Gary Kendall, the manager of the Double-A Bowie Baysox, can remember the exact date. It was June 6 and his team had lost to Portland to fall to a season-worst 11 games under .500 at 23-34.
At that point, Kendall, on a suggestion from pitcher Kyler Newby, called a team meeting.
“I really didn’t think we had any kind of identity, even though I thought there was a lot of talent on the field. We had a meeting in Portland and it was just about owning up to this. It was just a talk about pulling this thing together,” Kendall said.
“I’m always reminded of that date by Kyler Newby. He’s been around the game a little bit and he came into the office then and he thought that we were better than how we were. We talked for a bit and then we put something together and with the help of our staff we went out and addressed some things. I think it just made guys relax.
“Good things started to happen. We had a really good month. Things kind of snowballed. We kept catching the ball and our pitching was solid. Our team batting average has raised 10 points in that time and now we are second in the league.”
Following that meeting, Bowie ripped off an eight-game win streak and then went 18-5 the rest of June to move over .500.
“I don’t think it was a meeting to air anyone out,” Kendall added. “I’m not a yeller or screamer. It was an open meeting about the players and our staff speaking. It was just about, ‘Does anyone have anything to add here?’ I’m looking at our lineup and we should be more productive. Guys had a chance to talk.
“There are a lot of leaders here. Those guys were very integral in running this clubhouse and giving direction to the younger players. I thought some players that we had that were younger ... there was (a sense of) entitlement that I thought some guys came up from a lower level that weren’t so much success stories, but we needed someone to be plugged in.
“I wanted them to know, don’t be beating on your chest hitting .230. We have to develop you and you need to get better. Everyone took it upon themselves to work harder. It was the players. It was more a player’s meeting.”
The Baysox also had to overcome the loss of Manny Machado to the Orioles earlier this month. They have done so, going 12-5 without Machado to move 11 games over .500 right now at 72-61.
“It’s been a whole lot of fun to sit back and watch these guys play. When you lose a Machado at shortstop, who was batting fifth in your order and having a productive season, I wondered how we would respond. But Jon Schoop has gone to shortstop and made the plays. That was big, how we responded to that,” Kendall said.
Now, the Baysox are charging toward their first Eastern League playoff berth since 2008. They lead third-place Richmond by 5 1/2 games with nine to play for a postseason berth and their magic number to clinch is four.
The Baysox have had some great veteran leadership this year, Kendall said. He cites players like Newby, Zelous Wheeler, Rhyne Hughes and Buck Britton, to name a few, for keeping the team focused.
Several Baysox appear among the league stat leaders with Newby third with 17 saves, Zach Clark (now with Norfolk) fifth in ERA at 3.19 and lefty Jake Pettit third in WHIP at 1.16.
Robbie Widlansky is a candidate for the O’s minor league Player of the Year award, batting .315 to rank third in the league. He’s second in OBP, third in walks and RBIs, and fifth in hits and doubles. He’s batting .388 in August with an OPS of 1.053 this month.
Should Bowie make the playoffs with a second-place finish, the Baysox would host likely division champion Akron in the first two games of a best-of-five series on Wednesday, Sept. 5 and Thursday, Sept. 6.
The 2011 Baysox lost eight of their final 12 games to just miss out on a playoff spot. This Baysox team seems determined to avoid a repeat of that.
“I remember August last year, which was kind of disappointing,” Kendall said. “We had guys that were lax. I don’t think we so much choked, but we had to win a couple games late in the year that we couldn’t get done. I wanted the guys to know that, no matter how this season plays out, to get the most of those guys and our team we had to relax, have fun and play baseball.”
Baysox rotation note: If you missed it, Sunday’s Bowie game, scheduled to be started by Dylan Bundy, was rained out. Bundy is now scheduled to start tomorrow with Tommy Hunter, recently optioned from Baltimore, starting tonight for the Baysox.