The Rochester Honkers wrapped up their first season under new ownership on Sunday with a 10-6 loss at Mankato. The Honkers finished with a record of 38-34, which was seventh-best in the 22-team league, but they play in the league's toughest division and didn't qualify for the playoffs.
General Manager Jay Fanta, in his first year at the helm, on Monday reflected on the season.
PB: What's your take on the Honkers' performance in 2019?
Fanta: Overall, we're very happy about how this summer played out. We finished above .500 and were in the playoff hunt for both halves. That's obviously the goal, to be in the hunt and then punch our ticket. So we want to take the next step forward next year.
PB: The new ownership group implemented a lot of changes this year at Mayo Field. How were those changes received?
Fanta: Well, we finished with an average per-game attendance of 1,140, which is up more than 250 compared to last year. We had over 1,600 fans each of the last two nights, so that's a pretty good sign that people liked what they saw and liked a lot of the changes we made. The Honkers are back to where people are thinking of us as a prime entertainment option in Rochester.
PB: How do you plan to carry that momentum into next year?
Fanta: We're looking for bigger and better things as we continue to enhance the fan experience, whether it's adding some things to the deck, the grandstand, maybe more Home Plate Club tables -- we'll see. A lot of discussions are going to happen this fall and winter. We're definitely not content, and we're not going to sit still. Obviously, the end goal is to work on a partnership with the city to fix and upgrade Mayo Field.
PB: Your team lost an All-star pitcher and two other starting pitchers for most of the second half of the season. How did that affect the Honkers' playoff chances?
Fanta: It's tough to lose guys, and it's especially tough when you lose All-Stars, but you're going to have guys come and go. We understand that, and for the most part we had a good core that stayed around for the whole summer. That's the goal, and that's how you win. And really, we finished by winning four of our last five, so I'm really proud of the way the guys finished the season. We had guys step up.
PB: Will Thomas Walker return for his third season as manager?
Fanta: That's not a decision that's being made right now. We'll wait a couple weeks, give him and us a chance to reflect on the season. He's been a huge asset to the organization, and he put us in a good position on the field. There aren't many organizations that actually are competitive in both halves of the season. To play as consistently as we did for the entire season, kudos to him. He did a tremendous job.
PB: This year's team had players from New York, California, New Mexico, Kentucky, Oregon and plenty of other places. Will that emphasis on nationwide recruiting continue?
Fanta: I can see us continuing to broaden our reach. I think fans want to see guys from all around the country, and that's a big draw for us. We've been fortunate to have good connections with a lot of the major schools like Oregon State and Louisville, those big-name schools that send big-time guys here. That will continue.
PB: What changes are likely at the league level for next year?
Fanta: I don't see a ton of rule changes coming, but expansion has happened regularly for the last few years, so I definitely could see some movement happening there.
PB: Evan Berkey, who is just 19 years old and wasn't well-known when he arrived in Rochester, nearly won a batting title this year. How surprising was that?
Fanta: Evan's one of those cases where you talk to coaches and people who had seen guys play, and they come from a school where they maybe hit .260 or .270, and Berkey ends up hitting almost .360 for us. That was a surprise, but not really a huge surprise. That's just baseball. Some guys don't live up to expectations, and some guys exceed them.