Texas Rangers: St. Paul Saints
September, 13, 2011
By Travis L. Brown | ESPNDallas.com
GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas – A baseball team in the Metroplex had a last-minute ownership change and quickly found success that led it all the way to the league championship series.
Surprisingly enough, this team is the Grand Prairie AirHogs of the American Association, an independent league without major league affiliation. Not only did the AirHogs make the championship series, they won it with an 8-5 deciding Game 5 win over the St. Paul Saints on Monday at QuikTrip Park.
The AirHogs finished the 2010 season with a 43-52 record that included a league-record losing streak.
Travis L. Brown/ESPNDallas.comGrand Prairie AirHogs players celebrate after winning the American Association championship.
But new leadership -- an ownership group led by Gary Elliston took over right when the season began and new manager Ricky VanAsselberg -- led to a 64-36 mark and a championship celebration.
“He was able to recruit some really good guys who worked together, and because they worked together, you just can’t beat it. It was a great combination,” Elliston said of VanAsselberg.
The AirHogs started former Texas Ranger, Baylor Bear and Mesquite Poteet Pirate Jason Jennings, who picked up the win after allowing three runs on six hits in 6 2/3 innings.
Jennings joined the AirHogs at the beginning of the season in an effort to get another chance with affiliated ball. Now, the former NL Rookie of the Year has his first championship at any level.
“Anytime you can get someone like Jason going for you in a championship series where everything is on the line, you feel pretty comfortable," VanAsselberg said. "Jason is a professional, and I’m so happy for him because this is his first championship ever in 12 years of professional baseball, and he deserves it.”
The AirHogs never trailed in the game.
Former Ranger, TCU Horned Frog and Fort Worth Paschal player German Duran went 3-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs.
Right fielder Stephen Douglas went 3-for-5 with three RBIs and threw out Shane Costa trying to stretch a hit into a double in the top of the eighth.
“I knew there was no choice coming in today. You had to perform or the other guys are going to win,” Douglas said.
AirHogs closer Jon Hunton allowed a two-run homer to Richard Mercado but finished off the rest of the ninth to pick up the two-inning save and give Grand Prairie its first championship.
For VanAsselberg, credited as the most important addition this offseason, this championship is for his new-found family of Grand Prairie, which embraced him quickly and even saw him get married on the field at QuikTrip Park earlier in the season.
“These are the greatest fans that we’ve seen and I’ve been around a good while and managed in three cities," he said. "To be a young manager and to be able to be a part of Grand Prairie and to take in me and my family, it’s unbelievable.”