In a lot of ways, Omar Cotto’s season mirrored the roller-coaster ride the Thunder Bay Border Cats endured in 2012.
Cotto, the speedster out of the University of Southern California, was convinced he’d shatter the Northwoods League record for stolen bases, 45, set five seasons ago.
It didn’t materialize.
The San Juan, Puerto Rico native wound up instead with 17, fighting injuries and just never able to utilize his blazing speed on the base paths, despite a .327 batting average.
The Cats, like Cotto, came into the season with high expectations, a bevy of recruits from high-profile university programs in hand.
Like Cotto’s run at the record, it didn’t happen.
Injuries, woeful pitching at times and a string of bad luck derailed the Border Cats in the opening half; inconsistency ended their playoff run in the second half.
“That’s the game of baseball,” said Cotto, who didn’t rule out a return to Thunder Bay in 2013, depending on his major league draft status next June.
“You just have to be consistent for a very long time. We had our ups and downs and everything. Everyone did well, like (pitchers) Wes (Parsons) and (Jordan) McCoy. It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t get on a roll and just stay over .500. But it was a positive and great year.”
Parsons, who left after the all-star game, signed with the Atlanta Braves. That’s a good thing. The Cats also pieced together a franchise-best eight-game winning streak in the second half. That was good too.
Unfortunately it was sandwiched between seven-game and five-game losing slides that took them out of contention.
All-star shortstop Brett Kay, who played his final game with the team last Friday, an 8-1 triumph over Duluth, said despite a 32-37 record, the Cats can be proud of what they accomplished this season.
“Yeah, we underachieved a little bit. I would have liked to have kept that winning streak going a couple of weeks ago. It would have given us a better shot at the playoffs, but that didn’t happen,” said Kay, whose younger brother Cory is eligible to return next summer.
“I think our team was good on paper. We just didn’t put it together at the right time. But we know we’re a good team and we can play with any team in this league.”
A near complete turnover of the lineup from start to finish didn’t help, though the team certainly got stronger as the season went on, adding the likes of Jerrick Suiter, Tyler Duplantis and Zak Miller as players left for a variety of reasons.
The revolving door made it a little difficult to compete, Kay said.
“You’ve got to get used to new guys coming in toward the end of the season and kind of just show them the ropes, but they’re part of the team, they’re here for a reason and we’re going to treat them like that.”
Manager Andy Judkins, whose wife expecting a baby in January, a fact that could prevent a repeat performance behind the Border Cats bench in 2013, said he had a great group of guys who for whatever reason just couldn’t string together enough wins.
“They know when to have fun and they know when to grind it out. I couldn’t be blessed with the type of kids we have here and the guys who showed up every day to play and the four of them who were here since Day 1,” Judkins said.
“The guys who came late stepped in, like (Sean) Becker and Suiter and those type of guys. Those guys meshed well.”
If there’s one regret from his rookie campaign, it was not signing enough pitchers, Judkins said. The staff finished with a 4.64 ERA, forcing the offence to score piles of runs most nights to secure a win.
“We had some tough luck. We were supposed to have a 30-man roster and a couple of guys backed out. Several others, including Parsons, Kacy Kemmer and Jason Kafka, left early
“We’ve just got to get those other guys, hopefully get a full roster and save some arms,” he said.
In the stands, the Cats finished with a 911 nightly attendance average, 90 more than last season and their most since 2007, when the team averaged 941 fans per outings.
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