The Wingnuts had a 6-11 record when they woke up on June 6 and trailed by four runs near the end of that night.
They seemed too talented to mire in losing for much longer, but that game against Kansas City was delaying the likely turnaround.
Then, the turnaround happened. The Wingnuts scored four runs in the ninth inning to tie Kansas City, then two in the 14th to win. They won five more in a row after that and eight of the next nine and were in American Association postseason contention from that point forward.
The Wingnuts (61-39) never slowed, finishing tied with St. Paul for the league’s best record. They start a first-round, best-of-five playoff series on Wednesday at Sioux City, where Game 2 will be played on Thursday before returning to Wichita for the final three.
“We got off to a rough start, and everybody was hitting the panic button,” Wingnuts manager Pete Rose Jr. said. “Not in here, but everywhere else. Sometimes teams that end up being really, really good just take a little time to find their ways and find each other.
“We did it on a night in Kansas City where we scored four in the top of the ninth, and it went 14 innings and it just went from there. It’s just been a great ride, a great journey.”
It was natural to question the chemistry between Rose and his players, many held over from last season’s team, managed to the postseason by Kevin Hooper.
Rose’s approach to managing is to work with players as much as needed before games, then turn it over to them. Defensive shifts and situational offense are abandoned in favor of player comfort and swinging away.
That philosophy ended up working pleasantly. The Wingnuts are guided by a group of veterans that includes Brent Clevlen, T.J. Mittelstaedt, Zack Cox and pitcher Tim Brown, players with no need for an in-your-face manager.
“When you can inherit those guys, and just with the way our clubhouse is, I don’t think you could really put anyone in there and not think this think would have worked,” Rose said. “I try to stay out of the way, and I thought I did a decent job of doing that. These guys make it work, man.
“I’m hands-on when it comes to the (batting) cage, and if a guy wants to go out and work extra. But I’m not a micro-manager. I want my coaches and my staff to do what they do, and I want my players to do what they do.”
The Wingnuts had a winning record every day after June 13. Their goal was always the postseason, but the rough early-season stretch helped them appreciate the journey. They avoided setbacks, with one other losing streak longer than two games.
“From Day 1, you knew that something was going to happen here, within the clubhouse, within the organization,” Rose said. “You had a sense that this was going to be something special, just because of the (players) that they got. It just kind of took off.”
Wingnuts vs. Sioux City
- What: American Association semifinals, best-of-5
- When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday in Sioux City; 7 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, Monday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium
- Radio: KGSO, 1410-AM