Single-A Delmarva manager Kyle Moore admits he didn’t know exactly how to feel. His team had just lost 1-0 at West Virginia, but in the visiting clubhouse, his players were listening to the Hickory-Greensboro game. If Greensboro lost, Delmarva would clinch a playoff berth even on a night the Shorebirds didn’t win.
Well, about 20 minutes after the Shorebirds lost, so did Greensboro. Then a celebration began as the team that has posted the best record in the minors this year at 46-18 enjoyed winning the South Atlantic League’s first-half Northern Division championship.
“We celebrated and it was cool for the team to enjoy a night after all the hard work they’ve done all season,” Shorebirds manager Kyle Moore told me last night. He was a guest on my “Extra Innings” radio show on 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore. “Once we saw the score, we realized we played good for almost 70 games. It was time to look back and celebrate a bit. I cherished that and told the staff to cherish it, too. Even though we lost tonight, we worked so hard to get to this point. It was still pretty sweet.”
When the Shorebirds took the field Tuesday night in West Virginia, they did so with the best record of 120 teams in full-season Minor League Baseball. They took the field as a club that will send eight players to next week’s South Atlantic League All-Star Game.
And no team has been as dominant thus far in 2019 as the Shorebirds.
They started the year at 12-1 (.923) and barely slowed down after that. They were 17-2 (.895) after 19 games and 24-4 (.857) at the 28-game mark. Now they are 46-18 (.719) with five games left in the first half.
Delmarva is 23-9 at home and on the road, and 23-8 in games decided by two runs or less, including a 16-6 mark in one-run games. Delmarva has the best team ERA in the 14-team South Atlantic League at 3.01. The Shorebirds rank second in batting average, fourth in runs and have played error-free ball in 32 games, going 29-3.
Moore said a division title means a lot to the fans in Salisbury, Md., that have supported his team so well.
“I think it is awesome to bring playoff baseball back to the shore,” he said. “To win the first half is a big deal. In this league, it is such a tough league in the first half. You’ve got everybody’s best high school and college prospects from last year. I’ve always felt like the first half in this league is about as good as an A-ball league (as) you are going to find. For us to put together a team that can win the first half, I think, is exciting for all Orioles fans. Hats off to Baltimore for drafting these guys and thankful to have them on our club and super excited for some of our longtime fans here.”
Delmarva’s dominance was a complete team effort and the eight Shorebirds headed to the All-Star Game are pitchers Grayson Rodriguez, Drew Rom, Ofelky Peralta and Zach Matson, along with catcher Daniel Fajardo, shortstop Adam Hall, outfielder Doran Turchin and designated hitter Seamus Curran.
I made a trip to Salisbury last month to check in on the Shorebirds. Moore told me not only did he have a talented team, but one with great chemistry that was very close-knit.
“This clubhouse is the best clubhouse I’ve ever seen,” Moore said then. “Of course, winning helps. But just as far as the camaraderie of the players - they play for each other, which is not something I’ve ever seen in the minors. You have to play well to get promoted and sometimes everyone is playing for themselves. But for whatever reason, in that clubhouse, it’s a little different. They hang out after the game and they play for each other, which certainly has to play into the success we’ve had, especially late in the games. I couldn’t be more proud of the results.”
The Shorebirds’ success this year comes at a time when Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has come here looking to build a major league winner through the draft and player development. It can’t be anything but positive for O’s fans to follow what has been happening with Delmarva.
“I told our guys tonight, it’s really special what they are doing for the entire organization. Sometimes it can feel we’re a long way from Baltimore. But at this point in our rebuild, this is really important and this means a lot,” Moore said.
Moving forward, no doubt the Delmarva roster could change between now and the beginning of the South Atlantic League playoffs in September.
“The second half will definitely be different,” said Moore. “Guys that deserve promotions should get them because they’ve played well. I do hope some of our players do get promoted and take what they learned here to the next level. At our very first meeting, we told our guys to just get a little better one day at a time, then come back tomorrow and do it again. We often focused on the small things and one pitch at a time. No matter who walks through that door in the second half, that is the way we will stay because that is what got us here.”
Congrats to the Shorebirds on their success. Later this year, they’ll take part in the playoffs for the seventh time in franchise history. They’ve been an Orioles affiliate since their second season in 1997. Delmarva won the South Atlantic League championship in 1997 and 2000. In September, they go for a third title.