Miners open season

AUGUSTA. On Saturday afternoon, the team is holding the Bret Leuthner Memorial Game in honor of its former broadcaster who died in December after a battle with cancer.

| 10 May 2024 | 07:47

The wait is over.

The Sussex County Miners will open their 2024 season Friday, May 10 with a home game against the Trois-Riveires Aigles at Skylands Stadium in Augusta. The first pitch is set for 7:05 p.m.

A year ago, the Miners finished a very respectable 55-40 and in third place of eight teams in the East Division of the Frontier League, qualifying for the league playoffs.

On Saturday afternoon, May 11, the Miners are holding the Bret Leuthner Memorial Game in honor of their former broadcaster who died in December after a battle with cancer.

Gates open at 4 p.m. with the game starting at 6:35 p.m. Fireworks will be held after the game.

The Miners are aiming to raise more than $10,000 for a fund that will benefit Leuthner’s three children.

The team is in its ninth year of existence, having begun as part of the Can-Am League in 2014. It joined the Frontier League in 2019 and has been one of the most consistently successful programs in the league.

Chris Widger returns for his second year as manager of the Miners.

Widger, 52, played 10 years in Major League Baseball, including a stint with the New York Yankees in 2002. He also was a member of the Chicago White Sox team that won a World Series in 2005.

Top players

Among the top players returning this season are Willie Escala, who played for the Czech Republic in the world baseball classic. He will be back for his second full season with the Miners.

Escala, a shortstop, batted .327 from the beginning of July until the end of the season last year. In August alone, he batted .347 with three homers and 19 runs batted in, allowing him to finish with a .285 average for the season.

Joining Escala will be outfielder Edwin Mateo, who also is returning for his second full season. Mateo is a career .314 batter for the Miners and had a stellar 2023 season, batting .323 with seven homers and 43 RBI along with 39 stolen bases.

Oraj Anu batted .321 last year, drove in 69 runs and hit 20 home runs, one shy of the franchise record held by Chris Jacobs in 2016.

Mark Moclair also returns, having struck out 105 in 108.1 innings a year ago. He had two complete games, an ERA of 3.66 and a WHIP of 1.54.

In the bullpen, Billy Parsons is coming off arguably the best season for a Miners relief pitcher. He was a setup hurler to get to closers Ronnie Voacolo and Robbie Hitt. Parsons appeared in 28 games, compiling 36 innings with an ERA of 1.50 and a WHIP of only .89 striking out 34.

Changes at stadium

The 2024 season also marks a milestone for the Miners organization as Skylands Stadium underwent extensive changes as the organization positioned itself for success this year. The front office staff nearly doubled in size.

Improvements at the stadium include the new Kids Zone, located at the end of the third baseline above the away bullpen.

At open tryouts April 26, the Miners were able to sign infielder Matt Rodriguez of New Milford, Conn., to their spring training roster.

Games to circle on the home calendar include a contest June 1 against the New Jersey Jackals, which will be the Gold Rush for Childhood Cancer Awareness.

The June 29 game against the Tri-City Valley Cats will be Harry Potter Night and Wand Giveaway.

The game against the Jackals on Independence Day will be the Hometown Heroes Fourth of July Celebration featuring the largest fireworks show in Sussex County.

Star Wars Night and Lightsaber Giveaway will be July 20, when the Ottawa Titans pay the Miners a visit.

The Miners’ 96-game season concludes with a three-game series against the Valleycats on Aug. 30-Sept. 1.

For information, go online to sussexcountyminers.com