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Kalamazoo Kings

First season: 2001

Years in league: 2001-present

Ballpark: Homer Stryker Field

The early success of the Frontier League's previous Kalamazoo franchise, the Kodiaks, led the league to award an expansion team to Kalamazoo prior to the 2001 season.

The Kings had the worst record in the league in 2001, but improved toward the end of the season. There were some familiar faces as manager Andy McCauley and outfielder Willie Edwards returned to Kalamazoo. They had both been members of the Kodiaks in 1998 before moving with the team to London. The best newcomer was outfielder Schuyler Doakes, who added a league-leading 48 stolen bases to his .311 average. Despite the poor finish, the Kings were named Frontier League Organization Of the Year as they became the third Frontier League franchise to exceed 100,000 fans in a single season.

Sutherland Field was renovated following the Kings' inaugural season and renamed Homer Stryker Field. More improvements were made prior to the 2003 season.

The team made the playoffs as a wild card in 2002, beating out Rockford by one game. First baseman Joe Gerber led the way with a .322-16-68 season. Outfielders Chris Carter (.329) and Aaron Sledd (.300) provided added punch to the lineup. Matt Gunderson (8.5, 3.45) and Denny McGee (6-1, 3.48 after being acquired from Chillicothe) led the rotation. Keith Nawrockie was 7-3, 1.64 out of the bullpen as setup man for Greg Wiltshire and his 14 saves.

The Kings returned to losing in 2003, finishing fifth and changing managers in midseason, appointing catcher Matt Kent to fill the role. A bright spot was pitcher David McWatters, a native of Australia. McWatters went 8-4 with a 2.62 ERA, the latter good for fourth in the league. Offensively the spark was provided by DH Tory Haven (.328-11-44) and OFs Darryl Blaze (.300-1-15, 25 steals) and Walt Simmons (.252-10-44).

The team was vastly improved both on and off the field in 2004. The team set a record with 51 wins and missed the playoffs by only three games. The offense was led by the outfield trio of Fehlandt Lentini (.310-7-60, 28 steals), Pete Pirman (.289-11-51, 13 steals) and Darryl Blaze (.298-2-25, 27 steals). Blaze captured the Frontier League Citizenship Award, named for Kings manager Fran Riordan. Corner infielder Casey DeGroote added a .284-11-54 season to the mix.

Josh Beshears had maybe the best season yet by a Kings' starting pitcher, going 11-3, 3.03. His eleven wins were a new team record and good for second in the league. Rounding out the rotation were Ryan Jamison (7-4, 5.57), Greg Wiltshire (7-5, 3.23) and returnees Lee Naplin (7-3, 3.08) and McWatters (5-8, 4.50). Wiltshire moved into the rotation after two season as the Kings' closer. Those duties were assumed by Jake Brooks, who compiled 15 saves.

The Kings have reached the 100,000 attendance plateau every year in the league, one of a select few franchises to do so. That trend continued in 2004 as over 135,000 fans visited Homer Stryker Field. For their success both on and off the field the Kings were co-winners of the league's 2004 Organization Of the Year award.

2005 became the year of the Kings. Outfielder Pete Pirman had an incredible season, winning the MVP award with a .347-23-100 season with 35 steals, setting several single-season records, including RBI. Joining Pirman in the outfield were Darryl Blaze (.273, 25 steals) and Nick Rogers (.274-11-63, 32 steals). On the infield first baseman Tim Brown went .323-16-72, while third baseman Justin McClain hit .303 and second baseman Adam Leavitt added 15 steals. DH Tim Baywal hit .345 before heading to Chillicothe.

Beshears improved upon his excellent 2004 season by going 13-3, 3.12. His thirteen wins are the second-highest single-season total in history. The bullpen was a real strength, as Brian Beuning captured the ERA title at 2.59. Josh Daws held closer duties, saving twelve while going 7-2, 2.82.

The Kings were locked in a neck-and-neck race with Rockford all season, and had to contend with an early push by River City and a late run by Gateway. They won their first division title by a slim one-game margin and then dispatched the RiverHawks to advance to the finals. The Kings won an exciting series in five games over Chillicothe, including a shutout by Josh Martin in the decisive game, to become the Frontier League champions for 2005.

The Kings failed to repeat in 2006 but provided plenty of exciting moments. Offense was the name of the game in Kalamazoo, as the Kings led the league in home runs by a wide margin. In fact, they hit more home runs at home than any other team's total. They were also second in batting average.

The Kings' attack featured an outfield consisting of a batting champion and two most valuable players. Leading the way was CF Ian Church. Church hit .313-31-78, the 12 homers being  the second highest total in FL history. In addition to pacing the league in homers, Church led in runs scored, hits, doubles and slugging percentage and was second in RBI and batting average. To no one's surprise, won the FL MVP award and was also named Baseball America magazine's independent player of the year.

Pirman returned to play right field. While not approaching his mammoth 2005 numbers, he had a solid .286-11-46 season with 27 stolen bases. LF Casey Baker won the batting title at .333 despite a gimpy left leg.

Adding to the firepower were 1B Ray Gill (.244-19-64), second to Church in dingers, utility man Justin Carroll (.282-13-44) and 3B Joseph Ramos (.283, 29 steals). Ramos was limited to DH duty toward the end of the season after an injury to his throwing arm.

As good as the offense was, the pitching was a letdown as the Kings were dead last in ERA. Josh Martin started 5-1, 3.02 but injured his shoulder in a game against the Paints on July 1 and missed the rest of the season. His spot in the rotation was taken by Scott Fogelson (6-4, 3.53). Rounding out the rotation were Michael Cervera (6-7, 5.57) and Dane DeValk (7-5, 3.92).

Closer Brad Blackwell was 2-0, 1.86 and his 22 saves were more than Don Wolfe's 1995 record but less than Windy City's Brian Beuning tallied in 2006. Setup men were Cooper Eddy (3.74), Jeff Long (3.75) and Brandon Martin (3.28).

The Kings had a  weekday matinee early in the season that drew crowds of schoolchildren in excess of 5,000, the set a club record when 7,492 fans showed up for the July 4 game and fireworks.

Kalamazoo was in contention, hovering just a few games out all season before a 6-9 run at the end of the season dropped them out of contention and under .500.

Homer Stryker Field in Kalamazoo, MI, home of the Kalamazoo Kings

Year   Won   Lost   GB   Finish   Attendance   Manager   Playoffs First Round   Playoffs Second Round
                                 
2001   25   59   26   6E   103,031   Andy McCauley (11-39)/ Woody Sorrell (14-20)        
2002   46   38   10   3E   103,880   Woody Sorrell   Lost to Washington 2-0    
2003   33   56   23   5E   127,198   Ed Stabile (17-26)/ Matt Kent (16-30)        
2004   51   45   11   3E   135,654   Fran Riordan        
2005   53   43   --   1E   132,909   Fran Riordan   Beat Rockford 3-1   Beat Chillicothe 3-2
2006   47   49   12   4E   119,530   Fran Riordan        

Major Award Winners:

2005 Pete Pirman, Most Valuable Player

2006 Ian Church, Most Valuable Player

Kings Post-Season All-Stars:

2002 DH Joe Gerber

2003 OF Chris Carter

2004 OF Fehlandt Lentini

2005 OF Pete Pirman

2006 OF Ian Church, DH Justin Carroll

Players on FL Tenth Anniversary All-Star Team: OF Willie Edwards (2001)

Franchise Player: OF Chris Carter (2002-03) had two great seasons with the Kings. He hit .329 in 2002 and topped that by winning the batting title with a .364 mark in 2003. He did this despite being acquired by the Baltimore Orioles organization in early August.

Kings in the majors: none