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Winning in Savannah: Frenzel, Sand Gnats claim South Atlantic League championship

Photo by Richard Burkhart / Savannah Morning News Savannah Sand Gnats’ Cole Frenzel prepares for a ground ball at first base during a game against Augustana (Ga.) Greenjackets on July 10 at Historic Grayson Stadium in Savannah, Ga. Frenzel and the Sand Gnats won the South Atlantic League championship.1 / 2
Photo by Richard Burkhart / Savannah Morning News Savannah Sand Gnats’ infielder Cole Frenzel, right, talks with his first base coach during a game against Augustana (Ga.) Greenjackets on July 10 at Historic Grayson Stadium in Savannah, Ga. Frenzel and the Sand Gnats won the South Atlantic League championship.2 / 2

Any team in any sport wants to end its season with a win.

But, the Savannah (Ga.) Sand Gnats — the Class A minor league team for the New York Mets — did a little more than just win its last game of the season. The Sand Gnats defeated Hagerstown 2-0 on Sept. 13 to win the South Atlantic League championship.

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A majority of the players from the team spent the entire season with Savannah including infielder Cole Frenzel — the Mets’ seventh-round pick in 2011 and a Dickinson High graduate.

“It was really fun and it was a great season,” he said. “I played with a really good group of guys. It was a great experience and another year of learning. It was my first actual full season of more than 100 games. You learn the grind part.”

Sand Gnats centerfielder Brandon Nimmo added: “It’s always fun to win the last game of the season. That always makes the offseason better when you go into with a win.”

Frenzel, who split time between first and third base, batted .235 with 24 doubles, seven home runs, one triple, 60 RBIs and scored 51 runs.

In 119 games with Savannah, Frenzel played 59 games at first base, 62 at third and three as the designated hitter. During five games, he split time between first and third.

“I had a really good spring training and then I started out the season and I think I was 0 for 18 with probably five or six lineouts,” Frenzel said. “There wasn’t a lot of strikeouts, so I felt like I was hitting the ball well, but I just couldn’t find a hole. My parents came to watch and they couldn’t believe it either. They just kept telling me to keep working. That’s why baseball is such a funny game.”

During the four-game championship series against Hagerstown, Frenzel went 4 of 13 (.308) with a double, RBI and scored five runs. In his previous two playoff games, Frenzel went 0 of 8 and scored one run.

Frenzel said baseball can humble anyone extremely quick, especially at Historic Grayson Stadium.

“At the beginning of the year, some guy wrote an article that our coaches showed us about how it’s considered the worst hitter’s park in all professional baseball,” he said. “Our goal was to keep the ball out of the air, because deep fly balls don’t go. I remember hitting some balls that when you get you were thinking that I got all of that and the outfielder catches on the run.”

However, when the baseball gods are shining down upon a player, everything goes right.

In Frenzel’s case, his time was the 21 games in June. He went 25 of 77 (.325) had five doubles, two home runs, 14 RBIs and scored 10 runs.

“I went through hot and cold streaks and I was hitting really well in the month of June,” he said. “I had good times and bad times. I’m still maturing as a player. It’s about always being able to be locked in and stick with the same approach in every at bat.”

Similar Sand Gnats lineup

When Savannah opened the regular season a majority of the team already had substantial playing time with one another.

“It was a great experience for all of us,” said Nimmo, the Mets’ 2011 first-round draft pick and ranked No. 5 on the Mets’ top minor league prospects. “It was pretty much the same team from Brooklyn (Cyclones, the Mets’ Class A short-season affiliates) in 2012. We all have had a summer of playing together and even more than that, because some of us were in extended (spring training) and instructional (league) together. We have been playing together for a while now and we’ve built a really good chemistry. It helped a huge amount winning the whole thing.

“You have to have a short memory in baseball and you have to come back the next day like it never happened, whether it’s good or bad. The more even-keel you can stay in baseball the better off you are going to be.”

The chemistry seemed to fuse from the get-go as the Sand Gnats clinched an automatic playoff spot after winning the first half of the SAL southern season with a 43-26 record.

Two players who were integral parts of the winning the first half were catcher Kevin Plawecki — the Mets’ 2012 first-round draft pick — and first baseman Jayce Boyd. After helping the Sand Gnats secure a playoff bid, Plawecki and Boyd were promoted to the Mets’ Class A Advanced affiliate the St. Lucie Mets.

“The season went pretty well,” Plawecki said. “Overall, it was a pretty success season and I really have no complaints…The definition of minor league baseball is a grind, especially if things aren’t going your way and even if things are going good. It’s just a matter of time before it flips around, so it’s a matter of staying consistent and staying positive regardless of the outcome.”

Boyd led the Sand Gnats’ offense with a .361 average with 16 doubles, five home runs, 46 RBIs and scored 40 runs, while Plawecki — who is ranked the 10th top prospect in the Mets’ minor system — batted .314 with 24 doubles, six home runs and 43 RBIs. Both players spent 65 games with the Sand Gnats before being promoted.

Though it was a tough loss to lose Plawecki and Boyd to promotion, Nimmo said he couldn’t be happier for his two teammates.

“They have the opportunity to move up and that’s great for them,” Nimmo said.

A humbling experience

One day in late June, Frenzel was talking with Nimmo, who was going through a tough stretch in the season, about working through rough patches.

At the time, Frenzel was having his best month of his season, while Nimmo was returning from a hand injury he suffered in late April.

“I figured out how to be productive even with not being 100 percent or even close to 100 percent,” Nimmo said. “You need to be productive when you are hurt. I also figured out the difference between injury and pain. I know my body a little better now and I know when something is wrong.”

Nimmo, who had struck out at least once per game in the previous 15 games, and Frenzel were talking about striking out four times in one game, which hadn’t happened to either player at the time.

“A lot of us are in this position, because we’ve had a ton of success in baseball,” said Nimmo, who finished the regular season with a .273 average with 16 doubles, six triples, two home runs, 40 RBIs and scored 62 runs. “Once you get into pro ball everybody is talented and everybody has had years of experience and success. Somewhere it’s going to fall out and go through some rough times. That’s just the nature of the game and that’s the beast of baseball. It’s a game of failure. If you fail 7 out of 10 times, you’re in the Hall of Fame. That’s something that you need to keep in mind and you better expect the unexpected to happen.”

A couple days later on June 30, Frenzel struck out four times in his first four at bats against the Rome Braves.

However, the game went into extra innings and Frenzel came up to bat with a runner in scoring position. Not exactly a spot Frenzel wanted to be in.

“I couldn’t even foul balls off,” Frenzel said with a laugh. “I was just thinking let’s just end this game and move on to the next day.”

Yet, Frenzel didn’t strike out for his fifth time. In fact, he hit a game-winning RBI bloop single to score Evans in the bottom of the 10th.

“It just so happened that I came up in the bottom of the 10th with a runner in scoring position,” Frenzel said. “I had a 0-2 count and I thought to myself, ‘Oh no, I’m about to have five Ks.’ I get like a jam single — a game-winning hit — and we win the game. Everyone forgets about the four Ks. That’s how crazy the game of baseball is.”

Playing multiple positions

The last time Frenzel started at third base, he was in high school.

After spring training, Frenzel was told he was going to start his minor league season in Savannah at third base.

Throughout spring training Frenzel had a well-established mentor to take notes from at third base, the guru was the Mets’ seven-time all-star David Wright. At first base, Frenzel took grounders with Ike Davis, who was born in Edina, Minn.

“During the offseason, I always took my reps over that third base, but I never played there with them,” Frenzel said. “I’ve met David a couple times now, for him to know my name and talk to me is that we are in the same organization and we have one goal — for us it is to make the big leagues and for him it’s to make the postseason every year. David is a great guy.”

Frenzel played stretches at first and third base. To him, it didn’t matter where he played as long as he was in the lineup. During his 119 games, Frenzel finished with a .972 fielding percentage with 18 errors — four at first (492 chances) and 14 at third (144 chances).

“It was weird at first to get used to it again,” he said about playing third base. “There are a lot of rockets and hot shots hit at you. There are some one-hop line drives. There are some big hitters you face. It’s a good challenge. By the end of the season, it didn’t matter where they put me either at first or third, I just enjoyed it.”

Looking forward After letting his mind and body rest for an entire month, Frenzel went back to work with his offseason routine.

Frenzel plans to spend some time down in at the University of Arizona — where he played two years of college baseball — to practice every facet of his game. Frenzel sent good wishes to Wildcats head coach Andy Lopez, who had a quadruple bypass surgery on Oct. 7.

“I called him, but I couldn’t get a hold of him at the time, I sent him a get well soon card,” Frenzel said. “I’m sure everyone has been contact with him. Lopez is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He’s probably one of the most professional people that I’ve ever met in my entire life. He’s a really religious man and he knew how to win. He knew how to get the best out of you.”

After spending time with family and friends for the holidays, Frenzel is going to Florida on Feb. 1 for the opening of spring training. Frenzel’s hope for this upcoming professional season is to start the season in St. Lucie and work up from there.

“If I just keep working hard and play like I know that I can play, I’ll start moving up the ranks fairly well,” he said. “As long as I continue to mature and do well. It is business, you have to produce. You have to play as hard as you can and if that’s your plan, it’s going to work out and if it’s not your plan then you can look back and say I gave it everything I had. That’s all you can do is work hard and do things the right way.”

For Nimmo, he hopes to build off his season in which he made the Futures Game at Citi Field. Nimmo said it was an opportunity to experience what it feels like to be a major leaguer. As for his steps moving forward, he wants to take it one day at a time. He said baseball is a game where a player can’t look too far into the future.

“That’s like being treated like a big leaguer for a weekend,” he said. “It’s a different experience. It’s something that you definitely use as motivation to get to that level. It’s something else. If you can play baseball for a job and get treated like every day, it doesn’t get any better than that.

“As long as I’m getting better and moving forward that’s where I want to be. I’m trying to look too far into the future. You can have really really good days and really really bad days. You just want to have a short memory and take it in stride and day-to-day.”