After going 38-26, winning the division and being one win away from the Pecos League championship series in 2016, the expectations were high for this year’s version of the Garden City Wind. They were not met, however, after the Wind posted an 18-43 record —18 games behind the final playoff spot — and a fifth-place finish in the division.
In their third year of existence as a baseball team, the Wind posted their franchise-worst record, going 18-43 (.295 winning percentage). When compared to Garden City’s inaugural season in 2015, Garden City went 21-43 (.328).
“The performance on the field was not near as good as we had planned and hoped for,” Wind general manager Marcus Sabata said this week, “and we deserve to give our fans a little bit more to cheer about.”
In response, the Wind have parted with manager David Peterson, Sabata confirmed this week. The Wind will hire a replace near the end of this year, he continued.
Several calls to Peterson went unreturned this week.
The on field woes for the Wind this season could be summed up with one word: strikeouts. Three of the top six leaders in strikeouts were Wind players. Taylor Zeutenhorst struck out the most in the league with 89. Cameron Ketchen was fifth with 64 and Ryan Whitt was sixth with 61. In total, the three Wind players combined for 214 strikeouts.
“We struck out way too often,” said Sabata. “Our offense wasn't very competitive.”
There was only one Wind player who finished in the top five in any of the major offensive categories. Ryan Whitt finished fifth in in the league with 15 home runs and third in RBIs with 64.
“It’s a hitters league, so if you’re scoring three or four runs each night, that's just not going to win you a lot of ball games,” Sabata said. “When there’s runners on and less than two outs, the fact is your job is to move the runner over or bring him in, and we just didn't do that. We struck out in too many of those situations. When you're in the box with less than two outs and runners on, strikeouts are about the only thing that can’t help you. And we did that way too often.”
The high strikeout rate this season would have been devastating for any team, but it affected the Wind specifically since it contradicted the way the team was structured and built at the beginning of the season.
“We were predicated on the three-run homer and that’s the way our team was built, especially for (Clint) Lightner and some of the smaller parks in our league,” said Sabata. “Unfortunately when your roster is built that way and when you're not hitting the ball out of the ballpark, your offense is going to struggle. The problem wasn't getting runners on but getting runners in.”
Not all was bleak for the Wind on the field. The starting pitching for the Wind was the real strong point for Garden City, specifically towards the tail end of the season.
“A positive is our starting pitching towards the end of the season was as good if not better than most in the league. We were holding our opponents to under five runs,” said Sabata. “Our starting pitching was really good, but we may have overused our bullpen.”
Another high point for Sabata came off the field.
“The guys were great off the field,” Sabata said of the players. “They were fantastic
guys. We couldn't have been more proud to have them here off the field. We didn't have any behavioral problems or anything like that, so that was great.”
And the draw of the franchise in southwest Kansas continued to grow, as well, Sabata said.
“Off the field was fantastic,” said Sabata. “Our partners, our sponsors and our supporters have exceeded my expectations. Even the commissioner (of the Pecos League) has said that the amount of enthusiasm for the Wind in Garden City has surpassed even his expectations.”
But the on-field product needs to improve alongside the community support.
“(T)his is professional baseball and this isn't college or legion ball,” he said. “We’re responsible for putting a good product out on the field and we didn't hold up our end of the deal.
“On the field we just need to get better players. That sounds a little brutal, but the fact is that we need to get better baseball players. The guys were fantastic and we couldn't ask for better group of men. Unfortunately, we’ve just got to get better ball players out here to be more competitive.”
And more a more competitive squad would help with the off-the-field growth.
“There is allot of positive feedback but there are things that we could better. We’re certainly not perfect by any stretch of the imagination,” Sabata said. “That starts with putting a competitive team out on the field. Everyone likes a winner. Our fans are no different. They’re patient, but we need to give them something to cheer about.”
Sabata would like to build upon the Thursday night success — the Wind’s most popular night for attendance — and spread that out to the other nights of the week. “From an attendance perspective, the nights that aren't beer nights are not bad but they aren't as good as they can be,” Sabata said. “So, I think we need to figure out a way to attract people down to the ballpark consistently throughout the course of the entire schedule as opposed to Thursday nights.
Because Thursday nights are so popular for Wind games, Sabata is looking into other promotions to get people who may have never been to a Wind game before out to the ballpark, “Making it appealing for businesses or fans to come and take part of nights that aren't Thursday nights. We’re looking at dollar admission night, dollar hot dog night, different promotions and themed nights throughout the course of the season that are a little more spread out during the week opposed to having everything on a Thursday night.”
The Wind will return to Garden City in 2018, but league stability is something that the baseball team needs in order for there to be baseball in Garden City.
Independent leagues around the nation are sometimes known to be constantly changing, year in and year out, building an uncertainty within the cities that host these semi-professional baseball teams. Garden City fans, at least for the foreseeable future, can rest easy knowing that the Wind are in a stable Pecos League, Sabata said.
“The Pecos League is definitely going into the offseason more stable than it ever has before,” he said. “Speaking with the commissioner, this is the first year that he can remember that he is going into the season with no contraction or expansion plans. The plan is to go into next year with the same 12 teams that we had going into it this year, and that's the first time that has ever happened.”
But locally, progress needs to be made to produce a winning club. Sabata says that if he wants the organization to keep growing in southwestern Kansas, the Wind must put a winning team on the field.
“We’re going to start over,” Sabata said. “Garden City deserves better than the performance that we put forward on the field this year certainly. So we’ll go into the offseason making some adjustments and get some better players. That's what it boils down to at the end of the day.”