The Charleston RiverDogs’ 2012 season featured baseballs splashing into the Charleston harbor, Tim Hudson on the mound and Brett Gardner at the plate.
The pride of the New York Yankees’ farm system was spread across the home dugout at Riley Park. Current Yankees infielder Casey McGehee was in the RiverDogs’ lineup down the stretch.
Weather permitting, Charleston’s resident minor league fun company might have had record attendance numbers to go with the most entertaining season it has enjoyed since Josh Hamilton and Carl Crawford were teammates in 2000.
When the curtain dropped on the South Atlantic League regular season this week, the RiverDogs had a 73-63 record. Surprisingly good considering catcher Gary Sanchez, right fielder Tyler Austin and center fielder Mason Williams were promoted to high-level Class A Tampa after the SAL All-Star Game in Charleston.
“The season started off with a lot of excitement around the college game we had with USC and Clemson (March 2 in Charleston),” RiverDogs General Manager Dave Echols said Wednesday. “Then seeing our Opening Day roster, everybody was excited. That translated into a big first half. We had the (SAL) All-Star Game, with the signature event being the Home Run Derby on the Yorktown. All that kind of dropped into the middle of the season helped solidify a really strong year.”
An around-the-horn look at 2012, and beyond:
The RiverDogs’ marketing department did it again, coming up with the minor league sports idea of the year. The first round of the South Atlantic League Home Run Derby was held on the deck of the aircraft carrier Yorktown in June. Volunteers on jet skis collected the baseballs drilled into the harbor.
Actor Bill Murray, a RiverDogs co-owner, even took a few swings (but didn’t win).
Sanchez, Austin and Williams were joined on the Opening Day roster by third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., pitchers Bryan Mitchell and Jose Campos, shortstop Cito Culver and second baseman Angelo Gumbs. The Yankees hadn’t sent so many high-profile prospects to Charleston since their affiliation with the RiverDogs started with the 2005 season.
“Our scouting department has done a phenomenal job over the last few years,” said RiverDogs hitting coach Greg Colbrunn, a former major league veteran who lives in Mount Pleasant.
Bichette, the 51st overall pick in the 2011 draft, was out front in a Baseball America cover story on the “loaded” RiverDogs.
The RiverDogs’ home attendance was 254,002 for 2012. The average of 3,791 spectators per game is fifth-best in the 14-team SAL but a brow-raising dip from the 2011 (265,465, a 3,962 average).
Blame it on the rain.
“We’re not ones to lean on weather for excuses,” Echols said. “But if you’re analyzing the year, it rained heavily on Opening Day and that set a tone for a bad-weather year. The end of July and August were the worst. Officially we lost two games to rainouts but unofficially we lost five or six. Charleston is still a walk-up community and weather is tough to overcome.”
Charleston attendance is way behind the Greenville Drive (347,042) and league-leading Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws (410,113).
A crowd of 6,089 turned out on a Friday night in April to see the Atlanta Braves ace make a rehab start for the Rome Braves against the RiverDogs. Charleston won, 2-1. And won 9-3 at Rome a week later in another Hudson start.
The Yankees outfielder and former College of Charleston table-setter made a rehab start for the RiverDogs in June. But after his three at-bats (one hit) in Charleston, Gardner went back on the Disabled List after waking up the next morning with more soreness in his non-throwing arm.
The slumping Yankees continue to miss Gardner’s spark.
Refsnyder in S.C.
Right fielder Rob Refsnyder was named Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series for his efforts in helping Arizona end South Carolina’s back-to-back national championship reign. But the native South Korean got almost as much publicity for tweeting about “racist” Gamecock fans in Omaha.
Refsnyder backed off his comments before joining the RiverDogs as the Yankees’ fifth-round pick in the June draft. He hit .241 with four home runs for Charleston.
Casey at bat
The RiverDogs finished fast, winning 10 of their last 11 games. The star of the streak was veteran big league infielder Casey McGehee, on loan to Charleston from the Yankees. McGehee drove in eight runs and hit. 360 in seven games with the RiverDogs. He was promoted to New York this week.
The potential 2013 RiverDogs roster is a mix of talent, intrigue and familiarity. The Yankees probably will send their top two selections from the 2012 draft; first-round pick Ty Hensley is a pitcher from Edmond, Okla., and second-round pick Austin Aune is an outfielder from Argyle, Texas.
Daniel Aldrich, a former Wando High School and College of Charleston outfielder, signed with the Yankees as a non-drafted free agent and likely will make his pro debut with the RiverDogs.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff