Empire State Grays try to play ‘Grinch’ to end tough season

TROY — Empire State Grays third baseman John Benevolent rode nearly 20,000 miles on the team bus this summer and had just six wins to show to enter the final series of the season this weekend.

The Grays were 6-87 — all road games — in Friday’s opener of a three-game series against the Tri-City ValleyCats at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.

“It’s definitely been a journey, to say the least, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Benevolent said. “Being the road team is not easy, constantly on the road, from hotel to hotel. Not everyone can do it. It puts pressure on us to go out every day and bring the same energy to want to win a game of football, but to go out and compete, whatever.”

These three days could be the last for the Greys, a travel team added by the Frontier League this season to give the league an even number of 16 teams for planning purposes. The Frontier League is trying to add a more permanent 16th franchise for next season that would replace the Greys.

“Nothing is official for a 16th team in 2023,” Frontier League deputy commissioner Steve Tahsler wrote.

The Grays belong to the Empire League, a four-team independent league based in Tupper Lake. The Empire League’s mission is to give a chance to young players like Benevolent, 24, who have far less experience than their Frontier League rivals.

The difference showed on the field, where the Grays lost their first 35 games, among the longest losing streaks in professional baseball history. They entered this weekend’s series with 10 straight losses.

“Well, it really makes you realize how tough you really can be,” said Benevolent, who played at Brescia, an NAIA school in Kentucky. “At the low points of the season, it was a struggle. You just have to stay positive and go out and know that everyone on your team is going out and competing the same way you are, you know? »

Friday, the Grays found the place of their first victory of the season. They beat the ValleyCats 9-3 on June 25 at Bruno Stadium.

Empire State right fielder Jordan Holloman-Scott, a former Yankees 14th-round pick, said the Grays wanted to play spoilers this weekend. The ValleyCats needed to sweep the Grays and get help from other teams to qualify for the Frontier League playoffs.

“We’re just trying to be the Grinch at their Christmas right now,” Holloman-Scott said. “Make it difficult for them.”

But the Ottawa Titans beat them. The Titans defeated Quebec 4-1 on Friday night, knocking the ValleyCats out of the playoffs with their game against the Grays still in progress.

Holloman-Scott said it was “bittersweet” to end a season in which he tasted so many losses but developed close bonds with his teammates.

“I think overall it’s made me a better person and a better player because you have trials and tribulations and a lot of lows,” Holloman-Scott said. “A lot of times you want to give up when things happen, but that’s part of it. … These guys, honestly, we never quit, no matter all the BS.”

Grays manager Gil Rondon, 68, is a former major league pitcher with the Astros and White Sox. He guided the Empire State through a season of blowouts and frustrating losses.

“If we could go six, seven innings, we’d be great,” he said. “We would be 91-6. But that’s the name of the game. It’s a learning process and baseball doesn’t change.”

Empire League co-owner Eddie Gonzalez said the Grays “beat our bus through hell” on those trips to the Northeast, Canada and the Midwest. They had shirts stolen from the clubhouse while on a trip. He’s waiting to see if the Frontier League will still need the Grays next year.

“What we do with our organization is we take great pride in giving an opportunity to young people, the underdogs,” he said.

Gonzalez said he would like to know by October or November, so he has more time to prepare. He also hoped the Frontier League could hold an expansion draft to stock up their roster and give the Grays a better chance to compete.