2068 Weaver Champs: Stockholm Swedes (8x)

Congratulations to the 2068 Weaver League Champions, the Stockholm Swedes!

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After a steady 10-season climb up the Barnes Division standings, the 2068 Stockholm Swedes came to the realization that their Weaver Cup journey would be a classic example of the 90/10 rule: the final 10% of their mission to unseat Weaver’s back-to-back reigning champs, the Entebbe Zealots, would take 90% of their collective effort. With the Zealots motivated to cement their own place in history as one of Weaver’s epic dynasties, Stockholm would need to play their A-game starting from Day 1 of the season.

Stockholm came roaring out of the gate in April with a 15-8 record (.652) and refused to let up, posting 3 straight months of 20+ wins during the temperate Scandinavian summer. The Swedes knew that any dip in focus could allow Entebbe to gain momentum and pass them in the standings, so the division-clinching celebration was marked by outbursts of relief almost as much as joy.

The Swedes offense featured a potent combination of power and speed, as 6 of 9 regular starters posted double-digit totals in both homers and steals. LF Pete Hill led the way in winning his 1st MVP Award, logging a .306/42/101 slashline coupled with a staggering 62 steals. On the mound, RHP Mark Fidrych (24-5/1.73/163) took home the Cy Young Award after fending off some tough internal competition by RHP Ray Brown (22-7/3.20/169). RHP George Young (19-5/2.01/173) capped a rare clean sweep of the awards podium by winning Rookie of the Year.

Injury-ravaged Jamaica presented little challenge to Stockholm in the BLCS round, as the Swedes rolled the Rastas 4 straight in a sweep. The Honolulu Volcanoes looked doomed to a similar fate, but back-to-back shutout wins in Games 3 and 4 evened out the Weaver Series and sent Stockholm fans into a collective anxiety attack. After all the work to unseat Entebbe, would their beloved Swedes fall short, just steps away from claiming the prize? Homegrown star SS Huey Boland would answer with a firm NO, stepping up to the plate in the top of the 10th with the score tied 0-0. Volcanoes RHP Hugh Freeman was writing his own storybook arc in pitching a complete game shutout, but his brilliance would soon be forgotten as Boland hammered a game-winning home run deep into the left field stands of Diamond Head Diamond. Returning home with a 3-2 lead, Stockholm took care of business and claimed the Weaver Cup with a dominant 7-2 win at home in Game 6.

The exuberant shouts of joy from fans inside Cruz Field soon reverberated throughout the city, as fans left the comfort of their flats to join the impromptu rally in the streets of Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s historic old quarter. With the Swedes’ return to glory and memories of the last Stockholm dynasty still fresh in the minds of many, was it too soon to start thinking of this 2068 championship as the first step of a revival? We’ll see in the coming seasons! Congrats again Stockholm!

2067 Weaver Champs: Entebbe Zealots (12x)

Congratulations to the 2067 Weaver League Champions, the Entebbe Zealots!

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When a team claims a title in dominant fashion, often the toughest opponent to deal with in the seasons ahead is “the disease of more”. Players want increased roles and a matching salary to boot, while management can sometimes be caught resting on their laurels, basking in the glow of praise from their peers as well as the home fanbase. Would the 2067 Entebbe Zealots fall victim to this curse?

The answer to that question was a resounding NO, as Entebbe exceeded their win total by 8 games during the regular season to finish 120-42. The Zealots needed every one of those wins too, as the Stockholm Swedes put forth their claim as the next powerhouse-in-waiting with a 111-51 record.

The Zealots offense featured a staggering 7 hitters batting over .270, with MVP 3B Jud Wilson leading the way (.308/43/112). While Wilson may have won the actual award, CF Carey Blais (.283/37/90), 1B Bobby Muich (.288/43/117), and RF Art Harris (.282/38/97) all provided stiff internal competition by logging MVP-caliber seasons themselves. On the mound, RHP Francisco Matthei dominated the league in recording his 2nd Pitching Triple Crown (24-4/1.59/228) en route to his 3rd Cy Young award. RHP Al Link came in 2nd in the BL Cy Young voting after winning 22 games and posting a 2.15 ERA.

With such dominant regular season performances, most pundits bet on the Zealots winning the Weaver Cup in short order. The Roehm Champion Havana Cigars must have missed the memo, though, stealing the 1st game on the road 4-3 and evening up the series in Game 4 with a 5-1 win. With the series down to best of 3, Havana hoped to pull off a surprising upset but their inability to get any offense going in Games 5 and 6 sealed their fate.

After the stern wakeup call in the LCS round, Entebbe was determined to avoid any sort of repeat and blasted the Polanski Champion Sapporo Snow Monkeys 4-0. Zealots bats plated home an impressive 35 runs in 4 games, with 19 coming in a Game 3 drubbing. RHP Matthei claimed the Weaver Series MVP with bookend wins in Games 1 and 4.

For one glorious spring day, though, any thoughts of the Zealots faltering melted away in the warm afternoon sun. Today was a day to celebrate, and throngs of Entebbe fans in high spirits came out to catch a glimpse of their returning heroes at the rally held on the northern shores of Lake Victoria. The worries could wait, because Entebbe now had 2 titles under their belt and the players and management both seemed hungry for more. How many more? Not 1, not 2, but maybe 3 in 2068? Congrats again Entebbe!

2066 Weaver Champs: Entebbe Zealots (11x)

Congratulations to the 2066 Weaver League Champions, the Entebbe Zealots!

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Baseball, more than any other sport, is a marathon, not a sprint. With the rhythm of the 162 game season lasting from spring to fall, a team’s fortunes can climb and dive as players get hot, run into cold streaks, and battle the fatigue associated with topline performance coupled with grueling everyday travel.

The 2066 Entebbe Zealots were not afforded the luxury of time to figure out the narrative of their regular season. Cairo, winners of 3 of the last 5 Weaver Cups, were looking to rebound and improve the Scorpions’ claim for “Best Dynasty in Weaver.. Ever.” Coupled with a rapidly improving Stockholm Swedes squad, Zealots management realized that their contending window might not remain open that much longer. The time to strike was now: to win the Weaver Cup, Entebbe would have to be at the top of their game right away. Any small slip-up, even in the early part of the season, could put the Zealots in a hole that was too deep to climb out of.

What followed over the next 6 months was one of the most back-and-forth Weaver pennant races ever seen. The top of the Barnes Division changed hands 13 times, with the final 7 weeks featuring consecutive flip-flops between Entebbe and Cairo, Cairo and Entebbe. Entering the final week in a dead heat, the Scorpions and Zealots closed out with a combined 11-1 record. Hong Kong ended up playing kingmaker, plating home 2 runs in the bottom of the 8th vs Cairo to record a 6-4 win. The Dragons’ win pushed the Zealots into 1st with a 112-50 record, finishing 1 game ahead of the Scorpions.

Entebbe’s potent offensive attack featured 4 fearsome hitters at the heart of the order: 3B Jud Wilson (.290/36/94), 1B Bobby Muich (.300/34/96), RF Art Harris (.301/33/104), and LF Frank Barlow (.283/30/78). The spine of the defense, anchored by SS Paul Blaisdell, CF Carey Blais, and C Fred Luebbers, may have had a down year offensively but the trio always seemed to deliver during high leverage at-bats and on defense. Meanwhile, on the mound, RHP Francisco Matthei recorded a season for the ages, winning the Blizzard League Cy Young Award with a Pitching Triple Crown season: 24-4, 1.33 ERA, 248 SO. Entebbe’s pitching staff was so strong that during the playoffs, they were able to occasionally reassign former Negro Leagues legend Andy Cooper from the rotation to the closer slot!

After struggling all season to finally claim the Barnes Division, the BLCS was almost anticlimactic for the Zealots. Entebbe swept Jamaica 4-0 in the BLCS, winning Games 3 and 4 on the road in extra innings. In the Weaver Series, however, Entebbe ran into an equally determined Oakland Lumberjacks squad looking to defend their 2065 title and win back-to-back. Entebbe and Oakland split the first 4 games, with each squad winning once on the road.

In most series, Game 5 is typically the decisive matchup, and Oakland looked set to celebrate after RHP Mike Scott outdueled RHP Al Link for a 4-0 win. However, with Entebbe recording the most wins in Weaver this season, this meant that Oakland’s closeout win would have to come on the road. Could Entebbe come back from 3-2, winning 2 games at home?

The Zealots jumped out quickly to a 1-0 lead in the first inning of Game 6, but a late run by Oakland in the top of the 7th silenced the Zealots faithful into a nervous buzz. Then, in the bottom of the 10th inning, LF Frank Barlow hammered a deep drive to left for a 2-run HR to set up a winner-take-all matchup in Game 7. Despite Barlow’s heroics, LHP Andy Cooper was universally cited as Player of the Game for pitching all 10 innings of the contest, allowing only 3 hits and striking out 6. Postgame interviews featured a demoralized Oakland squad talking about lost opportunities, and that mental hangover continued into Game 7. RHP Francisco Matthei capped off his spectacular season with another dominant pitching performance, and both 1B Julian Jeffords and SS Paul Blaisdell each hit homers to lead Entebbe to a 5-1 win.

At long last, after 25 seasons, the Entebbe faithful had a title of their own to celebrate. Having reached the top of the mountain, can the Zealots stay hungry and claim a few more titles to establish their own dynasty? Or will this Weaver Cup be a one-shot deal, a dream season to remember for all the Entebbe faithful who remember the tough rebuild years immediately after relocation? The Zealots look strong for next season, but with a bevy of contenders all excited to stake their claim, 2067 should be a fun season to watch. Let’s hope for another compelling pennant race and playoffs! Congrats again Entebbe!

2065 Weaver Champs: Oakland Lumberjacks (5x)

Congratulations to the 2065 Weaver League Champions, the Oakland Lumberjacks!

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What factors help establish the identity of a sports franchise? Is it the actual results on the field, or is it more about the processes and work ethic put in place by leadership? How important is building a relationship with the community, and how does ownership ethos help develop that?

For the Oakland Lumberjacks, this process has been a gradual one as the franchise sought to distance themselves from the prior regime in charge. Heading into the team’s 34th season in Oakland, the bombast and swagger of the Los Angeles Riots had long been replaced by a somewhat reserved, methodical professionalism. To many Weaver fans outside of Oakland, however, they were still “Riots North,” searching for their 1st Weaver Cup in their new digs.

The roots for Oakland’s 2065 title run were planted in the team’s postseason struggles just 4 years prior. After claiming back-to-back Lockwood titles in 2060 and 2061, the contending window seemed to slam shut after Cairo dispatched the Lumberjacks in a 4-game Weaver Series sweep. With an aging roster and LHP Chris Sale’s reluctance to commit for another 3-4 years, the prospects of Oakland making it back to the peak looked highly unlikely.

Undeterred, Oakland management convinced RHP Mike Scott (20-5, 1.86) to sign with the club and serve as the team’s new ace. RHP Armand Holley (17-11, 2.51) was an inconsistent young pitcher in those early playoff runs, but had evolved into a polished starter capable of competing with anybody. RHP Titus Bynum (17-6, 1.60) signed with the Lumberjacks as this year’s top free agent and was quoted on Signing Day as saying “I think this squad could really do something special, they’ve got all the pieces.”

Bynum was indeed prescient, as Oakland’s offense featured solid veterans all around the diamond (34.2 years old, 2nd-oldest in the IL). 12 Lumberjacks hit double-digit HRs, with 1B Dale Thornton leading the way with 35. SS Willie Wells was a triple threat, pacing the club in batting average at .292 while causing havoc on the bases. In the bullpen, LHP Eddie Steengrafe (17 Hld) and RHP Rube Hamner (22 Sv) exuded confidence and had the full trust of the coaching staff to close out games.

Even in the ILCS, questions of identity were hard to shake. Despite the fact that Oakland led the IL with 103 wins, many fans and pundits considered Amity to be the favorite given their extensive postseason track record. The Lumberjacks quickly laid waste to that myth, jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead thanks to 7 different Oakland hitters slugging HRs, as well RHP Hamner’s strong closeout work (1 W, 1 Sv). Amity rebounded to hold serve in Games 3 and 4, but in a pivotal Game 5, relief pitching was once again the story. LHP Steengrafe and RHP Hamner held the White Sharks scoreless for the last 2.2 innings, and Oakland managed to plate home a run in the top of the 11th to setup a potential closeout game at home. Game 6 featured Hamner collecting his record 3rd save of the series, cementing his selection as ILCS MVP.

The Weaver Series matchup was a time to face old demons: Cairo had swept the Lumberjacks out previously, could the in-form Scorpions looking to repeat do it again? Steengrafe and Hamner, longtime team leaders, would make sure things were different this time around as Oakland eked out a surprising 5-3 victory in Game 1 after 12 innings. The two teams proceeded to trade punches, evening the Weaver Series at 2 games apiece after 4 played. In Game 5, RHP Hamner again proved to be the difference, recording a 6-out extra innings save against the heart of the Scorpions order. Then, in Game 6, Oakland’s extra inning magic cemented from “luck” to destiny: RHP Titus Bynum pitched 9.1 IP of shutout ball, and injury-riddled C Levan Zubashvili hammered a hanging curveball to left for the game-winning HR in the top of the 10th.

After so many years of hearing “LA this, LA that..”, Oakland fans and management finally had a Weaver Cup of their own to cherish. Fans streamed out of Lumberjacks Square (aka Coliseum II) and boarded BART trains to Lake Merritt for an impromptu rally with fellow fans coming in from the suburbs. Massive sideshows erupted in both West and East Oakland, and were fueled by an inexhaustible supply of joyous, manic energy; Frank Ogawa Plaza buzzed with the hum of deliriously happy fans celebrating with police officers on hand to ensure celebrations stayed safe. TMZ even received reports that members of the Nukes and Rastas ownership groups were on hand to celebrate the return of a championship to Oakland.

While this season’s Weaver Cup may have been unexpected, Oakland enters next season with a target on its back. With all the major players set to return, though, the Lumberjacks’ chances of repeating look very strong. Here’s hoping to another compelling pennant race and playoffs! Congrats again Oakland!

2064 Weaver Champs: Cairo Scorpions (5x)

Congratulations to the 2064 Weaver League Champions, the Cairo Scorpions!

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The drive for Cairo’s 3rd Weaver Cup in 4 seasons was fueled by the bitter taste of falling short to high expectations. Entering 2063, the Scorpions were the prohibitive favorite to complete the three-peat but were upset in the BLCS by the upstart Rio de Janeiro Jaguars. With an aging core, the fanbase and pundits all around the league were wondering: could Cairo once again recapture the magic?

Scorpions management wisely used an incremental approach to shore up their roster. Veteran RHP Georgi Krastev was traded at the start of the season for a 1st round pick; 2 months later, that pick was eventually flipped to Calabria for key pitching depth in the form of RHP Bobby Diering and LHP Rick Daughters. LF Harry Plantier was also acquired from Honolulu after the All-Star break to provide power at the bottom of the order.

While the record book shows that Cairo finished the regular season 7 games ahead of Entebbe, the gap between the two squads never really felt that close. Staff ace LHP Blake Snell (24-3, 1.46) claimed the Cy Young Award, while RHP Jacob DeGrom (11-12, 1.97) helped lead a pitching staff that posted a collective 2.64 ERA (1st in the BL). On the offensive side of the ball, the Scorpions offense was powered by 4 power hitters who nearly split the MVP vote amongst themselves by hitting over 30 HRs each: SS Edison Roman (MVP, .281/43/110), RF Henry Heffner (.259/39/100), and 1Bs Buck Leonard (.299/37/105) and Scott Coffman (.276/33/67).

In the BLCS, Cairo faced old nemesis Vancouver and proceeded to eke out clutch 4-3 wins at home. In Game 1, LF Frank Barlow hit a towering walk-off HR in the bottom of the 10th to claim victory, while in Game 2, RHP Jacob DeGrom managed to extinguish any Mounties rallies before they gained traction. Vancouver fans hoped that a venue switch might give their Mounties the benefit of home cooking, but instead, the Scorpions offense shifted into high gear: in Games 4 and 5, Cairo managed to plate 11 runs on 23 hits, while keeping the hapless Mounties scoreless.

Cairo’s 2062 Weaver Series opponent, the New York Nukes, were hoping for redemption in this year’s rematch. Instead, the 2064 iteration of the Scorpions just served up more punishment, sweeping the Nukes 4-0. LHP Blake Snell added to his trophy cabinet by winning Weaver Series MVP: in 2 starts, Snell posted a 0.60 ERA on 15 IP, striking out 13 along the way. At the plate, 1B Buck Leonard paced the Scorpions offense with 3 multi-hit games to start the series (7 hits total).

While the dream of a 3-peat is DOA, the idea of winning 4, 5, 6, even 7 titles in a short time window certainly isn’t. Can Cairo keep the competitive juices flowing, or will their rivals continue to chip away at their invincible aura? Whatever happens, I’m sure it will be fun to watch! Congrats again Cairo!