70 games in 74 days – the Generals deserve a break – the players, coaches, and sure, even the broadcaster.
To say the first half of the 2012 Southern League season was successful for the Jackson Generals is an understatement. They finished the first half with a 42-28 record, the best in the Southern League and as North Division first half champions. The 42 wins are the third-most in a first half in franchise history and most since 2006.
They did it with exceptional pitching and timely hitting. They did it with Joe Dunigan home runs that bounced off the top of the scoreboard. They did it despite a bevy of injuries to key players like first baseman Rich Poythress, outfielders Daniel Carroll and Johermyn Chaves and highly touted pitching prospect James Paxton. They did it with the help and support of more fans coming out to games this year than we have seen in years.
The first half has been special. Despite the weary eyes of players and staff from the tiresome journies of a minor league season, everyone is walking with a bit of a swagger.
During the next few days, seven Generals will get to experience what it is like to play in an All-Star game. Danny Hultzen, who has been the best pitcher in minor league baseball, will throw the first pitch of the game on Tuesday night at Smokies Park, promptly at 7:15 EST. Center fielder Denny Almonte will lead off for the North team, while Nick Franklin will bat third and play short stop and Jesus Sucre will hit fifth and catch. Joining those Generals in Kodak, TN Tuesday are outfielder Joe Dunigan and pitchers Carter Capps and Taijuan Walker.
An hour before the All-Star game, Dunigan and Almonte will exhibit there power hitting skills in the Home Run Derby.
This is just the midway point of the journey. What will the second half hold? No doubt the Generals will have to do it without a few top prospects that advance their career to Triple-A or the majors. That is part of the business and the fun part. We will get to watch them make their major league debut like Stephen Pryor did a month ago. Watch from afar as a former General like Pryor earned the win during a no hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers 10 days ago.
The second half offers opportunity. Can Poythress and Chavez help the lineup be more productive? Can James Paxton be healthy and return to the form at the beginning of the season? Can 19-year-old Taijuan Walker make the next step as a pitcher in his career and dominate the Double-A level? Will top draft choice and current Florida Gator catcher Mike Zunino join the Jackson Generals at some point? All of these questions will be fun to answer in the coming weeks and months.
The Generals have guaranteed themselves home field advantage in the first round of the Southern League playoffs, but can they finish it off with a title? For three days at least, we can enjoy the All-Star break and think back to a first half full of memories.
“There was a lot of hype and expectations coming into the season and this team certainly did not disappoint,” said Manager Jim Pankovits. “From day one, these players worked extremely hard and they got what they deserved which was a first half championship.
I would have to agree.