They looked like a runaway train. A semi barreling down the interstate with no regard for who was in the left lane. They won 15 of their first 17 games. They had the experience. They had a history. They looked like champions. Now they've derailed. Pulled off to the side of the road because only 17 wheels had air in them. Waiting for the auto club to show up.
The Marysville Gold Sox built a four-and-a-half game lead in less than three weeks of the new Great West League. Now, they have plummeted into the All-Star Break six-and-a-half out, and losers of 15 of their last 22.
The big question is, and it can be a question with any baseball team that all of a sudden stops winning. What's wrong? That question might be the number one question fans ask of any team. Of course, if anyone could pinpoint an exact answer, you could fix it, move on, and start winning again.
The players in the league are in college. Many of them are away from home. Sometimes they get hurt, have to leave for family reasons, or, nowadays, get shut down by their college coaches because of pitching limits, or number of at-bats. That has happened to the Gold Sox more so this year than in years past, but it's also happening to every team in the league.
There's likely another reason. Other teams in the league are playing better. The (now) first place team won 12 in a row until last night. The third and fourth place teams are finding their groove after a slow start. The talent is starting to sort itself out.
The brand-new six-team collegiate wood bat summer league is now taking a short breather. They pause for the next couple of nights for an All-Star game in Medford. Although the league is not split into divisions, they will break up into groups of North and South for the exhibition. A home run derby and other festivities were held tonight (Monday), the 'Getting Close to the end of the Season Classic' tomorrow, a day off Wednesday, and then two solid weeks of every day baseball until the playoffs in mid-August.
Maybe it's a mindset, but the Gold Sox just look tired. Maybe they're not, and it's just a feeling one gets. At this point, the Gold Sox have played 43 games. They are 23-19, and tied for second place, but it's still 43 games. Not only 43 games, but 43 games in a little over 8 weeks. Gold Sox teams of the past played 44 games in 11 weeks. They also didn't have to play on the road. The thing is, though, none of the players, or coaches, that are here this year, were here last year. That shouldn't matter.
So what is it then? Two weeks of ball left and then a playoff run. Guys have been here awhile. Some are leaving. Some are being sent home because their college coaches say enough is enough. The others are here to play it through. New players, mostly local guys with no other place to play are showing up and filling in.
About a month ago, it seemed like the Gold Sox were in first place in this new league because of their franchise history. Now, it's more evident they are just like everyone else. Out of the six teams, four have risen to the top, and will duke it out in the playoffs. A little break could only help. Yes, it's a brand new league. Now it's a brand new ball game.
Derby Day: A Gold Sox player won the home run derby tonight. First baseman Dalton DeVries took the trophy with four homers in the final round. You know how many he has during the regular season? Yep. None.
Photo: Home Run Derby winner Dalton DeVries with general manager Michael Mink (stolen from Twitter).