Chemistry is a funny thing in baseball.
It can’t hit, pitch or play defense.
But chemistry, paired with the right amount of talent, can win you a championship.
The Tri-City Dust Devils may not be the most talented team in the Northwest League, but it might have as much chemistry as any.
It took time to develop.
The Dust Devils finished 14-24 in the first-half North Division standings, 11 games out of first place, but virtually the same group of players has turned things around in the second half.
Players, coaches and Tri-City manager Drew Saylor credit a lot of the progress to the chemistry that has been brewing since spring training.
“It’s something we as a staff tried to create from Day One,” Saylor said. “A lot of it starts with having quality people in our clubhouse who hold themselves to a higher standard than other people. That’s where it starts — guys knowing that something’s bigger than themselves. Everybody yearns for that. We’re fortunate to have a lot of guys who believe in the direction we’re going. That’s the really special thing to it.”
Saylor was quick to point out that numbers seldom tell the full story in baseball, and that’s especially true in Tri-City, where the Dust Devils are last in the NWL in ERA (4.87) and second to last in runs produced (297).
Still, Tri-City is locked into a down-to-the-wire battle with Vancouver for the North Division second-half title. With a strong final homestand, the Dust Devils can reach the NWL playoffs for the first time since 2011.
“We’ve been caring about (the playoff race) for four weeks now, so this really isn’t a change for us,” Saylor said. “We knew we were going to go after this thing hard in the second half. If we can maintain what we’ve been doing, we’re going to be able to put ourselves in a position we’ve wanted since June 10.”
What the stat-counters can’t measure is heart and determination. Sometimes, it means remembering it’s supposed to be fun.
“When things are going rough, that can turn this game into a business. That makes it no fun. You can forget it’s just a game,” Tri-City first baseman Sean Dwyer said. “That’s what we do so well here, remembering we’re a bunch of 20-year-olds playing a game.”
Dwyer, like outfielder Wilson Soriano, is in his second year with Tri-City. Both have noticed a big difference in the way each team approached the day.
“Compared to last year, the team chemistry is better,” Soriano said via translation from fellow Tri-City outfielder Marcos Derkes. “The guys are all cheering for each other as a unit. That’s the difference this year.”
Northwest League notes: The NWL released its league schedule for the 2015 season, including a new format for the All-Star Game.
Tri-City will open next season with a five-game series in Boise beginning June 18. The Dust Devils’ home opener will be June 23 against the Vancouver Canadians.
For the 2015 All-Star Game, the NWL All-Stars will host the Pioneer League All-Stars on Aug. 4 at Avista Stadium in Spokane. It’s the first time players from the two leagues will face one another.
“The Northwest League and Pioneer League are two prominent short-season leagues in minor league baseball,” Pat O’Connor, president and CEO of Minor League Baseball, said in a statement. “To combine the two and showcase the talented individuals from 14 Major League farm systems is a win for everyone, especially the fans.”