In the bowels of Modern Woodmen Park on Saturday, St. Ambrose University baseball coach Jim Callahan enthusiastically accepted a congratulatory hug from Joe Kruzel, hitting instructor for the minor-league Quad Cities River Bandits.
The coaches whose teams call MWP home shared in the excitement of SAU's Midwest Collegiate Conference regular-season championship.
"From worst to first," Kruzel beamed at Callahan. "I love it!"
It was appropriate that it was a hitting coach celebrating with Callahan — offense carried the Bees much of the season.
The smiles on the faces of the two baseball lifers told the story of baseball redemption and how fickle the game can be. The Bees struggled last year, having one of their worst seasons with an 11-25 mark. They were 5-18 in the MCC and missed the league tournament. This season, the Bees were at their best in MCC play, finishing 16-8 as part of a 24-24 season.
Along with wins and losses, the attitudes changed. So did the work ethic as the team wore out the cages at the school's indoor bubble facility on Brady Street.
"I can tell you, what we did in the offseason in recruiting, what we did with the daily work that these guys put in (were the difference). For the first time in my coaching career, we were able to be cage rats," said Callahan. "We have a facility that allow us to do that. We lived in the cages; we lived in the bubble during our off days. That was a big difference to get us to this point."
The Bees take the No. 1 seed into this week's scheduled MCC Tournament in Peosta, Iowa, that begins today.
Coming off a 10-9, 10-inning conference-clinching victory over Mount Mercy, you can bet the Bees will be banking on their offense as they try to claim the league's lone berth into NAIA National Tournament play.
That, though, won't be any different than during the regular-season. This spring, SAU led the MCC in team batting average (.313), slugging percentage (.423), runs (286) and doubles (89). They were second in drawing walks (146) and only struck out 217 times in 1,485 official at-bats.
"We brought a helluva lot of offensive power to this conference," said Callahan.
The bats struggled a bit against Mount Mercy in this past weekend's three-game set as the visiting Mustangs won the first two with the Bees mustering just four hits in 14 innings. However, the team's grit paid off with the extra-inning victory that was capped with a two-run 10th. That comeback rally was paced by key hits from Matt Rosenberger (6-for-6 on Saturday) and Scott Blanchette (3-for-6) at the bottom of the order, along with a just-deep-enough sacrifice fly from Tom Prior out of the No. 9 hole.
For the season, Alex Behling, J Golden and Jake Fields have been the offensive catalysts. Behling (.387) and Golden (.383) were third and fourth in MCC batting, and Fields (.358) was eighth. Behling and Golden were 1-2 in hits with 65 and 64, respectively. Behling was also second in RBIs (41) and total bases (102).
"They all came up with huge at-bats," said Callahan of his players coming through at different times during the season.
They need more of that this week as the pitching staff has been a little less sharp, sporting a team ERA of 5.96 and having allowed 464 hits. Both of those rank seventh in the nine-team league, so you can see where SAU bases its attack.
"We're the No. 1 seed in the tournament, which is the most important thing for us. That puts us playing a team that played that day," said Callahan. "I'll tell my team during the build up for the conference tournament that that's both a good thing and a bad thing. I've been that fifth and fourth seed where you come in with hot bats and playing a team that hasn't played yet that day. But still, you take the No. 1 seed."
And hope for a little more magic in a worst-to-first season.
Today is Sunday, May 19, the 139th day of 2013. There are 226 days left in the year. 1863 -- 150 years ago: The Rt. Rev. Harry I. Witherspoon, D.D. Bishop of Illinois, willpreach in Trinity (Episcopal) Church, in this city this evening. 1888 -- 125 years ago: At 1 o'clock yesterday afternoon the Mississippi River flooded itsbanks at Rock Island, destroying the warehouse of the Rock Island Lumber companyand damaging the Lumber Company and arsenal power plant. Total loss isestimated at $100.000. 1913 -- 100 years ago: Residents of South Rock Island township are circulating a petitionfavoring the annexation of that area to the city of Rock Island. 1938 -- 75 years ago: Mrs. Thomas Ackles, of Rock Island, has been elected president ofthe Playcrafters for the next season. She succeeds Warren Leonard. 1963 -- 50 years ago: Some 8,000 people filed through the gates of Rock Island Arsenal on Saturday to view a display of a part of the nation's armed strength. The occasion was theannual observance of Armed Forces Day. 1988 -- 25 years ago: Willis Kuschmann, of Moline, who already has won his laurels as oneof the most artistic men in the Quad-Cities area, has a new hobby. He is deeply involvedin miniature railroading. At the age of 88, when many other seniors are dozing in theirchairs or sitting before the television, Mr. Kuschmann is planning and working on hiscollection.