In September, minor leaguers go big or go home

The minor league season came to a quiet end in Bowie, Md. on Monday. (WTOP/Noah Frank)

BOWIE, Md. — The Major League Baseball pennant race is just starting to heat up, but for a majority of professional baseball players, the season ended Monday.

Every year on Labor Day, the minor league seasons conclude, marking the end of the line for thousands of players. Some will go on to the playoffs; a select few will get the call to the major leagues, like pitchers Joe Saunders, Evan Meek and Kevin Gausman, who joined to the Baltimore Orioles from the club’s Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia, on Monday.

But for the 25 players one stop farther down the line from the bright lights of Camden Yards, Monday’s 6-5 loss to the Altoona Curve was the last game of the year. With neither the Baysox nor the Curve going to the Eastern League playoffs – – and neither sending any players to their respective big-league clubs (Altoona is a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate) — a marathon 142-game slate came to a sudden, quiet end.

“It’s always bittersweet,” says Baysox outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, grandson of Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. “Loving the game so much, it’s tough to end it. You always want to keep playing.”

Inside the Baysox clubhouse, manager Gary Kendall sits in a towel, looking at the final box score of the year as his players pack up their lockers just on the other side of the wall. The MASN postgame show plays, muted, on the television above Kendall’s desk, as the Orioles have just lost, nearly simultaneously with the Baysox. Despite the pair of results, Kendall is in a good mood.

His team competed for the postseason into the final weekend of the year, finishing 72-70. But more important for the man who has managed in the Orioles’ system for the past 11 years is that the big league club, full of players he has tutored, carries baseball’s largest division lead into the final month of the regular season.

“A perfect day for me is when we compete well and we both win,” he says of his Baysox and the Orioles. “A good day is when we play well and lose, but they win.”

That made Monday a bad day, but it’s still a good time to be a part of the organization. And even though neither Kendall nor his players are in line to take in any of the pennant race first-hand from Camden Yards, there is still organizational pride.

When starting catcher Matt Wieters went down with a season-ending injury earlier this year, the Orioles chose not to give up talent from their system to make a trade for a new backstop. Instead, they dove into their farm system, summoning little-known Caleb Joseph. In 65 games, Joseph has swatted eight home runs and slugged over .400, filling in admirably.

A seven-year veteran of the organization, Joseph began his professional career at short-season Aberdeen in 2008, with Kendall as his manager.

Pano

Pano

A handful of Baysox players will be added to a taxi squad and sent to the spring training complex in Florida this week to stay sharp and in shape, in case an injury in Baltimore creates an emergency opening. But even those who don’t won’t be away from the game for long. And Kendall won’t be far behind them.

There is no real offseason anymore. Kendall heads down to Florida for instructional leagues Sept. 9, and expects to spend some time in the Dominican Republic at the organization’s academy in November. Meanwhile, Yastrzemski will start his preparations for next year almost immediately.

“About a week,” he says about his downtime. “There’s about a week span where you have nothing to do, and that’s about it. Then you’re right on to the next thing, working toward the next season.”

For now, the Baysox and Curve and every other team whose season has ended will do the same as the rest of the fans of baseball — turn their attention to watching the big-league pennant race unfold.

“It’s fun to be able to watch them continue,” says Yastrzemski. “Hopefully they go all the way.”

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