After languishing in basement of 2016 standings, the 2017 edition is among the league's best with improvements on and off field
McDonough Park in Geneva is where the “Big Red Machine” of the Cincinnati Reds was born: Hall of Famers Pete Rose and Tony Perez got their start here in 1960.
This year's Geneva Red Wings aren't exactly a Big Red Machine, but they have been making their presence felt in the Perfect Game College Baseball League. As summer officially began on June 21, the Red Wings were dueling with the Jamestown Jammers in a matchup of the top teams in the PGCBL's West Division.
That's a far cry from 2016, where they were an absolutely dreadful 9-40 and finished with a 12-game losing streak, which understandably scared fans away and caused Geneva to have the second-lowest attendance in the league. All of that led to a serious overhaul of the team, both on the field and off of it.
Parts of McDonough Park have gotten much-needed coats of paint, the team's social media has taken a step forward, team co-owner Bill Kohberger has increased the number of stadium promotional days, and, above all, the coaching and recruiting experience of new coach Dan Shwam has turned last year's bottom-dwellers to among this year's favorites.
Shwam, who spent the past two seasons with the Victor RailRiders, was available thanks to that franchise going on a hiatus while it awaits a better stadium situation. Geneva didn't hesitate to bring the veteran coach into the fold.
“Bob (Ohmann, co-owner of Geneva) and I talked about it, he asked if I wanted to come down to Geneva. I said, 'Absolutely',” Shwam said earlier in the season.
“I think Geneva has a lot of potential, a lot of upside to it. They had a bad year last year and Bob wanted it turned around, so I agreed to come.”
And what a turnaround it has been, something on display against Jamestown on the 21. Facing one of the best teams in the league, the Red Wings ended up squeaking by, 1-0, thanks to a 7th-inning Matt Chamberlain (New Haven) infield single and some heads-up baserunning by Matt Smith (UC Davis), who took advantage of some poor fielding by Jamestown to get home all the way from second. A shutout performance on the mound by Slater O'Brien (St. Joseph's) and Ben Terwillinger (Maine) meant that that one run would be all the Red Wings would need.
Smith, who also showed good defense in right field, is a newcomer to the Red Wings, arriving late due to having to complete finals back in California. The game against Jamestown was his debut at the plate in the PGCBL, and he admitted post-game he still hadn't fully gotten used to the time change. Nonetheless, the freshman righty has already shown a knack for getting on base and causing things to happen.
“I just came out here and wanted to be electric,” he said. “I'm aiming to help the Red Wings get some wins, get us back to a winning program.”
So far, so good.
NOTES (Stats as of June 24): The Major League Baseball draft saw 41 former PGCBL players drafted, including four Newark alums and one each from Victor and Geneva ... 2016 Newark Pilots Chris Sharpe and Will Gorman were taken by the Pirates and Diamondbacks, respectively ... Newark has uncharacteristically struggled this season thus far but the Pilots are seeing good production from John Balliet (Orange Coast CC), who is among the team leaders in most offensive categories ... The person running Geneva's social media and calling the games on WGVA radio is also a player on the team: pitcher Jordan Murphy (UT Dallas) ... Two Geneva Red Wings have been named player of the week so far this season: pitcher Brian Reed (RIT) was named the best pitcher for week 1, while OF Mikey Arman (Kenyon) was named best position player of week 2 ... Elsewhere in the PGCBL, Onondaga's Gage Lanning (Canisius) leads the league in batting with a .415 average.