PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles Lefties play out the string tonight in their final contest of the summer, an exhibition game against the Highline Bears, with first pitch at 6:35 p.m.
Port Angeles’ Brady Shimko, a 2018 Port Angeles High School graduate, Roughriders baseball player and Wilder Baseball Club member, is expected to get the start on the mound for the Lefties.
Shimko will play for Olympic College beginning this fall.
Port Angeles improved by two games in the win column this summer (21-33) over their inaugural season win total (19-34), but a tough second half (9-18) kept the Lefties out of playoff contention.
But the West Coast League’s brand of summer baseball isn’t really about the wins and losses — the players are competitive and want to win, but the focus is more tailored to showing improvement as a player and and putting on an exciting product to get fans to come out and enjoy a night at the ballpark.
Port Angeles currently leads the WCL in runs scored (315) by 10 runs over Portland (the Pickles have three games remaining entering Monday) and will win the home run title (57) with ease as Portland is second with 39.
It took the Lefties just 42 games this summer to shatter the WCL’s previous single-season home run record of 49 set by Bellingham last season in 54 games.
Seven Port Angeles players finished with more than five home runs: Dalton Harum (8), Jason Dicochea (7), Ron Brown and Matt Christian (6 apiece) and Austin Earl, Kyle Schimpf and Drew Minter all had five.
The Lefties also lead the league in batters hit by pitches (66) — a stat they’ve dominated since the first week of the season in June.
There was no better spectacle than the West Coast League All-Star Game’s Saltwater Splashdown home run derby at Hollywood Beach.
Organizers ferried players out to hit home runs off a barge in Port Angeles Harbor via a runabout, giving at least one Walla Walla player his first ever experience in a boat.
And on a picture-perfect evening, warm temperatures, little wind, Port Angeles’ Ron Brown won the derby in extra swings. Brown was excited, his teammates were happy and the hometown hero won the day.
A close decision between Lefties All-Star outfielder Harum and All-Star second baseman Dicochea goes to Dicochea.
Harum led the Lefties in batting average and is fourth in the WCL in batting average (.352 in 108 at-bats over 36 games). His eight home runs topped the team and are tied for second in the league, and the Virginia Tech-bound Harum played some solid center field for Port Angeles with just one error.
Dicochea edged out ironman shortstop Trevor Rosenberg for the team lead in hits (47). The Santa Clara University product hit .336 for the summer in 140 at-bats over 40 games, good for fifth in the WCL, and added plenty of pop with seven home runs and 23 RBIs, tied for the team high with Matt Christian.
“I had a pretty good year in college [Santa Clara] and started getting hot toward the end a little so I’ve been trying to build off of that in summer ball,” Dicochea said in mid-July. “Not trying to change too much, just minor adjustments here and there to help me grow as a ballplayer and a hitter.
“And [hitting] coach [Trevor] [Pod]Ratz has helped me a ton. He’s been a great hitting coach for all of us. He’s the type of hitting coach that makes the minor adjustments you need, he doesn’t try to change your whole swing. That’s all hitting is, your swing has gotten you this far on your own, you don’t need to make too many big adjustments.”
Dicochea, not the burliest of the Lefties at a listed height and weight of 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, worked on adding some distance when he connected with pitches this summer.
“One of the big thing’s [Podratz] has helped me with is keeping my weight back a little bit,” Dicochea said. “I get a little bit jumpy at the ball, my hands make up for it by staying in the zone a little while so I can still drive pitches. But if I keep that weight back a little longer I’ll be able to drive balls further and that’s led to the home runs.”
As good as the power production was from the Lefties’ lineup, Port Angeles’ struggles mainly occurred on the mound and in the field.
The Lefties posted a 5.16 ERA as a team, third-worst in the WCL, while giving up the most hits (525) and allowing the second-most runs 338 (271 earned).
Port Angeles’ best pitcher was sidearm-throwing long reliever Triston Busse. Busse went 4-3 on the summer with a 3.03 ERA in 35.2 innings over 17 appearances.
The Corpus Christi, Texas-product spent the summer in Port Angeles working his way back to form from a bevy of back injuries — including a herniated disc, two bulging discs and torn muscles.
“He’s nasty,” Lefties manager Darren Westergard said earlier this summer. “When he comes out of the bullpen I love looking at him when I’m out there to give him the ball because it’s a whole another guy. He is excited and he does it the right way. He gets in there, gets the job done and gets his guys going. He celebrates with that one little fist pump [after innings] and he gets [his teammates] excited to go hit.”
Busse capped his summer by committing to play his final two college seasons for Abilene Christian, an NCAA Division I team in the Southland Conference.
In their inaugural season, Port Angeles finished fourth in attendance in the 11-team West Coast League with an average listed attendance of 1,366 fans over 27 home outings — a total of 36,883.
The Lefties narrowly improved upon those totals this summer according to attendance figures listed on the league’s website.
In 2018, Port Angeles attracted 1,380 fans per game in 26 contests — a total of 35,867 patrons and again good for fourth in the league in attendance.
The Lefties All-Star Game attendance mark, estimated at around 2,500, isn’t included in those numbers.
Victoria, with an average listed crowd of 2,223 fans per game, leads the WCL in attendance again for the fifth consecutive season with three home dates remaining to add to its total.
Strangely enough, the HarbourCats’ best promotion idea, giving away a funeral package worth $2,500 to a lucky fan, didn’t ‘urn’ a good turnout. A crowd of 1,673 showed up for that contest back on July 18.
As for the West Coast League playoffs, the South Division series will begin Friday in Corvallis between first-half champions, the Portland Pickles (36-15) and second-half winners, the Corvallis Knights. (34-17).
It’s the 12th straight season Corvallis has made the WCL playoffs. The Knights also won back-to-back WCL titles in 2016 and 2017.
In the North Division series, first-half winners Bellingham (17-11, 35-19) are awaiting the results of the last three games for Yakima Valley (15-9, 26-25) and Kelowna (13-11, 26-25).
The Bells will open the North Division series on the road Friday.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]