By Samuel Kayll, 2022 UM Journalism and Media Summer Camp
If there was any disappointment in the Missoula Paddleheads’ sound 8 to 5 victory over the visiting Ogden Raptors on Tuesday, it was only because Paddleheads first baseman Jayson Newman wasn’t the Beer Batter for the night.
The promotion, which reduces beer prices whenever the selected player for the night gets a hit, is a staple at Paddleheads games. Sadly, Newman, who went 2-4 at the plate in Tuesday’s game, was not the Beer Batter, and fans were left empty-handed.
“It’s one of the things that the fans love. They bring a lot of energy,” Newman said with a smile after the Paddleheads’ victory. “If I’m the Beer Batter for a game, let’s do it.”
Tuesday’s game saw the Paddleheads continue their winning ways from the first half of the season. The program already locked up a Pioneer League playoff spot after winning 35 games and the first-half pennant, awarded to the best team over the first 49 games.
This puts the team on pace for more wins than last year – and that team won the championship. Better than last year? That’s a bold statement. But it just might be the case, and the victory over Ogden improved the squad’s standing.
The win saw eight Paddleheads batters record a hit, led by Newman’s two hits and two RBIs. Missoula hitting coach Jeff Lyle had nothing but praise for Newman after the game. The first baseman added to his totals of 21 home runs and 71 RBIs, both tops in the entire Pioneer League.
“He’s the real deal,” Lyle said of Newman, whose sixth-inning two-run homer put Missoula up for good. “He’s the best hitter in the league, and I don’t think it’s even close – his power, his ability to put the bat on the ball consistently, and drive in runs when he has to.”
Newman was far from the only star for Missoula. Lead-off hitter Brandon Riley’s first-inning home run put Missoula up 1-0 early. Nick Gatewood followed up Newman’s sixth-inning blast with a homer of his own, capping off a two-inning stretch in the sixth and seventh when Missoula scored six combined runs to blow the game open.
McClain O’Connor tied Newman for the game leader in RBIs with a seventh-inning, two-run triple.
“It shows how long our lineup is,” Lyle said. “That’s one of our goals, to have everyone contribute every night, and something that we pride ourselves in is having a deep lineup of guys one through nine being able to hit.”
Newman agreed, praising the entire lineup’s depth and ability.
“One through nine, we’re excited every time we get up to the plate, you never know who’s gonna do the job. So we just pass it along and get the job done,” Newman said
If this game was any indication, the Pioneer League should be wary. The Paddleheads are talented, deep and confident, but the squad also recognizes that its job isn’t done yet. Newman said he is well aware of the possibility of a second-half slump, but he won’t back down from the challenge.
“It’s obviously a great thing to get into the playoffs in the first half. It can also be very scary to take a break, get off the gas pedal, but we do a great job showing up to the field, and we expect to win,” Newman said.
Ogden put up a fight against the first-half champs, even taking a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning. The lead would only stand for a single inning due to the torrent in the sixth and seventh, but Lyle (a former Ogden coach) recognized the threat the Raptors pose as Southern champions.
“They’re well coached, they’re very well disciplined, and they play the game the right way,” Lyle said of his former squad. “If I had to put any wagers on it, I would assume that we would see them in the finals.”
For now, Newman said the key is to simply continue what they do best.
“We stay with what we know we can do, and that’s up-and-down hitting, throwing strikes, playing good defense–that’s all we can control. So that’s what we all focus on and we keep it going,” Newman said.
If Tuesday’s game, the first of six at home against the Raptors, was any indication, the team isn’t satisfied with just one championship. It’s itching for another chance. Now, if only Newman could be the Beer Batter for every game.