(March 3, 2021 – Carrollton, TX) The Dallas Spirits Baseball Club opened up it’s ninth season last Wednesday night in the form of the Spirits (40+) kicking things off against the Rattlers in DFW-ABA action. The excitement of the new season slowly drizzled away just like the early lead the Spirits put together and it appeared the squad picked up right where it left things off last season, creating a storyline of a fast start followed by blunders and giving away a baseball game.
The Spirits were without team co-manager and big bat, Kirk Sipila but the team had a number of solid players return to the lineup along with a couple of new faces. Duane Aponte took the mound for the Spirits and looked mid-season form from the get-go, controlling his pitches and dropping a number of them into the strike zone to assist the Spirits in holding off a Rattlers offense that is one of the best in the metroplex.
After starting the Rattlers lead-off hitter, Marcos Vidal III with a pair of strikes, Aponte was able to get him to ground out and then he set Ravi Mallick back to the dugout with 3 straight strikes. Hard-hitting, Clint (Justin) Harris crushed a line drive to deep center for a single, but Aponte was able to get Aaron Lowe to line out after getting ahead in the count, 1-2.
The Spirits offense then opened quickly in the bottom half of the first after Eric McPherson singled following a fly out by Eric Goetz. Travis Hitzeman then took a strike from Rattlers starter, Zeb Land and then promptly took the next pitch he saw deep to left-center field for a double, allowing McPherson to score and to give the Spirits a 1 to 0 lead. Shawn Lee followed with a hard single to center field to push Hitzeman to third and one pitch later, Hitzeman made it 2 to 0 Spirits after crossing the plate on a wild pitch. Lee was able to make his way to second on the pitch, but David Tipton went down looking and Stacy Scott flew out to strand Lee in scoring position.
The Rattlers were able to tie things up in the second after James Bolton reached on a one-out single. Rich Beller also singled, but Aponte rebounded and struck out Stephen Smith to leave two on with one out. Scott Rodgers followed up with an RBI single to score Bolton and as it would turn out later, gave the Rattlers their only earned run of the game. Todd McClurg followed with a routine fly to left field, but Eddie Paschall lost sight of the ball at the last moment, bobbling the catch and allowed McClurg to reach safely and for Beller to score. Things got worse after Aponte loaded the bases after hitting Land with a pitch, but the Spirits were able to avoid disaster after Vidal III grounded out to end the inning with the game tied, 2 to 2.
The Spirits offense then rallied for 3 more runs to take a 5 to 2 lead after Aponte drew a one out walk. Chris Lewis replaced Aponte at first after reaching on a fielder’s choice that squeezed Aponte at second, but a pair of walks by Paschall and Shawn Hunt loaded the bases and kept the Spirits inning alive. Earl German then came up big with a line drive to left-center field that allowed both Lewis and Paschall to score and a follow up, RBI single by Goetz make gave the Spirits another run after Hunt crossed the plate. McPherson flew out to end the inning but the Spirits had a solid lead heading into the third inning.
A hit-batsman allowed Malick to give the Rattlers a lead off runner in the third and the snakes made due with the gift shortly after Harris flew out and Lowe grounded out. Wilkinson was able to reach on an error by Aponte after Aponte fielded a soft roller in front of the mound that should have been an easy out, but Aponte fell short on the throw to first and Wilkinson was save. Malick was able to score on the play after previously swiping second and the Rattlers were able to cut the Spirits lead, 5 to 3 before Bolton ended the inning on a ground out.
The Spirits offense then blew a huge opportunity after the Rattlers turned to McClurg to pitch in the bottom half of the third. The hard-throwing right-handed pitcher had difficulty finding the zone and as a result, Hitzeman, Lee, and Tipton all drew bases-on-balls to load the bases with nobody out to start the inning. McClurg refocused and was able to set down Scott looking and a soft ground ball from Brant Finchum to the left side made for an easy fielder’s choice play as Hitzeman was cut down at the plate. With bases still loaded and two down, Aponte grounded out to end the inning and the promising inning disappeared as another statistic of players left on base for the ghosts.
After Smith reached on a one-out error in the top half of the fourth, the Spirits quickly made up for the error by turning two on Rodgers and the 4-6-3 double-play ended the inning quickly and the Spirits returned to offense. Paschall reached on a one-out walk and made his way to second on a passed ball. Hunt later struck out and Paschall went on to steal third base during an at-bat by German. German drew a walk to put runners on the corners only to become statistics as McClurg was able to get Goetz to fly out to end the inning.
The Spirits turned to Jonathan Duran to hold off the Rattlers offense and Duran did just that, holding the Rattlers in check despite a lone single from Vidal III, but the Rattlers returned the favor despite a single from Hitzeman in the bottom of the fifth, leaving the score in favor of the ghosts, 5 to 3. That’s when things went (more) South for the Spirits defense. With two strikes on one of the Rattlers best hitters, the Spirits infield made a mistake allowing Harris to reach first on a fielding error to lead off the inning. Harris was able to swipe second and then took third as the throw from Hunt to second earned the Spirits defense its second error of the inning. Lowe followed with a clutch RBI single to score Harris and the Spirits lead was now one run. Malick was inserted to run for Lowe and four pitches later, he stole second to put himself in scoring position. Wilkinson followed with an easy fly ball to right field, but McPherson wasn’t able to complete the catch and the third Spirits error in a row allowed Malick to score and for Wilkinson to take second. A ground out by Bolton pushed Wilkinson to third and despite a line drive out from Beller to stave off giving away the lead, one pitch later the baseball hit the dirt and Wilkinson was able to give the Rattlers the lead and eventually the win after scoring on the wild pitch. Smith grounded out to end the inning one pitch later.
From there, McClurg used the momentum to end the game himself. He struck out Scott looking, but Finchum battled and drew a walk to keep the Spirits alive. The glimpse of hope was short-lived however, as McClurg set Aponte down swinging and then took Lewis down on three pitches looking to end the game due to the league’s two-hour time limit constraints.
“Tough way to open the season,” Lee commented after the game. “This was pretty much our scrimmage to start the year. We had two practices and limited attendance and it showed for us defensively. The box shows 6 errors but I’m pretty certain it was 7 errors. They had one earned run. Our pitching looked good, parts of our offense looked really good and then we try to field the ball. It’s frustrating because it’s something we struggled with the entire season last year. I just hope that this is due to it being the front end of the season. Aponte looked well and so did Duran as far as pitching goes. Hitzeman’s bat was in mid-season form. But we simply didn’t take advantage of opportunities. We left bases loaded with nobody out in the third and left a total of 11 runners on base. Tough to swallow. You want to beat good teams when you have the opportunity. Hopefully we’ll be more game-ready next week.
The loss starts the Spirits season off with a 0-1 record and they’ll have a chance to go .500 next week when they host the Fighting Chihuahuas starting at 6:30PM. The game will be hosted at Texas Star on Legends field and you can click here for schedule details, to obtain driving directions or to download the iScore Central app to listen to the game live.