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 Heading into the team’s 34th season in Oakland, the bombast and swagger of the Los Angeles Riots had long been replaced by a somewhat reserved, methodical professionalism.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!

2063 Weaver Champs: Amity White Sharks (9x)

Congratulations to the 2063 Weaver League Champions, the Amity White Sharks!

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For a fanbase so accustomed to success, Amity’s recent Weaver Cup drought of 12 seasons was starting to become a concern. After back-to-back 116 win seasons ended with consolation prizes, White Sharks fans were clamoring for a slash-and-burn rebuild, convinced that the veteran core in place was just not good enough to be a viable contender. Management, however, was convinced that their steady approach was the right path: gather veteran depth through trades and the FA pool, draft great pitching, and skillfully play the matchups to put the team over the top in 2063.

Amity’s championship fairy tale really began at the end of 2062. With Sapporo claiming their second straight Polanski crown, management opted to surgically retool their roster for depth at key positions. Longtime stalwart 3B Home Run Baker was dealt away at the trade deadline for 3 players (1B Chris Nen, SS Nels Lochhead, and RHP Jack Blair) and a R1 pick. Also, after a strong recruiting pitch focused on Amity’s championship legacy, RHP Mike Clark was signed away from Cairo in Free Agency to bolster an already excellent rotation. With RHPs Evan Landry and Luc Gauthier, as well as LHP John Hutchison, Amity could make a credible claim to being among the Inferno League’s best pitching staffs.

On the offensive side of the plate, Amity was propelled by its All-Star caliber outfield. RF Christian Yelich (.294/35/87) won the IL MVP, CF Cristobal Torriente (.270/23/47) finally flashed the skills that made him a top prospect, and LF Harry Plantier formed a potent platoon with LF Corey Xin. Shrewd trades for 2B Denys Harkush and 1B Elmer Hershey at the trade deadline plugged 2 more holes in the lineup and proved to be big upgrades at their positions.

In the ILCS round, Amity faced their longtime rival, the New York Nukes. White Sharks-Nukes has been a fixture in the ILCS for nearly the entire history of Weaver, and this iteration proved to be just as exciting as years past. After splitting the first 4 games, New York won Game 5 at home 3-0 and looked poised to claim the ILCS in Game 6 with a 3-0 lead entering the bottom of the 9th. Nukes RHP Al Burkett may have started partying a little too early, though: with a clear lack of focus on the mound, Burkett’s command abandoned him and Amity was able to somehow rally to tie the game 3-3 in the 9th, eventually winning it in the 11th. Then, in Game 7 with everything on the line, White Sharks analytics experts made a gutsy call. 1B Chris Nen would be called on to start, despite not having played in the series. Nen would go on to repay the analysts’ faith, capping a dramatic series turnaround by crushing a decisive HR in Amity’s 3-2 Game 7 win.

With the momentum train rolling on Amity’s side, Rio’s storybook campaign came to a stunningly swift end as the White Sharks swept the Jaguars in the Weaver Series 4-0. RF Christian Yelich and RHP Mike Clark dueled for Weaver Series MVP: Yelich hit .647 with 4 HRs, while Clark logged 16.1 innings and only gave up 2 runs.

White Sharks players and management is now tasked with an enviable goal: can Amity repeat and claim the franchise’s 10th Weaver Cup, tying them with Entebbe? The haters might say that the Polanski is ripe for a turnover and that this was a one-time fluke… but the smart money in Vegas knows that it is foolish to ever bet against the White Sharks. Congrats Amity!

2062 Weaver Champs: Cairo Scorpions (4x)

Congratulations to the 2062 Weaver League Champions, the Cairo Scorpions!

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Entering the 2062 Weaver season, pundits around the league made little mention of the chances of a Cairo Scorpions repeat. Usually when a team claims that “nobody respects us”, it’s just a motivational tactic to drive their own performers. In this case, though, preseason chatter around the league revolved around the Scorpions’ postseason competition. Sapporo looked “primed for a Cinderella run”, New York was “battle tested by the hyper-competitive Lockwood Division”, and Vancouver’s roster was stacked top-to-bottom with All-Timer level stars.

Confident in their skills, the Scorpions paid little heed to social media chatter and set off on their mission to lockdown a postseason berth. The team started off hot, posting an 18-5 record in April before tapering down in July, bottoming out at 14-13. Although Cairo led the Barnes Division tape-to-tape, Vancouver got most of the press as the Mounties led Weaver with 115 wins and made 2 impact trades in preparation for a revenge date in the BLCS.

Scorpions batters and pitchers pounded their Blizzard League counterparts during the regular season. Cairo’s starting lineup featured six everyday hitters that smashed 25+ homers each, and the core four members of the starting rotation all had ERAs hovering just around 2.00. Five Scorpions were named to the BL All-Star team: first basemen Buck Leonard and Scott Coffman, as well as RHP Jacob DeGrom, RHP Alan Jackson, and LHP Blake Snell.

Cairo jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the BLCS thanks to dominant pitching starts by DeGrom, Snell, and RHP Wayne Bigelow. After Game 3, Scorpions players went out to explore the nightlife along Robson Street in Vancouver and enjoyed themselves… perhaps a little too much. Vancouver rallied in Game 4, shutting out Cairo 8-0, and used a 5-run 7th inning to take Game 5.

Could the Mounties pull off a reverse sweep? It looked close, but Scorpions players realized the gravity of their situation and knew it was time to buckle down. Cairo won Game 6 behind 3 homers from the heart of their lineup, and late season acquisition RHP Walid Debbane shut the door on Vancouver’s late rally in the 9th inning at 4-3.

With four wins left for a title, 1B Buck Leonard knew that Cairo couldn’t afford another lapse in judgment versus a potent New York Nukes team. Incensed by the team’s lackadaisical play in Games 4 and 5 of the BLCS, Leonard took over Games 4 and 5 of the Weaver Series himself, hitting a home run in each game. Meanwhile, on the mound, RHP Jacob DeGrom notched 2 wins in Games 1 and 4, and the Scorpions collectively muzzled the Nukes offense to a grand total of 13 runs in 5 games.

With 2 consecutive Weaver Series wins, how long will Cairo’s run last? Is a 3-peat on tap, or maybe even more? Not 4, not 5, not 6… not 7? With the talent core in place and a skilled front office staff at the wheel, anything seems possible. Congrats Cairo!

2061 Weaver Champs: Cairo Scorpions (3x)

Congratulations to the 2061 Weaver League Champions, the Cairo Scorpions!

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After a 2060 season where Cairo finished just 3 games back, Scorpions fans huddled around the hot stove all winter hoping that management could acquire the final piece needed to propel the team back into the playoffs. Calabria, while aging, still had a monster lineup on paper and a top-tier rotation: could the Scorpions knockout their rivals and put an end to that dynasty?

Sensing their excitement, management followed through with an aggressive strategy of player acquisition. First, RHP Wayne Bigelow was signed from the Godfathers, accomplishing the dual goal of strengthening the rotation while weakening a contender. Then, 1B Buck Leonard was signed as the franchise’s Negro League All-Timer. Leonard’s smooth stroke and deceptive power would prove equally adept at setting the table as well as driving in runs. Lastly, in a surprise trade prior to Opening Day, Cairo acquired SS Shunsuke Onoda from the Long Beach Lobsters for 2 prospects and a pick. Onoda, nearing retirement, desperately wanted to finish his career a winner and would provide steady veteran leadership to a squad of talented newcomers ready to make their move.

From that point on, the burden of high expectations may have been the toughest opponent the Scorpions dealt with all season. Cairo clobbered the Blizzard League for a 120-42 record, and ended up winning the division by 10 games. The Scorpions won both of their head-to-head matchups with Calabria and Roehm Division winner Vancouver, 10-8 and 8-4, respectively.

In the BLCS, the Scorpions dropped Game 1 on home turf 5-1, but the players all agreed postgame that it was just a case of first-time playoff jitters. Cairo rebounded to take the next 3 games, with starting pitchers RHP Wayne Bigelow, RHP Jacob DeGrom, and LHP Blake Snell all posting dominant performances. Vancouver rebounded to take Game 5, but the Scorpions quickly put the kibosh to any thoughts of a comeback by plating 2 runs in the bottom of the 7th and putting DeGrom in as a surprise closer to end the series.

With postseason jitters out of the way, the Weaver Series was almost over before anyone knew it had started. Cairo swept Oakland 4-0, and the Lumberjacks never seemed capable of reproducing the emotional high that had powered their extra innings ILCS Game 7 win against Sapporo. Then again, when facing a postseason rotation of Snell, Bigelow, and DeGrom, mustering any sort of offense will be a challenge.

With the 2061 season complete, it seems that high expectations will again be a burden for Cairo. Now, the question isn’t “will they beat Calabria?” but “can they match up with the great early 30’s Scorpions teams?” Led by Hall of Fame CF Craig Coluccio, those Scorpions managed to win 4 BL Barnes titles, but were upset 3 times in the BLCS and only claimed one Weaver Cup.

Can this generation of Scorpions put those memories of underachieving to rest? With so many of their stars just entering their prime, it sure does seem likely! Congratulations!