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3 things that went right, 3 that didn't for Honkers in 2022

The Honkers missed out on the postseason again this year, but still brought plenty of excitement to Mayo Field once again.

Honkers, Bismark Larks baseball
Rochester Honkers’ Tyler White prepares to bat during a game against the Bismark Larks on Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, at Mayo Field in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — With the Rochester Honkers being eliminated from the Northwoods League postseason last week, Saturday marks their regular season finale (at Eau Claire, 6:35 p.m.).

Despite falling short of the playoffs, the 72-game season was a memorable one for first-year field manager Andrew Urbistondo, who at this time is planning on "running it back" for another season as manager next year.

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His first season saw an explosive offense that kept the Honkers in just about every game. They needed that offensive firepower, with pitching that often simulated a rollercoaster ride. In the end, that proved too much to overcome and ultimately was Rochester’s downfall.

Here's a look at what worked and what didn't for the Honkers in 2022:

Good with the stick

The Honkers' offense turned out to be one of the best in the league.

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They were in the top 10 in nearly every offensive statistical category and were sixth in on-base percentage at .388 — anything better than .360 is considered great — third in steals (154) and ninth in RBIs (356) entering Wednesday night’s contest against Waterloo.

Seventeen Honkers had an on-base percentage of better than .360 with nine players registering eight or more steals and another nine recording more than 18 RBIs. It all allowed the Honkers to stay competitive, despite a struggling pitching staff.

Rocky pitching

That brings us to the No. 1 Achilles’ Heel of the Honkers season: The pitching staff.

The Honkers arsenal of arms just couldn’t put enough consistently good outings together this season. Pitching stats should always be taken with a grain of salt in the Northwoods League — with pitch count/innings restrictions and pitchers working on being comfortable when uncomfortable by throwing a 2-0 slider or working on a third or fourth pitch. The numbers can get a bit inflated. In fact, half the league has an ERA of more than 5.00 this season.

Andrew Urbistondo mug
Urbistondo

Still, the Honkers know they weren’t good enough at times, often putting the offense in a tough position as a result. They were in the bottom third of the league with a 6.00 ERA, gave up the sixth-most runs in the league, as well as the second most home runs (46) the sixth-worst opponents batting average at .273.

“Yeah, the pitching definitely,” Urbistondo said. “Our guys worked their butts off and we didn’t see the success we wanted. Kudos to the guys that put in their best effort but that was kind of the deal with us. I didn’t think we pitched crazy bad, but it was just give up a free base and then bam, a double, which scores a run instead of a guy just being on second. Just little things like that.”

Grinders

Yet, the pitching numbers weren’t because the staff didn’t put in the work.

Urbistondo credited the pitchers with continually battling and putting in the work to get better.

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That was a theme for this year’s Honkers as a whole.

A squad comprised of junior college, lower level collegiate and Division I guys were eager to prove themselves and translated to the Honkers having a group of hard working ballplayers. Names that come to mind are Nico Regino, Dario Gomez, Jakob Guardado, Kevin Dowdell, Michael Carico and Thaniel Thumper. Overall, it was a fun group for Urbistondo to coach.

"Watching the guys get better, whether it's on the field or off the field, it was nice to see throughout the summer," Urbistondo said. "Even though it was long and dry, it's really all part of the growth because they want to play pro ball. This is what it's going to look like for them.

"I'm sure going to miss these guys."

Great division

The Honkers also weren’t helped by an extremely tough Great Plains West Division.

The St. Cloud Rox have built a dynasty in recent years and ran away with the first half title, finishing 25-8 after starting the season 9-0. The Willmar Stingers then took the ball, going on a stretch that saw them win 20 of 21 games in the second half and now sit 2½ games above the Rox for the second half title. Both teams overall are more than 25 games above .500. That’s not even mentioning Mankato, which is 38-26 overall.

"It's a dogfight every time," Urbistondo said. "But it's a lot of fun to go through. It's good baseball."

Attendance woes

The Honkers have one of the largest metropolitan areas in the league and yet they once again find themselves in the bottom half for attendance with an average of 975. It’s an improvement from last year’s 830, but still not not what the team hopes for in a good sports town like Rochester.

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It has nothing to do with winning. Of course, that helps, but out of the top five teams with the highest attendance — Madison, Traverse City, Kalamazoo, La Crosse and Kenosha — only the Traverse City Pit Spitters are heading to the postseason. The 40-games-over .500 Wisconsin Rapids Rafters only average 880 fans, while Bismarck — well below .500 — is bringing in over 1,800 per home game.

Urbistondo's final thoughts

It was a fast moving summer and one that doesn't exactly slow down when Urbistondo heads back home to Stockton, Calif., next week.

School is starting soon at San Joaquin Delta College where Urbistondo is employed, but first he's going to get some much needed family time as well as some In'N'Out Burgers.

He did admit though, he's already itching to get back next summer.

"I have to run it back man," Urbistondo said. "I have to get some more wins."

Alex VandenHouten has been a sports reporter at the Post Bulletin since Sept. 2021. He loves to go hiking, biking, snowshoeing and just simply being outdoors with his wife Olivia. Readers can reach Alex at avandenhouten@postbulletin.com.
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