They call Cleveland the mistake on the Lake. Well make no mistake about it; the 2010 Lake County Captains are Champions of the Midwest League. No need to adjust your glasses or turn on another light, but yes, a team in the Cleveland Indians organization won a championship. I have proof. Ted Kubiak and the Lake County Captains have brought a ton of magical things to the northeast Ohio are and now including a championship. It doesn’t matter what level of baseball you play in, especially pro baseball, winning a championship is not something to take for granted or take lightly.
That was the sentiment of Kubiak after the game. His speech to the team he told them they have no idea what they have just accomplished, and he told them it’s not easy to do. The players on the team fought hard all season and showed the most grit and that is a testament to their manager. Over the course of the playoffs Ted has said it has been an uphill climb against every team and Monday’s game five was the last stop on that hill.
Player after player walked into their coaches’ office and individually thanked them for his guidance this season. Amidst all the champagne showers and the screaming, Kubiak stood back and watched his players soak it in. Kubiak, who has won three rings as a player, was crying as he was talking about the group of guys he managed this season. “It’s kind of hard to say, satisfaction.” “Like I told them out there, what they did is incredible.” “It is the greatest bunch of guys I’ve ever had as far as gutting it out, they wanted it.” “It was satisfaction, to get where you want to be.” This is Kubiak’s first time winning a championship as a manager, after winning the other three as a player. “This side of the game is different; I have to figure out how to get guys to play.” “I like doing it, I like dealing with those guys, a great bunch of kids,” Ted said of winning a championship on the managerial side of the game. First year pitching Coach Mickey Callaway said, “I didn’t see this team give up one game all year.”
The Captains have been in the Class A playoffs two times prior this trip. Both times came in the South Atlantic League, and in 2003 the team lost in the championship series. In 2010, over 40 different players put on a Captains uniform, and they all can say they played a huge role in getting to win this championship.
From players like Bo Greenwell, Chun Chen, Jeremie Tice, Joe Gardner and Matt Packer who have all moved on; and to players who came in late, like Jason Knapp, Tyler Holt, and none bigger on Monday night than Giovanni Soto, every player deserved this and can take this with them the rest of their lives. There have been some incredibly talented players, even Hall of Famers (Cal Ripken, Dan Marino, etc.) who can’t say they won a championship, but all these players now can. Not every single one of them will play in the majors (however on this team there will be many), but when they have grandkids someday, they can show them they played for a manager and a person as great as Ted Kubiak and they won a championship. They will have the pictures and the rings to prove it for as long as they live, and every one of them absolutely deserves it. After the game Soto said “this is the biggest game I have ever pitched in.”
Holt said after the game that it was a great win, right up there with beating his hated rival from college, the Florida Gators.
The major league Indians are said to lack pitching, but it is not something the Captains lacked. From Knapp, who in a brief stint in Lake County, certainly impressed with a hell chasing fastball and unbelievable will. Right down to the last strikeout by closer Preston Guilmet, who looked so calm in a moment that would have sent most of us running for a new pair of underwear, the whole team pitched unbelievable all season and in the post season, closed the game out with a strikeout. Guilmet went old school, just like his manager, a three inning save, and which was not his first time doing that.
Knapp said after the win, he told the team when he got here “We are winning this”, and Jason was living in the moment, and while he didn’t pitch in the deciding game as originally planned, he had a hell of a lot to do with the team getting to this point, and he will enjoy it. “I’m going to order a ring for all my fingers, even my pinky finger.” Hope the big guy gets his shoulder straight, because he will have the shot to pitch for that many at higher levels.
Now for most of you who believe Jhonny Peralta would never do anything good for the Cleveland Indians, well he certainly did something good for the Captains. All he did was deliver game five’s pitcher, Soto to the Captains in a midseason trade. Soto went an unbelievable five and two thirds innings, striking out nine batters, allowing three hits to a very good hitting team, heck a team that has hitting as a built in nickname; the Clinton LumberKings. Soto wasn’t the winning pitcher in Monday’s championship, but he was a winner regardless, they all are now. Soto may never be a big leaguer, who knows how many will, but they all will carry this forever. “He (Soto) got us to where we wanted to be, to Guilmet.” said Kubiak after he was done being doused in a champagne waterfall.
Some amazing things happened this season in Lake County, many walk off hits and comebacks, none more fitting by the player who knocked in the game winning run to win the first half, and knocked in what would be the game winning run in the championship game. Casey Frawley, the Captains shortstop from game one, said to make sure, whatever story (the media) write, be sure that you mention the 11 players that were sent up to Kinston, were an immensely huge help to the team that won this championship. “It was only fitting Frawley had the hit to win it,” Kubiak said. Ted said in his mind Frawley would be the guy to do it.
The Captains made it through the playoffs without some players who moved on, and they beat a team who drug them around like a ragdoll all year in the Great Lakes Loons. The Captains lost game one to the Loons at Classic Park and rallied to win two straight in Midland to move on. “Their resilient”, “all the games we played against Great Lakes were good, that was one of the best, but as far as the games go, this was right there (on the best games the Captains have played).”
I could go on page after page talking about some great accomplishments by this team all season. Delvi Cid, the team’s leadoff hitter all season, stole more than 70 bases, (despite a well below average on base percentage). Adam Abraham, who became a regular after being stuck behind Tice at third base, ended up hitting 13 home runs, including two in one game against the Loons in the playoffs. Countless pitching performances from the above mentioned Brach, and also Vidal Nuno, who struck out 13 batters in a game four loss to the LumberKings Sunday night. This team had class acts all around, and that is a reflection of Kubiak.
The point of the minor leagues is to develop players for the major league level. So of course the Captains, who made the playoffs by virtue of winning the first half division title, had several key players (as mentioned above) moved up, but they will always be able to look back on this season But in a true testament to Ted’s managerial will, and the same tact he instilled in these players, they gutted their way through the playoffs all the way to a championship.
This is the first team I covered consistently and this year is the most work I have done covering a team. I am beyond thrilled for the players who put those uniforms on this season, and the humility and grit they did it with all season. Not one player shied away from anything, all the way from delivering the title to Lake County, from always talking and being friendly to the us (the media), something that is not a given in sports today. Not all of them will be major leagues (but as I said, I think plenty will be at some point or another), they will always have this memory of winning this championship, and being in that locker room to see them celebrate, was satisfying to watch and to be able to write about and talk with them about it. I do fear that seeing it this young into my own career, and dealing with these players and a person as great as Ted, will spoil me as I to move on in my career.
Cleveland fans always say there’s always next year, well Ted Kubiak and his Captains, affiliated with those same Cleveland Indians, did it this season. Like Ted has said, it’s been an uphill climb all season, but after the game he finally admitted that they were on top of the hill.