South Xtra: Stoner is displaying his versatility afield
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It's been a season of difficulties for the Washington Wild Things of the Frontier League.
Through 35 games, the Wild Things had a 14-21 record and were residing in sixth place in the league's seven-team East Division. The team's earned run average was 4.13, which put them in 12th place in the 14-team league.
Similar to the Pittsburgh Pirates, hitting also has been a concern as the team batting average was .221 through Tuesday.
That, however, is an improvement. The team has more than doubled its hit total in the past 20 games. Through 14 games, the team had fewer than 100 hits. Things have changed.
Through Tuesday night, the team had recorded 248 hits, raising the batting average by nearly 30 points and trailed 13th-place Normal (.228) by seven percentage points.
The team, though, has a claim that few teams can tout. In a 12-7 victory against the visiting Gateway Grizzlies on May 23, second baseman Shain Stoner and since-released catcher Joel Carranza became the first players in Wild Things' history to hit grand slams in the same game.
Stoner -- who is hitting .205 with 2 home runs and 17 RBIs -- hit his grand slam in the bottom of the second inning to give the Wild Things a 6-2 lead. Five innings later and with his team leading 7-4, Carranza -- released after appearing in 13 games with a .138 batting average -- hit an 0-1 curveball for his grand slam to put the game out of reach.
"I didn't realize it [at the time], but I talked to a few people after the game and they said we set a record or made some history," said Stoner, a Santee, Calif., native. "It's good to be part of it and have that memory. The connection with Joel will always be there."
Stoner believes hitters must have the same short memory that pitchers eventually develop.
"You can have a bad at-bat, and if you don't wash it out of your head, it carries through to your defense and you're not ready defensively. If you can develop that good head on your shoulders and a short memory, you should be a successful hitter."
There are some reasons for optimism. The Wild Things' 13-5 victory against Joliet (Ill.) that closed out a road trip earlier this month also snapped a seven-game losing streak.
"We struggled early in the season, and our pitching kept us in the game," Stoner said. [The pitching] was dominating and keeping [opponents] to one or two runs, which allowed us to have our moments on the field and we have had some great victories.
"Our offense stepped it up [against Joliet]. We had 12 hits and scored 13 runs, and our offense finally started to click and get that confidence back. It was frustrating, but that's baseball. Every team is going to hit a slump in their season. It's a long season. It's 96 games."
During that losing streak, the Wild Things lost three of those games by one run, continuing a theme that saw them lose 15 games by one run a season ago.
There's a possibility that Stoner could take his spot on the mound in more than just a mop-up role. In a 15-2 loss to Joliet, Stoner pitched one inning when the game was well out of hand, yielding three earned runs.
"That's what I did last summer for the Wisconsin Woodchucks in the Northwoods League," Stoner said. "I'd go in there to chew up some innings. I've always enjoyed pitching."
Stoner also enjoys playing other positions.
"When coach [Chris] Bando brought me here, he asked me what position I wanted to play, I told him I just want to hit. I play second base now, but I've played the outfield, first, third and shortstop."
He hasn't caught since he was 12 years old, but Stoner said he's open for a ballfield tour.
"There is a rumor going around that it might happen," he said, recalling the scenario played out by five players in Major League Baseball history who played all nine defensive positions in a game.
The feat was performed most recently in 2000 by Scott Sheldon of the Texas Rangers and Shane Halter of the Detroit Tigers. There's no record of it happening in a Frontier League game.
"Coach Bando and the other coaches joke with me about it," Stoner said. "I'm game for it.
"I'd love to see what those catchers go through. I haven't [caught] since I was 12 years old. But I'd be willing to do it and play all nine [positions]. That's something not everybody gets to do. If they let me do it, I'll do it."
First Published June 28, 2012 12:00 am