Kalamazoo, Mich. — The Kalamazoo Growlers have been battered like the donut bun of a Bear Claw Burgers by injuries, departures and other bad luck. Not counting players on temporary contracts, they have lost 15 players since opening day.
But the replacements have ably stepped in, to say the least. On Sunday, Kalamazoo's starting infield was; Karl Sorensen (St. Cloud State) at first; Justin Fletcher (Northern Illinois) at second; Alex Maloney (Ball State) at short; and John Brodner (Wright State) at third. None of them were on the Growlers' opening day roster, but they all made important contributions in the Growlers' 13-3 win over the Battle Creek Bombers on Sunday at Homer Stryker Field.
"There are good ballplayers everywhere," Growlers manager Joe Carbone said. "You get some guys (who), when you get to this league, you have to make adjustments, and the guys we've picked up have made adjustments to the pitching in the league. Now, I think we've worked hard with them in the batting cages before the game, before BP. We've worked hard on our defensive stuff. We've been in a teaching mode every day of the summer."
Brodner kick-started things for Kalamazoo. With the Growlers leading 1-0 in the bottom of the third, Bombers starter Austen Thrailkill (Embry-Riddle) walked the bases loaded, setting the table for Brodner to blast a first-pitch grand slam to left and give Kalamazoo a 5-0 lead.
"Guys can be wild at times, but they're still always going to come back with a strike eventually," Brodner said. "So I was just looking for a strike to hit."
Maloney was up next. On his first day as a Growler, he had two hits and showed smooth defense at shortstop. He made the best defensive play of the night to end the sixth inning: With runners on first and second, Maloney dove and snared a hard grounder up the middle that would have driven a run home. He couldn't get the ball out of his mitt to get the out at second, but when Connor Panas (Canisius) took too wide of a turn around third, Maloney turned and fired a strike to Brodner for the out.
In the eighth, Sorensen got a low and inside pitch from Battle Creek pitcher Alden Cartwright (Louisiana State) and slugged a no-doubter, complete with bat flip, over the Miller Lite Party Zone in left. It was a three-run shot, capping the Growlers' five-run eighth inning.
Fletcher certainly wasn't silent during the slugfest. He had two hits, three RBIs and made a smooth over-the-shoulder catch on a popup to shallow right for the first out of the ninth.
Shane Bryant (Purdue) had a strong start on the mound for Kalamazoo, tossing six innings and allowing one earned run. Devon Bronson (Eastern Michigan), Nick Wernke (West Virginia) and John Schreiber combined to finish the game for the Growlers.
Kalamazoo is now 8-10 in the second half with the win, their fourth straight and fifth over the rival Bombers. They are off until July 24 for the All-Star break — Troy Montgomery (Ohio State), Ryan Lidge (Notre Dame), Jared Kujawa (Western Michigan) and Ryan Smoyer (Notre Dame) are slated to play in the game at Kapco Park in Mequon, Wis. But their first day back is the highly anticipated Salute To Selfie Night, when the Growlers will wear jerseys with a design composed of hundreds of fan selfies. The jerseys will be auctioned off during the game.
The Kalamazoo Growlers are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. Playing its 21st season of summer collegiate baseball, the Northwoods League is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 18 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, more than 115 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (DET) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (WAS), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Allen Craig (STL) and Ben Zobrist (TB). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League YouTube channel. For more information, visit http://www.growlersbaseball.com.