gave me a big hug after the last game of the Championship Series and thanked me for everything.
Cody's my dude, but Chris loves him, too.  The Wood Ducks did win on Friday, and we surprised the guys by jumping in the car Saturday morning and making the 5-hour trip to Charleston.  I had never been to their stadium before, so it was a new one I could check off of the list.  Cody was excited and surprised to see us, as was the rest of the team (ALL of them!).
Chris had me take a photo with Marc Church, since Church was another of the guys who he would talk to as the relievers went in and out of the clubhouse.
Chris loves Jackson.  There was a decent contingent of Wood Duck supporters at the series in Charleston.  There were a few other season ticket holders and almost all of the staff who were able to make the trip down and support the guys.
The only negative thing I can say about the time in Charleston, other than the final outcome, was how rude the Riverdogs fans were.  I've never been a huge fan of heckling as it is (except for chanting Joba, Joba, Joba during the 2014 ALDS Game 2), but some of the fans were out of line.  Chris told me later that there was one guy talking smack to Brady Smith (above, with Chris).  I'm surprised that Chris didn't say something smart back to them.  Or maybe he did and just hasn't told me.
The Wood Ducks won Saturday night, and forced a Game 5, which was to be played at 5PM.  There was no way that I was going to just up and go home, so when the Woodies sealed the win on Saturday, I went ahead and bought the tickets for Sunday and planned for a very long day.  I slept in as long as I could, but still was wide awake at 8:30am.  We got up and checked out of the hotel and made our way to the Battery in Charleston.
Chris and I spent a lot of time walking around Charleston and enjoying the sites.  I have a photo of me somewhere from 20+ years prior in this very spot when my friend, Todd, first took me on a trip to Charleston.  It was really cool being able to recreate the photo with my son.
I'm looking a bit rough, but did take one photo of myself on the trip.  All of the other pictures I took were of Chris and the ballplayers.  Sorry, Mom.
Sunday's game was upon us, and we made sure the guys knew we were there to support them.  Chris and I genuinely felt like we were a part of this, which was a really cool feeling.

It was really awesome watching the guys get hyped up prior to the game.  I get goosebumps when I watch it and plan to, any time I want to get fired up.  You can tell by watching the two videos that I attached that this team was very close.  It has been evident to Chris and I for a while, now, and like I said before, he and I felt like we were a small part of it, as well.  More than we had felt with any other team that came through here.  That's not to take anything away from those teams, but this one was really something special.

After the Wood Ducks lost Game 5 to a score of 5-2, Chris met up with me by the wall near the dugout as we said goodbye to some of the guys.  He probably wouldn't admit that he teared up, but I'll admit that I did.
The COVID-19 pandemic gypped me out of a season last year, and more importantly, it gypped me out of doing something that I love with my son during a crucial time in his life.  He will be 16 in November, and will be learning to drive, getting a car, and obviously a job.  There's going to come a time when he is going to be off doing his own thing, and not going to games with me.  I saw somewhere "At some point in your childhood, you and your friends went outside to play together for the last time and nobody knew it..."  That kind of rings true here, too.  Especially when I read more and more on Facebook or wherever of guys I hung out with as a kid who are no longer with us.  The pandemic took a lot of things away from folks, and precious time with Chris was one of the things I realized quickly that it had stolen from me.  I was really glad we took the time to just hang out in Charleston, eat some wings, have some ice cream, and watch a couple of baseball games featuring guys that we have become legitimate friends with.  It was a great trip to cap off an amazing season.
When the season began on May 11 (above), I wasn't sure it would come to completion without any stoppages due to the virus, or some other craziness.  We were able to do some graphing very early on, even though the team was under restriction.
This crowd on May 15 came out to support the Wood Ducks.  I just wish they had more time to prepare for the two Championship Series games at home and had drawn a better crowd.
The team at the end of the season was a good bit different than the one that started the year.  A few of the guys were promoted to High-A Hickory, but a bunch of them were injured and missed the bulk of the season.  I imagine a lot of those guys will be back to stat next season, but even that isn't guaranteed.
The guys that have been here, though, recognized Chris and I pretty early on in our regular spots.  We formed a lot of friendships along the way.  This was the first time I have ever exchanged phone numbers with actual players before... and the ones who did, asked for my number first.
Chris picked out Mason Englert prior to the first game of the season as his guy who he would "follow" all season.  I'd say it worked out.  Funny thing, after the game on Sunday, Mason said "I know you guys are going to follow me when I move on to Hickory... oh wait, I didn't mean that to be weird..."  I assured him, Chris had yelled out "I love you Mason; sorry if that's weird..." across a parking lot, we knew when things got weird.  He laughed and gave us both big hugs.
Chris still hasn't washed this jersey.  He also wore it to the 3 of the 4 games of the Championship Series.
I've only yelled out across an open area "I love you" to one baseball player before this season, and that was to Brooks Robinson at the Hall of Fame.  I also had only one player ever yell back "I love you, too!" (Brooks, of course) before this season.  Cody Freeman gave me a big hug as he was leaving Sunday (and a few other times, as we thought we were saying goodbye last Sunday, and then Wednesday, and then Sunday as they were coming off the field... cut me some slack, he's a great guy), and told me how much he loved us and how much our support this season meant to him.  I also had a message this morning on my Instagram from him asking if we got home safely.  Things like that mean a lot to me.  He also gave me his cleats, which are orange and black (Orio... I mean, Wood Ducks colors...) and are pretty awesome.
Even Luisangel Acuna was happy to see us when we were in Charleston.  I wish I could have spoken to him better, but my high school Spanish that I learned 20+ is pretty bad.  He smiled when he saw us, and fist bumped us as he was leaving the stadium, so hopefully he thinks we are cool.
I think we said goodbye to Mason 17 times, and he got 37 hugs from Chris or some number like that.  Hopefully we will see him in Hickory next season before he moves us to Frisco.
Nick Krauth would stop and talk to us all season, long before we even knew who he was.  He's really funny, and has been awesome to us all season.
I kept waiting for Owen White to say "Alright, alright, alright", as he sounds a lot like Matthew McConaughey.  He would just lean against the fence and chat with Chris.  It is really cool that he is from North Carolina, too.  He was really solid down the stretch, once he came back from his hand injury, and probably won't be at Hickory for long before the Rangers move him to AA.
Gavin Collyer cracked me up more often than not, and really became one of our closest friends on the team.  He even got a team ball signed for me, which he gave to me on Wednesday.  I'm so glad he did, because it will commemorate what turned out to be such a memorable season for Chris and I.  I hope we can see these guys again, but as it is in the minors, your hope is that once the guys move up, they don't come back.  There are a lot of guys on this roster who I think will be in the majors some day.

Thanks for the memories, guys, Chris and I do love you.  Go Wood Ducks.


osupremegrandmotherone said...

Yeah, I'd rather have photos my kid than yours 😁

Jafronius said...

Very cool wrap up, sorry your team didn't win it, but you two seemed to enjoy the ride anyway!