The losing streaks and struggles of the season's first few months exposed the Power to adversity, and therefore offered what manager Rick Sofield called a learning opportunity."Most of the things that we learn in life are from failure and from things that haven't gone well,'' Sofield said Sunday afternoon at Appalachian Power Park. "I'm not sure how much you learn from being good all the time.''The Power, which will close out the season at home this afternoon, apparently learned some things in those difficult early months and responded accordingly in the season's second half.And at the minor league level, it's all about development and improvement.With a doubleheader split against the Delmarva Shorebirds Sunday afternoon - a 3-2 victory in the opener and a 7-2 loss in the nightcap - the Power has improved by 14 games from the first half to the second. The team is 37-31 after finishing 23-47 in the first half."We really came together as a team and pushed for the playoff spot there at the end,'' said second baseman Dan Gamache. "The guys were getting after it and working harder and trying to get better everyday.''The only South Atlantic League team with a greater improvement was the Rome Braves, who went from 18-52 to 43-24.The Power finished April with an 8-16 record and floundered through May, suffering losing streaks of seven and six games en route to 10-20 mark for the month. "We started off off-balance,'' said Sofield. "No one could have imagined the bizarreness of April. We bounced back and kind of got our breath and slowly and methodically got better as we went. This was a fun bunch that learned a lot. There are guys here who could be Pirates for sure.''
The team turned things around with basically the same personnel."This club has not changed overall roster-wise,'' said Sofield, "so it hasn't been an influx of new guys coming in here and having a better second half.''Of course, the Power's poor first half left plenty of room for improvement."We struggled, but we improved in the second half and worked harder and harder everyday and played better,'' said center fielder Greg Polanco.Perhaps the player who best epitomizes the Power's turnaround is right-hander Nick Kingham, who started the team's season opener but was chased from the mound in the second inning and finished April with an 8.59 earned run average.He closed out the season with a 4.39 ERA and, in August, was 3-1 with a 2.23 ERA and allowed just 19 hits in 32 innings. His improvement earned him an invitation to the Pirates' Instructional League in Bradenton, Fla., later this month.
"The adversity from the first half of the season has made me grow,'' said Kingham. "It's made me who I am as a pitcher. I actually learned how to pitch instead of just going out there and seeing the sign and throwing the ball.'' nn
POWER POINTS: The Power and Shorebirds will close out the season beginning at 1:05 p.m. today. ... The league's managers, general managers and media voted Polanco the SAL's top major league prospect. Polanco finished second in the league in batting with a .325 average and, despite missing nearly three weeks with an injury in August, has 85 RBIs. He's also fourth in stolen bases with 40. "It was a good season for me and a good season for us players,'' said Polanco, who will turn 21 later this month. "This was my first full season and I feel very proud.'' ... Sunday's paid attendance of 1,320 raised the season total to 155,228 for an average of about 2,400 a game. Last year's final total was 165,996. ... Gamache needs a double today to set a single-season Power record. He has 38 doubles, tying him with Caleb Gindl, who played four years ago.Reach Mike Whiteford at email@example.com