By Roger Hoover / Jacksonville Suns
JACKSONVILLE – The 2013 season of Jacksonville Suns baseball was certainly memorable at Bragan Field. The Suns posted a winning season, sent eight players to the major leagues with the Miami Marlins, and proved that Bragan Field is still the place to be on warm summer nights in Jacksonville.
While there were many great moments during the 2013 season, here’s a look at some of our most memorable events from the last year of Suns baseball. While these moments helped define 2013, we are now excited about April 3, 2014: Opening Night at Bragan Field against Huntsville.
Enjoy this look back at 2013 and Happy New Year from the Jacksonville Suns!
10. Henderson Alvarez Homers, Dominates in Rehab Appearances
Before Henderson Alvarez capped his 2013 season with a no-hitter for the Marlins against the Tigers in the final game of the year, he also enjoyed brilliant pitching during his two-rehab starts with the Jacksonville Suns in June. His top performance came on June 28 at Mobile, where he tossed seven and two-thirds scoreless innings against the BayBears, striking out seven while allowing only two hits and no walks. In his first rehab start on June 23 in Jacksonville, Alvarez tossed six and two-thirds scoreless innings against the Huntsville Stars. In that appearance he struck out six batters allowing just three hits. He also added a three-run homer at the plate, the first for Alvarez in his professional career. Alvarez’s dominant rehab starts would win him Southern League Pitcher of the Week honors just as he was promoted back to the Miami Marlins. In his two Suns starts he was 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA (0 ER in 14.1 IP).
9. Jake Marisnick Hits Walk-Off Home Run Against Pensacola on July 2
The in-state rivalry between the Suns and the Pensacola Blue Wahoos once again saw Jacksonville claim the “Golden Skillet” for the second straight season. On July 2, Jacksonville shrunk the magic number to clinch the skillet to one in a tight game at Bragan Field that saw Jake Marisnick hit a two-run walk-off home run to beat the Wahoos 6-5.
8. Christian Yelich’s 15-Game Hitting Streak
While Christian Yelich was hot at the plate several times during his time in Jacksonville, his best stretch of hitting came early in the year. Yelich had a 15-game hitting streak that was part of a 19-game on-base streak from late April to early May, as well as six breathtaking triples and a go-ahead home run against Pensacola in the bottom of the eighth on May 8 at the Bragan Field.
7. Justin Nicolino Strikes Out 13 Birmingham Barons on August 16
The 2013 Florida State League Pitcher of the Year Justin Nicolino saved his best performance of the season for a start in the Southern League. On August 16 in a 7-inning game against the Birmingham Barons, Nicolino struck out a career-high 13 batters in just six innings on the mound. The 13 strikeouts were the most in a single game by a Suns pitcher since 2006, and the performance landed Nicolino Southern League Pitcher of the Week honors for the week of August 12-18.
6. Derek Dietrich Triples, Then Juggles Past Barons on August 13
Derek Dietrich was behind many big moments for the Suns in 2013, yet his triple-then-juggle act on August 13 was at the top. In his second stint with the Suns after nearly three months in the big leagues, Dietrich powered the Suns to a 4-1 win over the Birmingham Barons. Dietrich provided the key hit in the game, a two-run triple in the fifth inning. Following the contest, Dietrich entertained Suns fans at Bragan Field with his unique juggling act as he tossed juggle balls, bowling pins, knives, and concluded his act by tossing fire-lit torches while singing “Baseball’s Never Been Hotter.” Dietrich finished the season hitting .271 with 11 homers and 38 RBI in 63 games for the Suns, and he hit a combined 20 homers between his time in Jacksonville and Miami.
5. Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick Get the Call to the Majors in Tennessee
Every player in the minor leagues dreams of the day when their organization calls them up to the major leagues. For close friends Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick, they would receive the call together. After both players had hit well in a series against the Tennessee Smokies at Smokies Park, Monday July 22 became the most memorable game of their minor league careers. In the third inning, Yelich collected a single then was called back to the dugout, replaced by a pinch-runner. Marisnick was the next batter and he was hit by a pitch, then relieved for a pinch-runner. Both players were greeted by high-fives and hugs in the dugout, and manager Andy Barkett told the players to go back to the clubhouse for the rest of the game for further instructions. After the Suns beat the Smokies 5-4, the Marlins’ game went final in Colorado and the news became official: both players were heading to the big leagues. Yelich and Marisnick learned the news in the clubhouse with their Suns teammates, and early the next morning were on a plane bound for Colorado. Yelich collected his first big-league hit in his first at-bat, and both players finished the season in Miami.
4. Suns Win 11 Straight from July 26-August 5
Jacksonville’s longest winning streak since 2007 came from July 26 to August 5 in 2013, as the Suns won 11 straight games. The streak began with the Suns salvaging the last two games of a road series at Montgomery, before coming back to Bragan Field for one of the finest homestands in recent history. The Suns swept the Chattanooga Lookouts, outscoring them 28-12 in five games. Jacksonville then took the next four games against the Tennessee Smokies before a no-hitter thrown by Smokies’ southpaw Eric Jokisch ended the streak on August 6. The streak was the fourth longest by the Suns during the Bragan Field era (2003-present), and tied for the longest winning streak in the Southern League in 2013.
3. Unbelievable Comeback Against Chattanooga on April 24
Jacksonville’s biggest comeback win of the season came on April 24 against the Chattanooga Lookouts at Bragan Field. The Suns erased a four-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth, roaring ahead with a seven-run final frame to walk off with a 12-9 victory over the Chattanooga Lookouts. Christian Yelich, who had evened the score in the previous inning with a two-run double, struck again in the ninth with the bases loaded to tie it at 9-9, before Marcell Ozuna blasted a three-run walkoff blast to left to end the contest. Yelich and Ozuna, the first two batters in the Suns order, combined to go 5-for-10 with four runs, four extra-base hits, eight RBI and two walks. Ozuna’s walk-off homer was one of his five with the Suns in his only 10 games in Jacksonville before he was called up to the Marlins on April 30.
2. The Marisnick Game
The top game for a Suns batter at the plate was a grand game for Jake Marisnick on May 30 at Pensacola. With the Suns having scored only one run in the previous three games of the series, Marisnick helped jumpstart the Suns offense by Pensacola Bay. Marisnick gave the Suns a 1-0 lead in the first on an RBI double. The game remained a 1-0 Suns lead before Jacksonville added a run in the top of the seventh. With the bases loaded and Wahoos reliever Josh Ravin being just brought into the game, Marisnick blasted a grand slam home run deep to left field to put the Suns up 6-0. An inning later, with the Suns up 7-0, Marisnick once again hit a grand slam homer off Ravin to put the Suns up 11-0. Marisnick’s 9 RBI tied a Southern League record and news of his blasts spread quickly through social media. His two grand slams even made ESPN’s SportsCenter Top Ten Plays, debuting at No. 8 for May 30.
1. Suns Host Record Crowd at Southern League All-Star Game on July 17
Hosting the Southern League All-Star Game was the biggest treat of all for the Suns in 2013, thanks to the great fans of Jacksonville. A Southern League All-Star Game record crowd of 9,373 fans saw the South Division All-Stars beat the North Division 6-0 in the Southern League’s version of the midsummer classic. 11 South Division pitchers, including six Jacksonville Suns, combined for a one-hit shutout of the North Division. The Suns had nine players in the game including Andy Barkett’s coaching staff on the South Division roster.
For the latest Suns news this offseason, fans are encouraged to visit www.jaxsuns.com and can keep up with the Jacksonville Suns on the club’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram social media platforms, as well as the “Tales from Bragan Field” blog: www.sunsradio.com.