They had a first-year manager and plenty of new players, some brand new to pro ball coming right out of the 2013 draft.
Then the short-season, Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds started the season 0-5 and were outscored 28-9. They were probably not thinking about the playoffs then, but Aberdeen picked up a key extra-innings win the next night and went 6-1 over the next seven games to right the ship.
“We were 0-5 but no one panicked,” manager Matt Merullo remembered. “The guys were just getting to know each other. Most of our staff was rookies except for Millsy (pitching coach Alan Mills) and we had to get our own routine down.”
Merullo recalls how hard the players were pulling for each other, even when they were 0-5. He cites team character and team chemistry as pretty critical to his team this year. Aberdeen will play in the first playoff game in the team’s 12-year history tomorrow night at Ripken Stadium.
“I have to give credit to our scouting department for not only talented players, but good character and makeup guys,” Merullo said. “We noticed a bunch of guys starting to pull for each other in that (sixth) game and I sensed we may be able to carry some momentum off that win and we did.”
Aberdeen went on to finish 40-32 and win a division championship. They will host Tri-City, a Houston affiliate, on Friday in the opener of a best-of-three league semifinal series.
The IronBirds rank only seventh in the league out of 14 teams in batting average and 11th in team ERA. But they played together well all year and Merullo said his team has excellent leadership coming from several players and not just one or two.
“This is just really a solid, down to earth group of kids,” Merullo said. “We have not had any issues with selfishness or egos. They take care of each other.
“Guys like Austin Wynns and Jeff Kemp. When they were hitting around .200 it didn’t effect their defense. You couldn’t tell whether they were 0-for-4 or 3-for-4 and they weren’t afraid to speak up if other guys were moping a bit.
“(Trey) Mancini speaks with his bat, his play and attitude. (Mike) Yastrzemski is very quiet and very professional and just goes about his business. It carries over and we are lucky to have six to eight guys on the team that set an example and it becomes contagious. We don’t have any big outspoken players, but just a lot of guys that care and that has been huge for us.
“Having been a scout, it is easy to see guys running and throwing and power and so forth, but it’s hard to know how they will handle coaching, how they will handle adversity. We’ve got a bunch of guys that are hungry to learn and it’s been a pleasure to manage them.”
Aberdeen right-hander Sebastian Vader (7-3, 2.43 ERA) pitches against Tri-City right-hander Michael Feliz in the playoff opener tomorrow night. Vader finished eighth in the New York-Penn League ERA race and Feliz finished first.