Baseball is as steeped in superstitious traditions as it is enamored with statistics. That’s why the role of Dragons manager Luis Bolivar abruptly changed recently.
Rather than huddling with standout outfielder Jose Siri before, during and after games, Bolivar did just the opposite. That’s what happens when a player goes deep into a record-breaking hitting streak.
“We didn’t talk about it at all,” recalled Bolivar, who doubles as an interpreter for the sleek Dominican Republic native. “I know it was in his mind because he came to me and tried to talk about it. I was trying to avoid him and not say anything to him. We tried to stay away from it. Now, we talk a little bit more about it.”
Sure they do. Siri brought a 37-game mid-season hitting streak into Wednesday night’s home game against the Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers), then extended it with an infield single in the eighth inning after going hitless in three at-bats.
The streak was one of the few positives on a just-concluded 1-6 road trip that extended the Dragons’ second-half woes.
The Dragons landed a spot in the postseason by clinching a first-half season wildcard berth. But numerous roster changes for multiple reasons have essentially rebooted the Class A minor-league team. Success hasn’t followed.
Dayton was stuck in last place in the Midwest League Eastern Division going into the Loons’ series, 14 games behind West Michigan, which also won the first-half divisional title.
He’s a hit
Siri has remained the unshakable clubhouse constant. A fleet 6-foot-2, the 22-year-old could double as a high hurdler. He tweaked a few things in his swing and started consistently hitting way back on June 22, the first game of the second half. He hasn’t stopped.
He broke a 40-year-old Midwest League record on Monday at Fort Wayne by slapping a bouncer through the left side of the infield. Until then he had gone hitless in three at-bats. Even more daunting, he was money on an 0-2 count in the eighth inning. He added a double in yet another loss to the TinCaps on Tuesday.
“It’s not easy, especially when the pitchers know you’ve got that kind of hitting streak,” Siri said prior to Wednesday’s game.
Like Bolivar, Dragons hitting coach Daryle Ward also distanced himself from Siri as the streak grew.
“You don’t say nothing to him,” said Ward, who succeeded Bolivar as hitting coach. “You just let him keep going. He’s found it. There’s nothing you have to coach to keep him going or anything like that. He’s got his swing down and he’s been holding on to it for a while.”
Siri was hitting .218 in late May. Now he’s nearing .300, leads the team in most offensive categories and ranks among all minor leaguers regardless of classification in most major batting categories. Ward credited that turnaround to “making the game simpler,” he said.
“He’s short to the ball and making good adjustments as well, pitch per pitch. His aggressiveness has gone up and he’s laid off of bad pitches that aren’t in the zone. He’s been really disciplined.”
Let’s not go crazy
Dragons bench coach Kevin Mahar was coaching first base at Fort Wayne on Monday. That position usually is manned by a Dragons pitcher who’s on the disabled list.
Mahar appeared unusually cool, but his wheels were churning as Siri rounded the base and punched the air in abbreviated celebration. The Dragons lost that game 4-3, but at the time the tying run was at the plate.
“You want to keep Siri under control and not get crazy out there,” said Mahar.
Mahar said the TinCaps first baseman congratulated Siri, as did their shortstop and centerfielder after the inning ended. TinCaps pitcher Hensel Rodriguez, another Dominican Republic product who surrendered the record-breaker, nodded to Siri afterward.
Siri said “the whole country” is keeping track of his hit streak back home in the Dominican Republic. He’s big news on TV in newspapers and social media there.
He said the only time the streak affected him was last Sunday when “I couldn’t sleep.” Now, that self-induced pressure has somewhat subsided with the record secured.
A ticket to?
Siri’s streak doesn’t mean a quick ticket to advanced Class A Daytona, yet. Minor-league rosters are affected by injuries, trades and releases on all levels of a parent club. Those are the intangibles that affect decision-making more than a hitting streak.
Siri snapped the Midwest League hitting streak record of 35 games that originally was set by Tony Toups of the Waterloo Indians in 1977. He was promoted to Class AA Chattanooga in 1978 but was out of professional baseball by the end of that season.
Siri has a ways to go to overtake the all-time minor league hit streak of 69 games. Besides, that’s not what Dragons players are looking to do, even Siri.
“The goal,” assured Mahar, “is to always get about 45 minutes south of here.”