Dillas Roll To Third Straight United League Title
Brady Bogart has a soft spot for the underdog, because he remembers being in that position himself.
Bogart was a rather short, not particularly hard-throwing pitcher coming out of St. Leo (Fla.) in the early 1990s. As you would expect, scouts didn't exactly flock to his games, even if he set the single-season ERA record at a school that also produced Bob Tewksbury.
But he managed to latch on with the Sioux Falls Canaries during the first season of the Northern League. He pitched in the Texas-Louisiana League as well during a three-year pro career that came because he was given a chance.
His managerial career has had a similar track. Bogart had coached at high school, youth and college levels, but when he was looking to get into professional coaching, he needed a break. It came when Kash Beauchamp recommended he call Buddy Biancalana after Beauchamp learned that Biancalana needed a pitching coach in Amarillo. One phone conversation about pitching philosophy later, Bogart was the Dillas' new pitching coach. When Biancalana left the team two years later, Bogart was a little-known pitching coach being promoted to the head job, causing many Dillas fans to question general manager Mark Lee's sanity.
You won't hear anyone squawking now. Bogart's Dillas just won their third consecutive United League title by beating Edinburg in the league's championship series.
"Mark Lee took a chance on me. He let people know that," Bogart said. "What is special is when guys believe in you. Guys believe in you, so I want to believe in guys too."
Bogart has found a number of guys to believe in. Only three members of this year's champions have been around for all three titles—he's had to remake the team every year. This year he had to rebuild the pitching staff from last year's champions, which meant bringing in a number of soft-tossing but eager young pitchers. Not all of them worked out, but he did find several young arms who proved they could survive in what is, and always has been, a hitter's league.
"Our league is great for hitters. It's a righthanded power league. It's just the way the west Texas wind blows," Bogart said.
Four of the six teams in the league hit .300 this year. Only one team had an ERA under 5.00.
Eventually, Bogart figured out which of his young pitchers were willing to throw inside enough to survive. And he supplemented the youth infusion with a dominating bullpen. Righthanders Corey Bass and Tyler Pearson both lit up radar guns at 92-94 mph to set up Ramon Geronimo. The former Reds' prospect doesn't throw as hard, but his Bugs Bunny changeup allowed him to save 21 games.
Of course, the Dillas could also hit, which is vital in a league where a 10-9 game is common. Shortstop Joaquin Rodriguez hit .372/.434/.559 to finish second in the league in batting. Seven regulars in the lineup hit .300 or better.
That hitting was on display in the deciding game of the championship series. The Dillas trailed 8-3 early in the game before clawing back. Kevin Butler's three-run triple in the seventh gave Amarillo the lead, then on the next pitch Brian Bueno's successful suicide squeeze gave Amarillo an insurance run as it hung on for an 11-9 win.
As the final out was recorded, Amarillo started to celebrate for a third straight year. The Dillas had lived up to Bogart's motto to "never lose the last game of the playoffs."
And in doing so, they racked up another bill for Bogart. The United League doesn't pay for championship rings, so Bogart had to purchase his own each of the past three years. He hopes that having three straight league titles may help him get a job in affiliated ball. But if not, he already has a Plan B.
"If not, I'll hopefully have to buy a fourth ring," Bogart said.
• By hitting .394, Sioux Falls' Beau Torbert broke the American Association's single season batting average record, topping the old mark of .378 set by Lincoln's Pichi Balet in 2006. Torbert, came into the final day of the regular season with an outside shot at hitting .400, but he went 1-for-5 when he would have needed to have gone 4-for-4 or 5-for-5 to reach .400. For his efforts, Torbert was named the league's player of the year for a second time. He also won the award in 2008.
• It was a good year for the Pheasants (Sioux Falls' new nickname). Torbert's teammate Brandon Sing broke his own league record for home runs with 27 this year. Sing's previous record was 22 set in Penscola in 2008.
• There was a .400 hitter in independent baseball this season. Edmonton's Larry Bigbie (Golden) hit .403 to lead all independent league hitters. The former Orioles outfielder had 93 hits in only 69 games.