In this battle of David vs. Goliath, the giant turned out to have a glass jaw.
The Cyclones’ season ended in terrible disappointment last Tuesday, with the Tri-City Valley Cats making the hometown heroes look amateurish and out of their element in a league they dominated for three months.
“Some of the guys were a little bit overwhelmed,” admitted the manager, Wally Backman. “We’ve gave them all the information [about the opposing team] and they had to go out and play.”
The Clones skipper had never sounded so disappointed in his Cyclones, who stormed through the regular season, and then showed their mettle by winning two games in a row against the Jamestown Jammers in the semi-final series.
For his part, Backman didn’t seem that impressed with the 2010 champions, even after they made these Cyclones look lousy.
“You get frustrated because you know everybody is not properly prepared,” Backman said. “We told the players exactly what they were going to do.”
In other words, the team chose the worst time to go cold this season.
Prior to the stunning collapse, the Cyclones had established themselves as one of the most-dominant teams in New York–Penn League history.
They only lost nine times at home, in large part due to the great play of possible Major Leaguers-to-be Cory Vaughn, Darrell Ceciliani and Jeff Flagg.
The hard-hitting Vaughn quickly established himself as a leader in the locker room, and ended up finishing the season with a team record 14 home runs and 56 RBIs.
The electrifying Ceciliani won the league batting title, with a .351 average and 95 hits, 56 runs, and 12 triples.
Flagg occasionally showed flashes of the power the Cyclones expected from him, and seemed to be finding a rhythm towards the end of the season, as he finished just behind Vaughn with 52 RBIs.
But Flagg ended up having to sit out the first game of the championship series with a pulled hamstring — one of many costly injuries that were key to the team’s disappointing final games.
Most significantly, shortstop Rylan Sandoval broke his wrist just before the All Star game, leaving the team without its hard-hitting leadoff man.
Even Ceciliani, who played 68 games, saw his production diminish as nagging injuries derailed his celebrated quest to hit .400 for the season.
But injuries aside, there was one factor that put the nail in the Cyclones’ coffin: their own success.
“We all expected to win a ring, and it didn’t turn out that way,” Ceciliani said.
That sense of entitlement led the Clones to slack off a bit.
“After about two-thirds of the season, when we were 10 games up, we relaxed,” Backman said after a victory earlier in the postseason.
Unfortunately, that relaxation never went completely away, leaving the future of the most compelling Cyclone of all — Backman himself — in question.
Will the team’s sudden collapse diminish Backman’s chances for winning the job of manager of the Mets?
“I’m not worried about [managing the Mets] right now. Our season has ended,” said Backman when we asked the tough question.
Minutes later he added, “I don’t even know if I got a job [anywhere] next year!”
But Backman — who knows more old baseball adages than most — should remember this bittersweet phrase that resonates after an ultimately disappointing season: “Wait ’til next year.”