Injuries and struggles away from home hurt the Pippins most during their worst season in franchise history.
Nearly 60 players put on a uniform for coach Marcus McKimmy, who finished under .500 for the first time in his six seasons. Yakima Valley went 21-33 and lost 22 of 24 road games after going to Ridgefield and beating the expansion team twice to begin the summer.
“As a coaching staff and how we prepare, every year’s different and we like to think that with more experience we’ll do things a little bit better the next year,” McKimmy said. “However, things like injuries you’ll never prepare for and you have to take head on and this year’s one of those years.”
Both he and general manager Jeff Garretson hope the bad injury luck will turn out to be an aberration they won’t need to deal with again. But they’ll still try to take some lessons from it moving forward when they meet for evaluations after the West Coast League playoffs.
In the meantime, McKimmy wants to relax and take some time to enjoy what he called the “poetic justice” of Eddie Pelc’s three-run walkoff home run in the 15th inning just before midnight on Sunday. That 6-3 win over Walla Walla clinched the Pippins’ first series win in more than three weeks and gave them one of the league’s better home records at 17-11.
“It’s a significant home field advantage,” McKimmy said. “We’ve got unbelievable fans.”
Fewer of them showed up at Yakima County Stadium this season, and Yakima Valley ended up 10th in the 12-team league with an average of 891 fans per game. That’s a decrease of 464 per game from last season, but Garretson said external factors such as weather kept him from worrying about the lower numbers too much.
He’s eager to learn from this summer’s adversity while preparing to come back stronger next season. So many younger players on the roster could mean opportunities for many of them to return, although Garretson emphasized coaches will always be trying to find more talent.
“It’s really a partnership between the Pippins’ organization, between the relationships that we’ve built with those colleges and universities and to some degree, too, the players,” Garretson said. “So there are lots of moving pieces.”
Part of those relationships means providing evaluations to the coaches who will be looking for contributions from Pippins players next spring. McKimmy said along with frequent conversations, pitching chart, hitters’ spray charts, and plenty of other statistical data will be provided to college teams.
Yakima Valley coaches also plan to choose players to receive individual awards, and McKimmy expects he will end up inviting several of them back next summer. But those decisions will come later after he sits down with Garretson to discuss the franchise’s future.
“For the coaching staff here it was just as hard on them with the adversity that the players had this year,” Garretson said. “So you want to take a little time and relax and focus and then evaluate properly.”
This season marked the third straight year of declining win totals and the club’s first two-year stretch without a playoff appearance. McKimmy’s tied with Bend’s Joe Dominiak as the WCL’s second-longest tenured coach and owns a 172-158 (.521) record, including a 1-7 postseason mark.