Pittsfield Suns enjoy successful summer despite playoff loss

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PITTSFIELD — Success can be measured in many ways. So while their ultimate goal of a Futures League championship did not happen, the season was far from a failure for the 2017 Pittsfield Suns.

"It was awesome," Pittsfield's Kevin Donati said of the summer. "It was a great group of guys, and I couldn't have been happier. It's crazy how close you get with guys in a two-month time period. We're together every day for eight hours. We're really close with each other.

"This isn't the last time we'll see a lot of these guys."

But Tuesday night marked the final time the 2017 Suns would share the field at Wahconah Park, as the Futures League's defending champions from Nashua rallied to beat the Suns 5-3.

It was the fourth time in the six years that the Suns have existed that they have reached the Futures League's playoff. Three of those times, including Tuesday, the Suns were eliminated in the wild card round.

The Suns, who at one point were the West Division leaders, finished the regular season on a five-game losing streak and ended up 26-27. They had three tie-breaking Home Run Derby appearances — all of them in Pittsfield — and won two of the three.

"Summer ball's tough. Some guys get shut down," Suns first-year manager Matt Gedman said after Tuesday's game. "It's a long summer for these kids. They did a good job sticking with it, and I'm proud of them.

"We came up a little short here."

The playoff game set a single-game, post-season attendance record. There were 2,740 fans at Wahconah Park Tuesday night. In 2014, the Suns drew 1,621 to the park for the first game of a semifinal series against Worcester.

"It was great. The fans have been great for us. They showed up a ton this year," Gedman said. "They gave us good support, and I'm sure these kids loved playing in front of them."

The Suns finished the season near the top of the Futures League in attendance. The Suns drew 42,106 in the regular season, according to figures on the Futures League web site. Pittsfield also averaged 1,559 fans. Both numbers were good for second in the league, and it marked the third consecutive season that the Suns were second in both categories.

"We're happy" with how the season went, team co-owner Jeff Goldklang said in a phone interview with The Eagle. "The one thing you can never control is Mother Nature. She impacted a few too many games."

The Suns played 27 of their allotted 28 regular-season dates. The early part of July was, however, very soggy, with rain often coming in the hours before the gates were scheduled to open.

"We just had a bunch of games that were either rainy during the day or had the threat of rain. As you obviously can see by our attendance, the numbers didn't quite equal up to some of our absolute best years," said Goldklang. "In terms of operationally and when we did have nice nights, we were quite happy from a business perspective, how the season played out."

The high-water mark for the Suns is still 2014, where they drew 46,913 fans to Wahconah Park, averaging 1,804, and leading the league in attendance. The difference between 2014 and 2017 was 4,807 fans and an average of 245.

For the record, six of the nine teams in the Futures League saw slight to precipitous drops in their attendance. The biggest drop was in Bristol, where the Blues drew 28,966, down from 41,013 last year.

"We had quite a few weekend dates that were impacted across the league," said Goldklang.

A Pittsfield team that started the season with optimism and built an eight-game winning streak in the regular season, finished up scuffling to the finish line.

For the second consecutive year, Donati led the Suns offensively. The UAlbany player from Pittsfield once again had a .344 batting average to lead the squad. He was sixth in the league in 2017, after being fourth a year ago.

The biggest difference for the Pittsfield outfielder-infielder-designated hitter was his power numbers. Last year, Donati only had three doubles and a home run. This year, he had four home runs — including an inside-the-park grand slam — six doubles and three triples.

As a team, the Suns finished last out of nine teams with a .259 batting average, but were fourth with 322 runs scored and fourth with 51 home runs. That latter statistic was not boosted by one big power hitter. The most homers any Suns player hit was six. Every player who played at least 17 games had a home run except for Conor Moriarty. But Moriarty, the West Springfield product who plays at UConn, made up for that with a two-run homer in Tuesday's playoff game.

The Suns pitching struggled much of the year and its 5.40 earned-run average was a testament to that. That ERA was seventh in the league.

Despite coming up short of their ultimate goal on the field, Suns players say they'll not soon forget their summer in the Berkshires.

"It was awesome," Scott Holzwasser said. "The town's amazing. They love the team. The guys are awesome. It was a lot of fun."

Reach sports writer Howard Herman at 413-496-6253 or @howardherman.


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