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Kinston Season In Review

September 16, 2009
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The 2009 Kinston Indians had a fantastic start and an even better finish, as their playoff push came down to the final game of the regular season. In between, the 2009 K-Tribe struggled through an ever changing lineup and untimely injuries, leading to a 60-78 overall record, tying the 1994 K-Tribe for the fewest wins in Kinston Indians History. The K-Tribe will be remembered, however, for an unbelievable August which propelled Kinston back into the win column and put them back into the playoff race in the second half.

The wins and losses were put in perspective, however, when the K-Tribe lost their Clubhouse Manager Robert Smeraldo. Smeraldo passed away on May 26th after suffering a massive stroke. Smeraldo took care of Kinston’s future stars for more than 16 years. Smeraldo was remembered at a funeral service held at Grainger Stadium.

The first half of the season started with a bang as the K-Tribe played 18 of their first 21 games of the 2009 season at Historic Grainger Stadium, as the ballpark celebrated 60 years (1949-2009). The boys literally came out of the gates swinging as former UNC Tar Heel Tim Fedroff hit a home run in the K-Tribe’s first at-bat of the season. The players kept the home cooking hot, ending April and starting May in first place in the Carolina League Southern Division.

At the first of the year the team was led by first baseman Matt McBride, who got off to one of the best starts in all of Minor League Baseball. McBride got the promotion to Double A Akron on May 12th, leaving behind one of the best 30 game stretches in K-Tribe History. McBride had a 23 game hit streak from April 16th to May 9th, the longest in the Carolina League all season and the longest by a K-Triber in more than half a decade. McBride left the Carolina League as the leader in six different offensive categories - batting average (.405), RBI (36), hits (51), doubles (15), extra base hits (21) and total bases (84). He was second in slugging (.667) and third in on-base percentage (.453). At the time of McBride’s promotion he led the Minor Leagues in RBI and was second in doubles.

McBride was not the only one making noise for Kinston. Eastern North Carolina native Lonnie Chisenhall got off to a great start, capturing two of the first four Carolina League Player of the Week Awards. With McBride and Matt Brown capturing the other two awards, a Kinston player had the Player of the Week Award for the first four weeks of the season. K-Tribe pitcher’s Kelvin De La Cruz and Eric Berger also grabbed hardware after being awarded the first two Carolina League Pitcher of the Week awards for 2009.

The K-Tribe stood in first place in the Carolina League Southern Division until May 14th when the combination of McBride’s promotion and starting outfielders Tim Fedroff and Roman Pena going on the disabled list hurt the K-Tribe. The team was dealt more blows as three of the five starters from their opening day pitching rotation (Kelvin De La Cruz, Zach Putnam and Jeanmar Gomez) had been moved to other teams. The changes were to much as the K-Tribe dropped nine straight games, the most consecutive losses by and Indians team in more than five years, and fell from first place.

The months of May and June did bring some good news as Kinston’s Lonnie Chisenhall, Cord Phelps and Eric Berger were picked to play for the Carolina League All-Star Team. Chisenhall had a batting average that hovered around .300 for most of the first half. Chisenhall ended the first half third in the Carolina League in home runs (13), second in RBI (52), hits (72), runs scored (41) and third in slugging (.508). Second baseman Cord Phelps had a great first half, leading the CL in walks and taking second in on-base percentage. Eric Berger was the star of the Indians rotation, among the top five ERA men in the Carolina League all half long.

The dog days of summer did not treat the K-Tribe well in the win column, as Kinston followed a 7-18 June record with a 9-20 July mark. The bats went cold as the weather turned hot as Kinston put up a .236 batting average in June followed by a .220 team batting average in July. The K-Tribe would also fall victim to some of the worst luck in baseball, leading the Carolina League with 29 one-run losses and going a league worst 2-8 in extra inning games on the season. The K-Tribe ended July with an overall record of 38-65, the worst in all of Minor League Baseball.

But in August, Kinston started to win again. The close losses turned into close wins and with the leadership of Ole Sheldon, the K-Tribe closed in on a playoff birth with a 19-9 August. The month included a 13-2 start with a season high seven game win streak. Sheldon, a 26-year-old veteran signed out of the independent league in June, put the team on his back hitting 13 home runs, 54 RBI, and slugging .473 in just 72 games. Kinston battled with Salem until the last day of the regular season, losing out on the Wild Card by just two games. When the dust cleared at the end of the season, Kinston was left out of the playoffs for a second straight season, the first time as a Cleveland Indians Affiliate.

There were some great individual performances in 2009, starting with Newport, NC native Lonnie Chisenhall. In just 99 games for Kinston, Chisenhall hit .276 with a team high 18 home runs and 79 RBI. Even though he was promoted to Double A Akron in early August, Chisenhall was selected to the Carolina League End of Season All-Star team as a utility infielder. Fellow ’08 draftee and end of season All-Star Cord Phelps had a sensational year leading the K-Tribe in games played, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles and walks. His 93 walks were the most in the Carolina League and the sixth most in all of Minor League Baseball. Phelps was also second in the league with a .386 on-base percentage and he led CL second basemen with a .993 fielding percentage, committing only four errors in 118 games. Former North Carolina Tar Heel Tim Fedroff finished the season with a team high .278 batting average (10th best in the Carolina League), thanks to a fantastic second half of the season. His .383 on-base percentage was just behind Phelps as the third best in the league. Fedroff, also chosen as an end of season All-Star, had a Carolina League best 35 game consecutive on-base streak from June through August, hitting over .341 during the streak. Speedster Lucas Montero ended up stealing a team high 35 bases on the season, while racking up nine triples – the second most in the league. The nine triples tied a Kinston Indians record. Montero’s 81 runs scored was the fourth best total in the league.

On the pitching side, Kinston used 18 different starting pitchers during the 2009 season, but three in particular had seasons to remember. Eric Berger earned a Double A promotion in July, but first garnered a 2.45 ERA through 21 starts…a mark that stood at the top of the Carolina League until he did not have enough innings to qualify on the last day of the season. Even though Berger did not throw enough Carolina League innings to win the ERA title, teammate Paolo Espino did. Espino won his last six starts of the season, ending the year with a 9-6 record and a Carolina League leading 2.59 ERA over 22 games. Starter Russell Young was solid all season for the K-Tribe, in the top five in ERA in the Carolina League for most of the year. Young finished the season 6-6 with a 3.28 ERA, the fifth best era in the Carolina League.

Although the K-Tribe missed out on the playoffs, their August push showed a team determined to end the year on a high note. The fans showed their appreciation as well, as Historic Grainger Stadium welcomed 133,049 fans through the gates in 2009. It was the fifth straight season of increased attendance for the K-Tribe. Kinston’s Head Groundskeeper, Stephen Watson, was named the Carolina League’s Sports Turf Manager of the Year. It was the fifth time this decade that Kinston garnered the “field of the year” award for the Carolina League.

1st Half: 27 wins and 41 losses
2nd Half: 33 wins and 37 losses
Overall: 60 wins and 78 losses

Sports Turf Manager of The Year – Stephen Watson

Mid-Season All-Stars:

Eric Berger – Pitcher
Cord Phelps – Utility Infielder
Lonnie Chisenhall – Third Base (Won Home Run Derby)

End of the Year All-Stars:

Tim Fedroff – Utility Outfielder
Cord Phelps – Second Baseman
Lonnie Chisenhall – Utility Infielder

Carolina League Weekly Awards:

Matt Brown – Player of Week – (April 9th – 19th)
Kelvin De La Cruz – Pitcher of the Week – (April 9th – 19th)
Eric Berger – Pitcher of the Week (April 19th – 26th , May 18th – 24th)
Lonnie Chisenhall – Player of the Week (April 19th – 26th , May 4th – 10th)
Matt McBride – Player of the Week (April 27th – May 4th)
Paolo Espino – Pitcher of the Week (August 10th – 16th)
Ole Sheldon – Player of the Week (August 31st – September 7th)

Carolina League Leaders:

Paolo Espino – ERA (2.59)
Dallas Cawiezell – Games Pitched (49)

Team Leaders:

Cord Phelps – games (130), at bats (479), runs (72), hits (125), doubles (27), walks (93), obp (.386)
Lonnie Chisenhall – home runs (18), rbi (79), slugging (.492)
Tim Fedroff – batting average (.278)
Lucas Montero – triples (9), stolen bases (35)
Paolo Espino – wins (9), era (2.69), strikeouts (101)
Russell Young – starts (22), innings pitched (129)
Dallas Cawiezell – games (49), saves (8)
Kyle Landis – saves (8)

courtesy of Kinston Indians Media Relations Department

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