It might not quite accurate to call the Gwinnett Stripers 2019 campaign a historic season.
After all, their 80 regular season wins was only the second most since the Atlanta Braves moved their Triple-A affiliate to Coolray Field, one behind the 81 they won in their inaugural season in 2009, though their .575 was the best in Gwinnett franchise history.
And the Stripers’ 2019 International League South Division championship wasn’t the first in the franchise’s history, and they fell short of the franchise’s best postseason finish set by the Governors Cup playoff runner-up finish in 2016.
Still, it can be argued in many ways that 2019 marked perhaps the best of the team’s 11 seasons since arriving in Gwinnett County, even after falling 3-1 in the opening round of the Governor’s Cup playoffs to the eventual champion Columbus Clippers last week.
An unprecedentedly potent offensive year gave fans who came to Coolray Field an eyeful, as the team breezed by Gwinnett franchise records with 200 home runs and 781 runs scored, with 21 different players smacking at least one round-tripper, four of which hit at least 20 homers, led by 30 from now Braves outfielder Adam Duvall.
Included in those marks was an extremely powerful month of May, during which the Stripers bashed 61 homers in 29 games.
“That’s kind of the way the club’s been all year,” Gwinnett manager Damon Berryhill said amidst the celebration after the Stripers clinched a playoff spot with a 14-8 win over the Norfolk Tides on Aug. 28. “Just kind of up and down the lineup, guys have contributed.”
But it wasn’t just the offense that helped set the pace for the Stripers’ big season.
The pitchers also led the IL with a 4.29 team ERA, led by individual ERA leader Bryse Wilson (3.42), while Wilson finished among a tie for second in the league with 10 wins, trailing only Gwinnett teammate Kyle Wright, who not only led the league with 11 wins, but also fifth in the IL with a 4.17 ERA.
Fans also were treated to see some of the top prospects in Atlanta’s minor league system throughout the system, such as Wilson and Wright, plus Austin Riley and Alex Jackson, as well as the latest wave of young potential future stars like outfielder Cristian Pache and Drew Waters and pitchers Ian Anderson and Tucker Davidson.
Riley eventually was called up by Atlanta and made a big splash in his first few weeks with the Braves, and is still contributing to the team’s run towards another National League Eastern Division title.
Other Stripers have eventually made their marks in the majors this season, some like Riley and Rafael Ortega with the Braves and others after leaving the organization in trades, like midseason IL All-Star outfielder Travis Demeritte with the Detroit Tigers and left-handed pitcher Kolby Allard with the Texas Rangers.
Overall, it made for a fun atmosphere, even among season veterans like infielder Sean Kazmar Jr., who put together a near-career season by hitting .270 with 12 homers and 61 RBIs, the latter two numbers representing the second-highest totals of his 16-year professional career.
Kazmar also made the first three pitching appearances of his pro career, throwing three shutout innings and even picking up a win in an extra-inning triumph over the Durham Bulls on July 5, which ignited the Stripers to a 33-24 record the rest of the way, which was key in clinching the division title.
All those highlights made the season one of the more memorable ones he can remember.
“Anytime you have success as a team, it’s fun,” Kazmar said. “It’s fun to be around, fun to show up at the park every day. I couldn’t think of a better group of guys to experience this with.”