THUNDER BAY -- Each member of the Thunder Bay Border Cats needs to get serious for the home stretch or their season will end early, says the team’s manager
As the club enters the three-day Northwoods League All-Star break, first year skipper Johnny Hernandez made it clear what he expects from his squad over the final few weeks of the season.
“Hopefully we’ll come back ready to work. I told them if they’re not ready they need to go home,” Hernandez said following the team’s 4-1 home loss to the Rochester Honkers Sunday evening.
The campaign has been a challenging one for the Border Cats, who hit the break with a league-low 3-14 second half mark while riding a four-game losing streak.
Combined with a below .500 record in the first half, Thunder Bay is 17-35 this season. That mark is among the lowest in the entire league.
Playing 72 games in 78 days, with long road trips every week, is a grind for the players. Factor in the on-field difficulties and many of them are getting a harsh taste of baseball reality.
Hernandez is already seeing some of the players are starting to have second thoughts about pursuing a career on the diamond.
“It’s exactly like pro ball and weeds out the guys who thought maybe this is something they want to do after college and lets them know this is not for them, that they can’t hack it,” he said.
“I think especially with the way we’ve played it’s done that to some of our guys…For the guys that are serious about it this is one tremendous test, especially being up here in Thunder Bay with the road trips and being in a different country.”
While the record tips heavily towards the loss side, the Border Cats have been competitive in most of their contests.
Often they just have been unable to find ways of pulling out decisions when the game is on the line.
Sunday was no exception, as the Border Cats held a narrow 1-0 lead for much of the game before Rochester leveled the score in the seventh inning.
The contest entered the ninth even before Rochester got to the Thunder Bay bullpen and defence.
The Honkers scored a trio of runs in the frame with errors by pitcher Nathan Aultman and left fielder Tyler Rolland resulting in two of the runs being unearned.
The collapse squandered a gem of an outing from starting pitcher Gunnar Kay, which Hernandez labelled “by far his best start of the year.” Kay, a freshman at Dallas Baptist University, worked into the sixth inning, keeping the Honkers scoreless.
Late inning struggles are nothing new for the Border Cats.
“How many games are we going to end up blowing in those last three innings? That’s where you win or lose games and we haven’t been able to patch that up on the back end,” Hernandez said.
“It’s a mindset that I don’t think is there. There’s the ability too. Those late inning guys usually have a strikeout pitch. They tend to get strikeouts and guys are not getting a lot of contact. Whenever you put the ball in play you have a chance.”
The team resumes action on Thursday with the start of a two-game road trip against the Willmar Stingers. The Border Cats will return to Thunder Bay on Saturday against the Waterloo Bucks, where they will kick off a seven straight days of games at Port Arthur Stadium.
Catcher Christian Correa and Rolland will be the club’s lone representatives at the All-Star game, which will be played Tuesday night in Mequon, Wisc.
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