Stimpson’s perseverance paying dividends for the Red Wings
GENEVA, N.Y. — There was Leon Stimpson running along the right field line fence exchanging high fives with the denizens of McDonough Park. Less than four days earlier he breathed life into a season on life support. Now, Stimpson and his Geneva Red Wing teammates have a chance to play for a championship.
No one knows the value of this opportunity more than Stimpson.
As one of five returning Geneva Red Wings he remembers the taste left in his mouth when the Wings fell last summer to the Webster Yankees in the NYCBL divisional championship. Back on campus this past spring, Stimpson and his Alvernia Crusader teammates fell one win short of the D3 College World Series.
Stimpson hopes he can use those defeats to fuel the Geneva Red Wings as they seek their first New York Collegiate Baseball League championship.
“Last year was such a special year,” Stimpson said. “We fell a little short. I was one of the young guys on the group last year. This year it means so much more because I am older. I understand what it is like to get so close and lose.”
The Red Wings almost didn’t get that close.
After winning their first three and four of five out of the gate, the Red Wings stumbled.
Jon Leroux, one of Stimpson’s four returning teammates, decided to accept the offer of the New York Mets. Chosen in the 31st round of the 2012 MLB draft, Leroux signed after Geneva’s game against Sherrill on June 14th. Untimely injuries to other teammates followed. To make matters worse Stimpson had a molar extracted.
“It was horrible,” Stimpson explained. “Last summer when I played here I went through injury free, and it was kind of an easy summer. I was able to hit real well. I didn’t have to really deal with any kinds of ups and downs.
Stimpson found out how quickly things can change. “After I got off the pain medication and everything, I wasn’t allowed to swing. The bat was foreign to me.”
The Red Wings sailed on rough waters. Just when their ship needed a rudder, Stimpson was incapable. They lost three of four with Stimpson out of the lineup. When he returned, the native of of Philadelphia, PA was less than 100 percent. Geneva dropped six straight from July eighth to the 16th and tumbled into last place.
Stimpson’s hitting reflected his team’s struggles. He endured a 6-for-25 stretch.
Their season looked all but over last Wednesday when the Wings trailed Adirondack 14-9 going into the bottom of the ninth. One walk and five hits later, Stimpson came to the plate facing the league’s top closer with the winning run standing at second.
“His ball tails away a lot,” Stimpson said after his game-winning hit off Geoff Soja. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pull it. I was going to have to hit to the right side. I tried to tell myself to hit the top part of the ball. I saw the top part, and I just swung as hard as I can. It snuck through.”
Stimpson had three hits in the playoff-clinching victory. He rode that momentum into the Eastern Division semi-finals banging out five hits in ten trips to the plate and scoring the eventual game-winner as the Red Wings defeated Adirondack to sweep the series. He has seven multi-hits games in his last ten.
“I struggled a lot, but I think it made me a way better hitter. My average is not where I want it to be, but I never felt more confident in the box.”
His influence on the team has not gone unnoticed.
“It is nice to have him this year. We have a lot of younger players and lot of guys that are playing in different positions because of injuries and what have you,” explained Geneva coach Dave Herbst. “It is good to have Leon here to help balance it out with the guys. Let them know what it means to play everyday. How to cope with the grind and how to cope with being away from home.”
The Red Wings take on the first-place Syracuse Jr. Chiefs in the Eastern Division finals. Game one is Monday in the Salt City. The series shifts to Geneva on Tuesday.
“Words can not explain how special this is,” Stimpson said after Sunday’s clincher. “Everything is heightened. Everybody plays at a much higher level with more focus. How bad do you want it? I want it real bad.”