by: Emily Honeycutt – Staff writer – firstname.lastname@example.org
The Asheville Tourists competed for the title of South Atlantic League champions for the first time since 1984 in a five game series against the Greensboro Grasshoppers last week.
“Since I’ve been manager, this is our fourth season in the playoffs, and this is our second time in the finals. It’s a really exciting time,” Tourists Manager Joe Mikulik said.
The Tourists started off the five game series with a loss to Greensboro, but they answered with three consecutive wins to take the championship title.
“We felt confident after the first game,” Mikulik said. “We always feel confident. We strap it on and come out here. We’re very confident even after that loss.”
Mikulik said he was proud of Daniel Winkler, the starting pitcher in the second game, for setting the tone for the rest of the team.
“He threw strikes and got ahead in counts and kept them off balance,” Mikulik said. “He knew if we lose the second games our backs are against the wall, so he stepped up and gave us a shot in the arm, and that’s what we needed.”
Mikulik said he did not want a break between the second and third game because of the team’s momentum.
“I don’t want a day off Thursday to tell you the truth. We want to play right now. Winkler set the stage, and our offense was big tonight.”
Before heading to Greensboro for the final two games of the series, Mikulik said they were not nervous to play away from home.
“It’s a beautiful place to play,” Mikulik said. “We haven’t gone there all year, but obviously we feel very confident and very optimistic about what we have in this clubhouse. We’ll come back from Greensboro and spray some champagne and have a little party.”
Mikulik said he was satisfied with the show they gave the fans, even though they played their final two games away.
“The thing is we won Saturday night the Southern Division Championship, and we finished the last game in McCormick field with a big win, so that’s for the fans as well,” Mikulik said. “I couldn’t be more proud of this group that we have and the showing that we had for these fans.”
The SAL championship win is positive news for Tourists players like Winkler who plan to move to the Colorado Rockies, the major league parent team of the Tourists, in the future.
“I’m hopefully moving up next year,” Winkler said. “That’s not up to me, so we’ll see what happens. All I can do is keep pitching as well as I can and make it to the big leagues.”
Winkler struck out 12 of the Greensboro Grasshoppers in the second game of the championship series, and his last game of the year.
“That was my last start, so I wanted to make it a big one,” Winkler said. “I didn’t get to pitch in the first round of playoffs, so I was excited to pitch in that one and just get a win, especially so we could go to Greensboro tied up.”
Mikulik said he saw good things in Winkler during spring training.
“If you watched him he was so focused. He kept throwing strikes. I saw him like this in spring training, and I thought there was a lot of good in him. He won 11 games for us here, and he stepped it up for us in the championship.”
Winkler said he saw a lot of the United States and the world through playing college and minor league baseball, and hopes to see more of it playing in the big leagues.