HILLARY SMITH: Rebuilding the RailCats begins

2013-09-22T17:00:00Z 2013-09-23T16:33:06Z HILLARY SMITH: Rebuilding the RailCats beginsHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
September 22, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

The RailCats celebrated their American Association Championship for six days before the 2014 season began.

On Friday, Adam Klein, the championship series MVP, announced his retirement.

That signals the start of finding the building blocks for next summer.

The outfield was as solid as it could be for the last four seasons. When Klein's contract was picked up in a trade in January 2010, the RailCats wrote in stone their Nos. 1 and 2 hitters for the next four years: Klein, Mike Massaro, and everyone else.

In his first year, Klein played every regular-season game, setting a club record. In his third and fourth years, he led the league in walks with 82 in 2012, and this year with 78.

If total walks seems like a silly statistic to weigh, keep in mind by putting Klein on base helped Mike Massaro reach 60-or-more RBIs in the last three seasons.

Klein's patience of fouling off pitch after pitch while waiting for either the one to hit or the one that would put him on base no matter what is a trait difficult to find in an era of performance-enhancing drugs that raise extra-base hits. In a seven-year career with five teams, Klein hit two home runs.

That he was picked as the MVP of the title series last week above Wichita hitters that set league records for home runs and hits is a testament to what manager Greg Tagert has assembled.

It's also a testament to how difficult players like Klein, Massaro and, likely Cristian Guerrero, will be to replace as the retirement letters start rolling in.

Tagert frequently boasted that his outfield was likely the best in the league. By 2014, the only one left will likely be Drew Martinez, whose .294 average in 92 games ranked fourth-best on the team.

Klein, Massaro and Guerrero weren't just producers on the field, they were leaders in the clubhouse. They didn't let players forget from the first day of the season to the second-to-last that their goal was a championship.

When the trophy was raised, the credit in the locker room went directly to the three outfielders. If you think that leadership doesn't matter, ask the Wichita team filled with so much offensive power that most MLB teams would be jealous where the Wingnuts leaders were as the team lost in four games.

The shadow of the outfielders will loom long for at least another summer. The names of Massaro, Klein and Guerrero will be raised with the likes of Glen, Iapoce, Pecci and Townsend.

For the next eight months, the next vaunted* names will need to be found.

*This is a change from previous versions of the story. The Times regrets the error.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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