The first season of the McPherson Pipeliners officially came to an end on Tuesday when the National Baseball Congress released its list of at-large entries for the World Series that begins on Friday at Wichita’s Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and their name was excluded.
The Pipeliners were considered little more than an afterthought when they competed last week in the Kansas Collegiate League Baseball Tournament in Wellington as they had finished in last place during the regular season and lost 17 of their final 20 regular-season games.
But the light then went on for the Liners. They caused a ripple in the first round by defeating Valley Center, but then were blanked by the second-place Kansas Cannons in the second round.
In the loser’s bracket, they stormed back with wins over Clearwater and Park City, giving themselves a shot at regular-season champion Wellington for the right to advance to Wichita as two teams from the tournament gained automatic entry.
The Liners lost 11-8, scoring five runs in the final inning to at least make the Heat sweat. Wellington is a former NBC champion and is the template the other teams in the league try to follow. Had the Liners pulled off the massive upset, the Heat would have been added to the field considering their pedigree.
McPherson officials were hoping the team’s tournament performance might earn them one of the last berths, but a 14-27 record and 10-game losing streak during the season were detractors.
Still, I think you have to call the team’s first year in McPherson — it has committed to playing here three years — a success.
I covered the team’s home games and got to know some of the players. I saw the commitment and grind of these players as it’s basically 6 weeks of non-stop games. There were stretches where the Pipeliners played nearly 2 weeks without a break, just like the Major Leaguers do. Injuries certainly cropped up as the team wound up playing 41 games and perhaps fortunately had a few others postponed due to rain, which allowed them to catch their breath.
Former Moundridge High pitching star Caleb Hartman is the team’s owner, with Chad Pinson and Taylor Werts on his staff. It was a learning process for them as well as I’m sure they’ll admit there were some in-game mistakes that they learned from and will go into next season with a better idea of what to expect.
From what I observed, the Liners were probably the youngest team in the league. While the other teams mostly went for college players with three or four years of experience, McPherson relied mostly on junior college players who are looking to continue their careers. It was a nice touch to have McPherson High grads Marcus McDaniel and Cody Starkel on the roster, with McDaniel one of the team's best hitters while Starkel played a variety of positions, not to mention he even dazzled in the one game he started on the mound. They'll be teammates next year at Fort Hays State.
McPherson didn’t have the power of its opponents, relying more on gap-hitting and baserunning. The pitching staff improved as the year went along and often had to overcome some defensive mistakes and their own walks. If nothing else going into next season, finding some power pitchers who also have the ability to throw strikes will be a priority.
I thought team officials did a good job of making home games entertaining. They had a sponsor of the night, with a first pitch thrown out. There were also in-game raffles and all the players had walk-up music. There's nothing like having fun at the old ballpark.
It was a team with differing personalities. It was evident there was a closeness, as it was a group brought in and expected to mesh immediately. I also commend those families in McPherson and the surrounding area who served as “hosts,” welcoming these players into their homes and supporting them by attending the games and treating them as they would their own family members.
I think the Pipeliners, with some tweaking here and there, will be a staple in the community. They had good support throughout the season, including the bleacher creatures who sat beyond the left-field fence and thoroughly enjoyed themselves even during those nights when it was nearly 100 degrees at first pitch. Because of strong sponsorship, admission to all the games was free, a price everybody could afford.
The team was a nice addition to liven up a slow, sleepy summer in McPherson. Here’s to hoping the team can make an improvement next year and perhaps find a way to Wichita next July and August.