Last Thursday night was the final regular season game between Lancaster and High Desert. We won’t say it’s the last ever, because with minor league baseball and a functioning stadium, it’s unwise to ever say a stadium will be vacant in perpetuity until there aren’t two bricks left standing. But Minor League Baseball has announced that the California League will contract by two teams—High Desert and Bakersfield–after the season.
So last week marked the end, at least for now, of a truly fascinating rivalry.
It’s been fascinating because both Lancaster and High Desert are parks that are truly bonkers. It’s not because they have a sloped center field, a la Houston, or a lazy river behind the outfield fence. It’s because the gusty winds make both fields play like the outfield fences sometimes seem to be located just beyond the infield dirt.
“At both ballparks, especially there’s (High Desert), you have a feeling you don’t know what you’ll see,” said Lancaster play-by-play announcer Jason Schwartz who has called games for the high Class A club since 2012. “I really feel like the Cal League reputation, while the statistics back up that it’s an offensive league to me it’s misleading because Lancaster and High Desert do skew the numbers. But you know when it’s Lancaster-High Desert, because both ballparks are so offensive, it’s going to be a different kind of game. There is no escaping it.”
And because that’s true at either park, whenever Lancaster and High Desert got together, you knew you could see a game with 30-plus runs and 40-plus hits. And most every year, the two teams lived up to those expectations with a crazy game or two, or six. Pitchers will not be sad to see High Desert disappear from the schedule. This century, the best team ERA a Mavericks’ team ever has was a 4.95 in 2006. A year later in 2007, High Desert’s team ERA was 6.41.
“You go into every (Lancaster-High Desert) game with fingers crossed. Let’s see how many innings this can stay normal for,” Schwartz said.
There are many great games in the series that it’s hard to pick out just a few. But limiting it to just the past decade of the rivalry, here are some of the greatest hits.
No. 5: Three-game series, July 2007.
Lancaster 15, High Desert 8; Lancaster 16, High Desert 7; Lancaster 12, High Desert 3.
Number of home runs: 6 (July 24), 6 (July 25), 2 (July 26)
Number of hits: 32 (July 24), 30 (July 25), 16 (July 26)
Best game: Mark Wagner, 4-for-5, 6 RBIs, HR. (July 24); Brad Correll 3-for-5, 3 R, 1 RBI, HR (July 25); Christian Lara, 1-for-2, 2 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, HR.
Worst Game: Aaron Jensen, 3.2 IP, 11 H, 11 R, 9 ER, 2 BB, 1 SO, 3 HR, 7.31 ERA (July 24); Aaron Cotter, 2 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 0 SO, 2 HR, 5.94 ERA (July 25); Nathan Adcock, 3.2 IP, 3 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 6 BB, 6 SO, 14.85 ERA.
You can’t pick out one game from this late-July series in Lancaster. You had to appreciate the whole experience. In three games, High Desert gave up 43 runs and 42 hits.
In the opener, Lancaster scored 15 runs on 18 hits and four home runs as the wind blew 20 mph out to left field. The next night, the wind picked up to 22 mph, this time blowing out to right field. The result was the same: a 16-7 Lancaster win where four Jet Hawks hit home runs.
The wind calmed back down to a mild, 20-mph steady Santa Ana on the 26th and the two teams seemed tired of swinging the bat. A modest 16 combined hits led to an equally modest 15 combined runs. But Lancaster did reach double digits again in a 12-3 win. Future big leaguer Nathan Adcock did not enjoy his stay in High Desert, this was one of his five starts as he walked 22 in 18 innings and finished with an 8.84 ERA.
As crazy as that series was, it’s not unique.
No. 4: May 30-July 2, 2015.
Lancaster 16, High Desert 3; Lancaster 21, High Desert 6; Lancaster 12, High Desert 10; High Desert 9, Lancaster 8.
Number of home runs: 19 (in four games); 11 on May 31.
Number of hits: 107 (in four games); 31 on May 31.
Best Game: Derek Fisher, 4-for-6, 3 HR, 3 R, 12 RBIs; Chase McDonald, 3-for-5, 2 HR, 3 R, 5 RBIs.
Worst Game: Richelson Pena 1.2 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 2 HR.
For the four-game series, Lancaster averaged 17 runs a game. High Desert averaged seven runs a game and was still outscored in the series by 29 runs. The series had historic feats: Lancaster outfielder Derek Fisher was 4-for-6 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in the opener. Alfredo Gonzalez hit two home runs in the same inning in the second game of the series. In that same game, the JetHawks hit eight home runs as part of a 21-run, 18-hit attack.
No. 3: May 25, 2009.
High Desert 12, Lancaster 11
Number of home runs: 3.
Number of hits: 28.
Best Game: Kui Hu Lo 3-for-5, 2B, 3B, HR, 3 R, 1 RBI; Juan Diaz 3-for-5, 3 R, 2B, 3B
Worst Game: Adam Harben 0.2 IP, 4 H, 7 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 7.71 ERA.
Weather: 80 degrees, 12 mph wind blowing out to center.
A great Lancaster-High Desert game meant that you get to see not one, but two hitters who came a hit away from hitting for the cycle. Lo missed his cycle by a single. Duaz missed his by a home run.
But this game also had a series of great comebacks. Lancaster led 7-1 after the first. High Desert rallied to tie it at 7-7 after the third and led 10-7 heading into the bottom of the seventh. Lancaster scored four in the bottom of the seventh to take an 11-10 thanks in part to a home run by Jon Gaston.
That score held up until the top of the ninth when Ian Bladergroen hit a two-run home run to cap off the fifth comeback of the game.
No. 2: Aug. 9, 2013.
High Desert 30, Lancaster 8
Number of home runs: 6.
Number of hits: 37.
Best Game: Patrick Kivlehan, 5-for-7, HR, 4 R, 6 RBIs; Nathan Melendres 6-for-8, 2B, 5 R, 2 RBIs;
Worst Game: Mike Hauschild 0.2 IP, 8 H, 10 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 1 SO, 2 HR, 5.24 ERA; Blair Walters 0.2 IP, 7 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 1 HR, 7.01 ERA.
Weather: 86 degrees, 26 mph wind blowing out to center field.
When the JetHawks trudged off the field at the end of the second inning, they already trailed 20-1. Baseball is a great game, one where there is no clock. Comebacks don’t run out of time, they just run out of innings. But when you’re trailing by 19 and you’re already on the third pitcher of the game in the second inning, even a 26 mph wind to center doesn’t give a team much hope.
High Desert scored two more runs in the third, fourth and fifth before letting off the gas. At that point, it was a 26-4 game that left the few fans in the park something unusual to remember. Even by High Desert-Lancaster standards, 30 runs is a feat–it’s only happened this one time in the past decade of the rivalry.
Six of the nine hitters in High Desert’s lineup finished the game with six or more total bases. The Mavericks finished with 56 total bases and added seven walks and three hit by pitches. High Desert finished the game 14-for-28 with runners in scoring position.
Blair Walters had pitched all year for Lancaster and already had a 5.75 ERA, but his 10 runs in less than an inning still ballooned his ERA by more than a run. Mike Hauschild’s ERA jumped by nearly two runs.
No. 1: Sept. 1, 2012.
Lancaster 23, High Desert 12
Number of home runs: 11.
Number of hits: 36.
Best Game: How do you pick? Rafael Valenzuela 4-for-6, 3 R, 8 RBIs, 2 2B, 2 HR; John Hicks 3-for-5, 3 R, 3 RBIs, 2 HR.
Worst Game: Wes Alsup, 0.1 IP, 0 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 0 SO.
Weather: 86 degrees, wind blowing 20 mph to left field.
This game had everything one could hope for in a High Desert-Lancaster game. More accurately it has everything to hope for if you’re not pitching or attending the game in person. This was part of a series that finished off the season and quite clearly both team’s pitchers were a little gassed by the mental grind it takes to wear ERAs better suited to be painted on the side of Boeing’s next jet.
Only one hitter on either team, the unfortunate Mario Martinez, went hitless. Runs were scored in every inning except for the sixth. Home runs were hit in every inning but the sixth and eighth. Lancaster scored 22 of its 23 runs in the first five innings. Trailing 23-6 heading into the bottom of the ninth, High Desert scored six runs to try in a futile attempt to pull off the most amazing comeback of all time–they fell 11 runs short.