|Oklahoma's Premier Summer Baseball Program||Wednesday, February 10, 2016|
The 2004 team marked the 40th Anniversary of the Traveler program. And it did the program proud, winning 58 games, three tournament championships and finished with the second highest winning-percentage in club history.
An 11-game winning streak to start the season and 21 wins in their first 22 games raised expectations quickly. What resulted was the second-best season record in team history and a third place finish at the Elite Amateur Baseball World Series in Austin, Texas.
The squad's final record of 58-11 was good enough for a sensational .840 winning percentage, second only to the Traveler World Series squad of 1985 that accumulated an amazing .878 mark with an 86-12 record.
All this despite a rash of injuries that sidelined five players for good before the 2004 summer was complete.
The strength of the 2004 Travelers proved to be pitching. Despite no double-figure game winners -- as they've been accustomed to seeing over the past several seasons -- this year's quality pitching was built on depth. Twelve different hurlers notched ERAs of 3.19 or lower, helping to produce one of the best team ERAs in history at 2.65.
The Travelers had another impressive tournament year, notching a 35-6 record in tournament play while gathering three championships and a runner-up before the third place finish in the World Series to close out the year.
It all started with six consecutive victories to open the summer in the Midwest City Memorial Day tournament. The Travelers beat Moore/Westmoore 9-1 in the finals.
Next came the first of two tournaments at Ackley Park - the Traveler Shootout. Seven consecutive victories in that tournament, including a 13-0 rout of Lawton in the finals, landed the team another championship trophy.
The Travelers then headed for Pueblo Colorado where they faced some of the stiffest competition of the season. The team did not make it to the semifinal round after losing a heartbreaking 1-0 decision to Las Vegas, NV in the final game of pool play, but completed the tournament with a 4-2 record.
Next up was the Olde South Plains tournament in Midwest City over Fourth of July weekend. The Travelers won the championship in that event in dramatic come-from-behind fashion.
After advancing to the finals with 7-5 win over Burkburnett, TX, the Travelers hooked up with Midwest City in the title tilt and rallied from a 6-4 deficit to take the lead in the top of the seventh on a two-run homerun from nine-hole hitter Kole Kennedy.
Left-fielder Matt Brown added a spectacular catch in the bottom of the seventh and doubled a runner off second to help pitcher Brett Davis finish the 8-6 championship game victory.
Midwest City would return the favor in near identical fashion to win a finals rematch in the Route 66 Traveler Invitational. The Outlaws came from behind to beat the Travelers 8-5 and end the club's two-year run as champions of their main event.
Overall, the 2004 club represented the program well in tournaments throughout the region and left a tough mark to follow for the 2005 team.
Now a look at the players of 2004.
Every Traveler team has veteran leaders, and the 2004 team had two great ones -- Brett Davis (Elk City) and Rebel Ridling (Sentinel). The duo completed brilliant careers in 2004 and are two more of a long line of superb young ballplayers (and men) to come through the program.
Brett Davis, a standout lefty on the mound, once again served primarily in the team's closer role while also starring in centerfield. The southpaw hurled 51 1/3 innings in 20 appearances while maintaining the fourth-best single-season ERA in club history at 0.95.
Brett was a classic stopper, posting six saves as well as nine victories when he held the opponent at bay in late-inning tie-game situations. He struck out 56 batters and allowed opponents to an average of .164.
The Seward County Junior College signee was also an instrumental part of an offensive attack that produced an outstanding team batting average of .387.
Davis contributed a .381 mark to that arsenal, including a team-best 34 walks and 22 stolen bases. He had 33 RBI and scored 64 runs to go along with his 72 hits for the season.
Rebel Ridling simply exploded in 2004. As a junior, Rebel hit .321 for the Travelers but bumped that average to a blistering .467 during a monster final season in the Traveler red, earning him team MVP honors for the season.
While splitting time between first base and the catching position, Ridling was a consistent force and a major run-producer in the Traveler offense. He led the club in at-bats (210), runs scored (76), doubles (25), RBI (81) and slugging percentage (.814).
Rebel's team-best 98 hits fell just short of the illustrious 100-hit club but his team-leading 14 home runs was the most by a Traveler since Justin Small smacked 21 in 1998, when the Travelers played in much more homer-friendly surroundings than Elk City's cavernous Ackley Park.
Ridling left an impressive mark in the Traveler program and will take his talents and ear-to-ear grin to junior college as a key member of an up-and-coming Midland JC squad.
The go-to guy of the talented pitching staff most of the season was hard-throwing righthander Brad Burns (Lookeba-Sickles HS), who had several tough-luck losses against top competition as evident by his 1.92 earned run average but just a 5-4 overall record. He threw 58 1/3 innings while making a team-leading 13 starts and also struck out a team-high 62 while yielding opponents just a .174 batting average.
Burns was drafted in the 37th round (Mets) of the MLB draft and drew attention from coaches throughout the country. He finished the season by accepting an offer to pitch for Larry Cochell and the Oklahoma Sooners.
Another key to the pitching staff was expected to be Jordy Mercer and the Taloga standout did not disappoint. Despite seeing limited time on the bump because of his full-time duty at shortstop, Mercer was outstanding when he was on the mound.
The righthander posted a perfect 7-0 record and 1.94 ERA while fanning 39 and allowing opponents only a .177 batting average.
Jordy will be back to bolster the Traveler staff in the 2005 campaign and anchor the defense at shortstop, where he added another phenomenal assist season in 2004.
Mercer posted his second straight 100-assist effort, finishing with 156 to push his two-year total to 294 in that department. The talented performer has a chance to join Monty Fariss and current head coach Mark Ward as the only three-time 100 assist seasons in the team's long history.
Despite those impressive numbers, it was Mercer's breakout offensive campaign that caught people's attention. In one year's time the Taloga standout's batting average improved from .255 to .388 as he proved to be a crucial spark in the two-hole of the batting lineup. His eight homers, 24 doubles, 64 RBI and 78 hits were good enough to finish second on the team in all categories in 2004.
Numerous colleges were in hot pursuit of Mercer in 2004. He has since committed to Oklahoma State during his senior year of high school.
A duo of key veterans (Chance Gerloff and Reece Creswell) from the 2003 club were off to sensational starts in 2004 before seeing their summer seasons cut short.
Leedey's Chance Gerloff was a major part of the Travelers tremendous start, batting .442 with eight extra-base hits and 12 RBI through 16 games before suffering an unfortunate season-ending shoulder injury in Pueblo.
The hardnosed Gerloff injured the shoulder diving for a ball and ended what was shaping up to be a huge individual season for the infielder/pitcher. The sensational junkballer had started the campaign with two convincing victories on the mound and a miniscule 0.70 ERA. Chance received a scholarship to Eastern State College and should be a mainstay for the Mountaineers in the spring after a full recovery.
With a state tournament high school campaign that ran well into June and a 10th round Major League Draft selection that same month, there were questions whether Reece Creswell (Perryton, TX) would wear the Traveler uniform at all during the 2004 campaign, but long-running contract negotiations with the Philadelphia Phillies had Creswell in uniform for 20 memorable games.
The imposing left-handed power hitter had opposing pitchers shaking from the start and who could blame them - he wore leather work gloves and a scowl to the plate and had just set a Texas state homerun record in his senior season.
In just 20 contests prior to signing a pro contract, Creswell hit .441 with 12 of his 26 hits going for extra bases. Five of those went for home runs, including two monster blasts in the Pueblo Colorado Tournament, one of which many long-time tournament observers said might possibly have been the longest home run ever hit at the venerable park.
Lookeba-Sickles product Lance Scales and Cordell's Bryan Nichols were two other returning players that proved to be key cogs in the lineup.
Scales showed his versatility in 48 games, playing an assortment of positions while batting .315 to go along with 14 RBI, 36 runs scored and 15 stolen bases. Nichols proved to be a mainstay at third base with his solid defensive play, hitting .244, including three homers and 26 RBI.
Scales joined Gerloff by signing with Eastern while Nichols inked a scholarship to play at Carl Albert State College.
Two All-State newcomers were vital parts of the Traveler lineup and blended in extremely well with the returning nucleus.
Lawton's Tyler Hill made the most of his one-year stint with the team, filling the role of a multi-dangerous three-hole hitter, batting a team-best .487 and was nearly automatic for at least two hits a game.
He scored 55 runs, drove in 56 more to go along with 73 hits, but even more impressively took full advantage of the spacious confines of Ackley Park, tying for the fourth most triples in team history with 11.
On the mound, the southpaw was solid throughout, becoming one of the Traveler go-to guys in big games, notching a 7-1 record with a 3.19 ERA to go with 55 strikeouts and just 13 walks in 48 1/3 innings.
Hill is taking his talents to Wichita State University where he hopes to follow his brother Koyie's (Arizona Diamondbacks) path to the Big Leagues.
Fleet-footed Matt Brown joined Hill and Davis to form one the team's best outfields ever. Brown, the fastest (and flashiest) of the trio, utilized his break-neck speed to frustrate opponents.
The Oklahoma City Capitol Hill product finished with a .417 batting average, nine doubles, six triples and four home runs to spark the offense from the leadoff position despite being hampered half the season with a nagging groin injury.
Brown was strong on the mound, compiling a 5-1 record and 2.45 earned run average, but he might be most remembered for his spectacular running catch on a hard liner in left field that resulted in a double play at second base to help preserve a 4th of July tournament championship win over the Midwest City Outlaws.
Brown will join Hill at Wichita State University in 2005.
Several newcomers had key roles as well and stepped in to provide the much-needed firepower in the middle of the lineup.
Elk City graduate Jorey Price stepped into the all-important catching position and did incredible work handling the versatile pitching staff and beefing up the middle of the lineup offensively. The Clarendon Junior College signee batted .412 with 19 doubles, four triples and five homers. He also drove in 50 runs and scored 45.
Keith McInnerney and Luke Yost were two other Elk City High products that emerged with solid performances in their first season with the squad and should be key Travelers next year.
McInnerney forced his way into an everyday spot in the lineup by quickly establishing himself as a hitting machine. The sweet-swinging lefty hit .379 for the season with five doubles, five triples and three home runs as well as 37 RBI and 44 runs scored.
Yost provided depth everywhere, playing all over the field, while contributing a .358 batting average with seven double and three homers in 40 contests. He improved at all facets of the game in 2004, finishing the season in strong fashion.
The player that emerged as the most improved player by season's end had to be Calumet's Kole Kennedy.
The lefty began the season well down in the pitching rotation but soon developed into one of the staff's anchors. He posted a 7-2 record and 2.77 ERA while finishing with a team-best five complete games, thanks largely to the ability to throw strikes consistently and utilize his solid defense.
Kennedy was a sensational utility guy in the batting lineup as well with his ability to provide a needed spark. He finished with a .348 batting average and will long be remembered for a dramatic game-winning home run to beat Midwest City in the Olde South Plains 4th of July Tournament.
Kole signed to continue his career in the pitching rotation at Southwestern.
Righthanded pitcher Kade Setzer is also headed to Southwestern after a solid campaign that saw the Hydro-Eakly graduate post a 6-1 record and 3.87 earned run average.
Plano, Texas southpaw Sammy Taylor proved to be a solid mound contributor out of the bullpen. He notched a 1-1 record and 5.04 ERA and in the process earned a scholarship from Dodge City Community College.
Leedey youngster Jared Broadbent gave Traveler fans a great glimpse of the future with a tremendous season in limited action. The freshman was just 15 years old to start the summer and hit an eye-popping .412 with 21 hits in 51 at-bats and drove in 16 runs. He will be counted on as a leader for three more seasons.
Two returnees that should see their roles increase next season as seniors are Taloga's Zach Berg and Perryton's Bo Merrell. Berg batted .308 with six doubles and a home run to go along with 14 RBI while Merrell hit .244 and drove in six runs.
Injuries definitely played a key part in the Traveler campaign as in addition to Gerloff and lingering injuries to Mercer and Brown, the Travelers lost three other arms to season-ending injuries. All three, however, are expected to return next season at full speed.
Fort Cobb southpaw Nate Hammons was the first injury casualty, forced into elbow surgery less than two weeks into the season. He is expected to be near the top of the Traveler pitching rotation in 2005.
At 16 years old, Cashion sophomore Donald Williams burst on the scene with a solid debut campaign under pitching coach Butch Schoenhals. The righthander was 4-0 with a 1.88 ERA in seven appearances before being lost to a back injury.
Perryton lefty Jared Castor was a late addition to the squad after the early rash of injuries and showed promise, posting a 4-0 record and 2.07 earned run average in five appearances before he was too was sidelined with an injured elbow.
With the injury situation, the Travelers picked up two additional late-season acquisitions for the World Series run, both of which are expected to step in and be major contributors next season.
Sentinel's J.J. Leaper made a quick impact, smashing a home run in his very first Traveler at-bat and showed the versatility to play any position on the field. The hard-throwing righthander also made three pitching appearances and posted a 1-0 record with a 2.21 ERA.
After a sensational season with the Travelers' younger Shattuck club, Amarillo righthander Tomas Cruz came on to toss three scoreless innings in the World Series while showing plenty of promise.
Overall, all 13 graduating seniors from the 2004 Travelers received opportunities to continue their playing careers at the next level.
They move on having helped guide the Traveler program to another spectacular summer filled with victories, championships, laughs and memories to be talked about for years to come.
We wish them the best, and hope to see them - and you - at the ballpark in 2005.
|Copyright © 2016, Oklahoma Travelers|