Bees’ Roster Has Seven Returning Players

By John Bohnenkamp

Seven players who played for the Burlington Bees in their inaugural Prospect League season will be back with the team this season, according to a partial roster released Thursday.

The Bees have 19 players on the roster so far for this season, including seven who are on NCAA Division I rosters.

A look at the roster:

PITCHERS

Owen Coffman (RHP, Southeastern CC) — 2-1 with two saves in 18 appearances, with 18 strikeouts in 18 ⅓ innings.

Weston Fulk (LHP, Iowa) — Hasn’t played this season for the Hawkeyes. A first-team all-state selection in Iowa last summer after going 6-3 with a 2.42 ERA at Ankeny High School, where he was teammates with Iowa pitcher Brody Brecht. Can play first base as well.

Ian Landreneau (RHP, Texas Wesleyan) — 3-4 with a 4.37 ERA in 14 appearances. He has 32 strikeouts in 45 ⅓ innings.

Kyle Maurer (RHP, Fort Wayne) — 0-0 with a 6.17 ERA in 11 appearances, with 7 strikeouts in 11 ⅔ innings. Pitched in four games with the Bees last season, with a 14.29 ERA.

Garrett Moltzan (RHP, Texas Wesleyan) — 2-1 with a 3.55 ERA in 20 appearances, with 46 strikeouts in 38 innings. Went 1-3 with a 6.81 ERA for the Bees last season.

Owen Rice (LHP, McHenry County CC) — 3-2 with a 5.40 ERA, with 30 strikeouts in 25 innings.

Shawn Runey (RHP, Bluefield State College) — 3-4 with a 3.78 ERA in 11 appearances, with 10 starts. Has 62 strikeouts in 64 ⅓ innings.

Jared Townsend (LHP, Iowa Western CC) — Hasn’t played this season.

CATCHERS

Trent Burkhalter (Kirkwood CC) — Hitting .250 with 7 home runs and 22 RBIs.

Chase Honeycutt (Jones County JC) — Hitting .161 with 11 RBIs in 22 games this season. Hit .261 with 14 RBIs for the Bees last season.

Ben Tallman (Iowa) — Hitting .290 in 26 games with the Hawkeyes. Has a .403 slugging percentage and a .416 on-base percentage.

INFIELDERS

Trey Adams (Northeastern JC) — Hitting .380 with 4 home runs and 31 RBIs. Has 16 stolen bases.

Joey Fitzgerald (Harper College) — Hitting .271 with 2 home runs and 17 RBIs. Hit .218 with the Bees last season.

Ryan Grace (Quinnipiac) — Hasn’t played this season.

Spencer Nivens (Missouri State) — Hitting .356 with 4 home runs and 33 RBIs in 37 games. Has a .986 OPS.

Kevin Santiago (Texas Wesleyan) — Hitting .313 with 5 home runs and 33 RBIs. Has a .552 slugging percentage and a .380 on-base percentage. Hit .271 with 7 home runs and 27 RBIs for the Bees last season.

Charlie Terrill (McHenry County CC) — Hitting .214 with 1 home run and 7 RBIs.

OUTFIELDERS

A.J. Henkle (Illinois-Chicago) — Has played in one game this season. Hit .233 with 1 home run and 7 RBIs last season for the Bees.

Lincoln Riley (Eastern Illinois) — Hitting .288 with 2 home runs and 16 RBIs. Hit .237 with 3 home runs and 26 RBIs for the Bees last season.

Photo: Pitcher Garrett Moltzan is one of six players returning for the Burlington Bees this season. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

THE MONDAY HIVE: Oreskovich Looks Forward To Managing Bees

By John Bohnenkamp

Owen Oreskovich said it was an easy decision to take the job as the Burlington Bees manager in the Prospect League this season.

Oreskovich, who was a coach with the Bees last season, is a full-time assistant at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids. But Oreskovich enjoyed his time in Burlington, and the chance to manage a team in the college summer league was too good to pass up.

“I enjoyed my time here last year,” Oreskovich said at the Bees’ spring banquet on Friday night. “Burlington’s a great town, you’ve got a great front office here, good place to be, good people to be around. It wasn’t a hard answer.”

The challenge for Oreskovich has been putting together a roster for this season.

Oreskovich already has 22 players signed for this summer, but is still trying to complete his pitching staff.

“We basically have a full position player roster set already,” he said. “Just looking to add eight or nine arms.”

Oreskovich said several players from last season’s team are coming back — position players Lincoln Riley (.237), A.J. Henkle (.233), Chase Honeycutt (.261), Kevin Santiago (.271, 7 home runs), Joey Fitzgerald (.218) and Sam Monroe (.267), along with pitcher Garrett Moltzan (1-3, 6.81 ERA).

Oreskovich has gotten help finding players from new Bees pitching coach Jack Gray, who is working at Carl Sandburg College this season after finishing his college career last season at Western Illinois. And other players have tipped him off to friends or players they have seen.

“Some guys will text me and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this buddy here,’” Oreskovich said. “So I’ll tell them I’ll check them out, see if it’s someone we want. And we’ve been able to find some guys like that.”

He’s also gotten help from Mount Mercy head coach Jack Dahm, who manages the Clinton LumberKings in the Prospect League as well.

“Coach Dahm’s been doing this a long time,” said Oreskovich, who also played at Mount Mercy. “He knows all there is to know, and he’s a great guy to lean on for help.”

Oreskovich wants a full roster, because he knows it can be a long season.

“I learned that you’ve got to give these kids a little bit of a break once in a while,” he said. “I want to have a few more position players and pitchers. It’s a long season. Some of these kids will play a full college season, that’s about 50 games. And then they’ll come here and play 60. Big-leaguers do it, but that’s all they do. They don’t have school or anything else.

“So, I want to be there for them, guide them, let them have some fun. Let them enjoy themselves. To me, that’s what summer baseball is for. It’s still competitive, you want to win. But all of the things you learn here — getting to meet new guys, living with host families, getting to know the fans — those are things that can last a lifetime.”

Photo: Bees third-base coach Owen Oreskovich (right) congratulates A.J. Henkle after a home run last season. Oreskovich will be the Bees’ manager this season, while Henkle will return for a second season. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

IOWA 4-5, ILLINOIS 2-7: Bullpen, Offense, Can’t Finish Sweep For Hawkeyes

By John Bohnenkamp

IOWA CITY — Rick Heller pushed all of the right bullpen buttons in the first game.

In the second game, the Iowa baseball coach had to push just about every button he had available, and it still wasn’t enough to get a sweep.

Heller used 10 pitchers in the second game, including one for the second time in Saturday’s doubleheader, but Illinois was able to win, 7-5.

The Hawkeyes took the first game 4-2 behind the starting pitching of Dylan Nedved and the relief work of Connor Schultz and Ben Beutel.

But it was how Iowa let the second game get away that bothered Heller.

The Hawkeyes led 4-1 going into the top of the seventh after starting pitcher Adam Mazur allowed just three hits and struck out nine over the first six innings. But Mazur was at 94 pitches after the sixth, so Heller went to the bullpen.

Duncan Davitt came in to start the seventh and walked the first two hitters he faced. Jared Simpson relieved Davitt and got a grounder back to him that could have led to a double play, but Simpson threw the ball into center field, allowing one run to score. Will Christopherson entered the game and surrendered a game-tying double to Branden Comia.

“At the end of the day, when you have a situation like that, when you have a four-run lead or a three-run lead late in the game, you have to finish it off, and we didn’t do that,” Heller said.

The Hawkeyes (16-11, 3-2 Big Ten) got the lead back in the bottom of the inning on Peyton Williams’ solo home run to right field.

Heller then turned to Beutel, who got the save in the first game. Beutel, who pitched the ninth inning in the first game, needed to get through the eighth and the ninth to finish off the second game, but he could only get two outs in the ninth before giving up a run-scoring single to Jacob Campbell that tied the game at 5.

“We had two strikes on the guy, a strike from ending the game, (Beutel) missed his location, and gave up a game-tying hit,” Heller said.

Heller used four more pitchers after that before Illinois (14-14, 6-2) scored two runs in the top of the 13th.

Benjamin DeTaeye (0-1), who struck out four in the 11th and 12th innings, walked Cal Hejza to start the 13th. Hejza moved up to second on a wild pitch, but DeTaeye struck out the next two hitters before Heller intentionally walked Justin Janas. Heller brought in Marcus Morgan, who walked Campbell to load the bases before hitting Cam McDonald with an 0-2 breaking ball, forcing in the go-ahead run. An infield single by Kellen Sarver added another run.

Heller knew the Hawkeyes had squandered some early chances. They scored two runs in the sixth inning for a 4-1 lead and had the bases loaded, but three strikeouts ended any chance at further damage.

“That was really big in that game, when we could have broken it open,” Heller said.

The Hawkeyes had two runners on in the ninth and didn’t score, then didn’t get another baserunner the rest of the game.

“I think guys were trying to do it all themselves,” Heller said. “And when you see that, you see the result — a lot of chases. The last seven innings of that game, there was so much chasing going on out of the strike zone — trying to ambush, things we generally don’t do, that gets us into a rut.”

The Hawkeyes got the key hits in the first game, scoring a run in the third, two in the fourth, and one in the seventh.

Nedved had baserunners in the five innings he pitched, but only gave up one run.

“He wasn’t sharp, but he competed and did a great job,” Heller said. “You guys watched it, and I think all of us were thinking, to get out of there with all of the messes he put himself into with only (giving up) one run, that was pretty impressive. He fought through it, he buckled down when he needed to, and he toughed it out.”

Schultz followed with three scoreless innings before he gave up a single and a walk to start the ninth. Beutel came in and gave up a sacrifice fly to Ryan Hampe, but struck out the last two hitters to finish the game.

The two teams conclude the series with a 2:05 p.m. game on Sunday.

“I don’t think today was a step backward,” Heller said. “Just try not to let it get you down. We just have to bounce back tomorrow and have a good effort.”

Photo: Iowa reliever Benjamin DeTaeye struck out six in in 2 1/3 innings in Saturday’s second game against Illinois. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)

Bastien: Summer Baseball Is The ‘Beauty Of The Prospect League’

By John Bohnenkamp

The Midwest League opened its season on Friday night.

At the same time, the Burlington Bees, one of the league’s former members, were holding their spring banquet.

That, Prospect League commissioner Dennis Bastien told the crowd at the Catfish Bend Convention and Event Center, was a good thing.

“Four years ago, 10 years ago, 30 years ago, you would have been playing tonight,” Bastien said. “You would have been playing on this drizzly, cold, 31-degree night in April. And maybe, maybe, 50 people came, and why they were there, no one knows. That is the beauty of the Prospect League.”

The Bees, in their second season in the college wood-bat league, will open the 2022 schedule on June 1 at home against Quincy when the weather will be a lot warmer.

The 60-game schedule in June, July and early August, Bastien said, eliminates any sort of weather worries.

“You don’t have those Aprils, you don’t have those Mays, when kids are not out of school yet,” Bastien said. “(Bees general manager) Tad (Lowary) can take his 30 best promotions, and put them in 30 nights. You don’t have to string them out, and not have to worry about putting them on a cold Tuesday night in April, when it’s drizzling, or there’s snow.”

The contraction by Major League Baseball that cost Burlington and 41 other cities their Minor League Baseball affiliation forced the Burlington Baseball Association to find an alternative league in the winter of 2020, and the Prospect League was happy to take in the Bees.

Bastien said he talked to five organizations within the league’s Midwest/Appalachian footprint that lost their MiLB affiliations — Midwest League teams Burlington and Clinton, along with teams in Lexington, Ky., Morgantown, West Virginia, and Jackson, Tenn. Burlington and Clinton joined the league, with Jackson coming into the league as the 17th team in 2023.

“What you have here with your facility, whether you realize it or not, this is an absolutely beautiful facility,” Bastien said of Community Field. “If you’ve been to other ballparks, you should be proud of what you’ve got. You should be saluted for that. This place is amazing.”

And while the Bees don’t have an MLB affiliate anymore — they were affiliated with the Los Angeles Angels when the contraction happened — Bastien pointed out how 172 former Prospect League players have made it into MLB organizations. Trey Sweeney, drafted by the New York Yankees in the first round last season, played for Lafayette in 2019. J.T. Brubaker, the starting pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates in Thursday’s season opener against St. Louis, played in the league in 2014.

“You’re going to have, likely, within three or four years, a player who has been here as a Bee make it up (into an MLB organization),” Bastien said. “When you get to watch a kid work his way up, get drafted, sign, and play up to the big leagues, it’s going to happen here.”

Bastien said he appreciated the reaction he received from Bees fans on a visit to Burlington last season.

“I don’t know how many people came up to me and said, ‘Listen, this is a breath of fresh air,’” Bastien said. “These kids will run through a wall. These guys are working to work their way up (to making it to an MLB organization). Every single one of them has that dream.”

Photo: Prospect League commissioner Dennis Bastien speaks to the crowd at the Burlington Bees’ spring banquet on Friday. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

Brecht Ready For Baseball, In Whatever Role, With Hawkeyes

By John Bohnenkamp

Iowa baseball coach Rick Heller knows what he has in pitcher Brody Brecht.

He’s just not sure how Brecht is going to be used in his freshman season.

The right-hander from Ankeny, at Iowa to play baseball and football, has already impressed Heller, even though he hasn’t taken the mound in a game yet.

“Brody’s stuff,” Heller said at Thursday’s media day, “is stupid-good.”

Brecht has already hit 100 miles per hour with his fastball during preseason workouts. Velocity, though, isn’t enough.

“I was pretty excited,” Brecht said of reaching the 100 mph mark. “But you’ve got to be able to command it, spin the ball a little bit. There’s work to be done.”

There’s work to be done on two fields for Brecht. A thumb injury kept Brecht, a wide receiver, from playing in a game during the football season, and although he did get some good practice time in the preparation for Iowa’s appearance in the Citrus Bowl, he admits he’s “already behind.”

“Bowl prep was good,” said Brecht, who is on scholarship with the football team. “It gave me a lot of opportunities to work with the playbook, run plays.”

For baseball, it’s about seeing where he fits in Iowa’s deep pitching group, and it starts next weekend when the Hawkeyes play in the Swig & Swine Classic in Charleston, S.C.

“I don’t know for sure what Brody’s role is going to end up being,” Heller said. “He’s definitely going to get his feet wet next weekend, and then we’re just going to kind of play it from there. We need to get him out there to see how things shake out, not just with him but with other guys. See where he can help the ball club the most, what can Brody bring to the table that gives us a chance to win games.”

“Starting, relief, closer, whatever they need,” Brecht said. “I just want to be a part (of the team) and be able to help the team win.”

Brecht was a dominant pitcher in high school, going 10-0 in his senior season at Ankeny High School with 126 strikeouts.

But he knows he can’t just overpower hitters at the Division I college level. Brecht wants better movement on his slider and curveball, and he’s working on a changeup.

“The velo is there,” Brecht said. “I just have to be able to locate my corners and everything. It’s gotten better since high school, I’ve been able to put it where I’ve wanted to. Obviously not every pitch is going where I want it to, so I still have to work on that.”

Hitting 100 was a big moment, Brecht said with a smile.

“I threw 98 in high school, and hit 99 here a couple of times,” Brecht said. “Just give me that extra mile an hour. Then we had a live set and the adrenaline was flowing and I finally hit it.”

Juggling two sports is another challenge. Football was the priority in the fall, although Brecht said he did get some throwing work in on the side. Baseball is the priority in the spring.

“Obviously, I’m already behind in football,” Brecht said. “I played (high school baseball) through the summer, and then I had my thumb injury. I’ve been pushed back a lot. I’ve been working hard to get back to be able to compete for the job at the ‘X’ wide receiver. Obviously I wish I could be out there for spring ball, but baseball is the priority right now, and that’s where I have to put most of my focus at.”

Brecht was recently ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Big Ten for the 2024 Major League Baseball draft. That seems a long way away for him.

“It was really cool to see that, it’s an honor,” Brecht said. “But I haven’t thrown a college pitch yet. A lot can change. I’ve got a lot to prove, so I have to keep working hard.”

After a fall of working on football on the practice field, Brecht will finally get to play a game soon as a Hawkeye in baseball.

“I still don’t know what that college athletic experience is like,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to it.”

Jones Named Prospect League Player Of The Year

By John Bohnenkamp

The Burlington Bees picked up one of the top honors in the organization’s first season in the Prospect League.

Catcher/outfielder Jackson Jones was named the league’s Mike Schmidt Player Of The Year on Wednesday.

Jones, who was also named to the West Conference All-Star Team as a designated hitter, led the league with 18 home runs and 17 doubles. He had 51 runs batted in, second most in the league, and batted .295 in 57 games. He also had a 1.035 OPS.

“He’s just a really, really good hitter,” Bees manager Gary McClure said earlier this season. “He just stays within all of the time. He’s always got a plan, got a great swing. He’s just a very mature hitter — he gets good pitches to hit and he puts good swings on them.”

Jones, who plays at Young Harris College in Georgia, had a 10-game hitting streak in June in which he raised his batting average to a season-high .363. He stayed above .300 until the final two games of the season. Jones had just one hit in his last 13 at-bats after being hit in the hand by a pitch in the July 28 game at Quincy.

Among the other awards:

• Cape Catfish manager Steve Larkin was named manager of the year after leading his team to the league title.

• Ryan Eiermann of the Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp was named the Pro Prospect of the Year and Starting Pitcher of the Year. Eiermann set a new league record with 109 strikeouts.

• Anthony Klein of the O’Fallon Hoots was named the Fireman of the Year. Klein was 5-1 with five saves.

• Iowa’s Brett McCleary, who played for the Clinton LumberKings, was the catcher on the West All-Star Team.

Photo: Burlington Bees catcher Jackson Jones was named the Prospect League’s player of the year on Wednesday. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

THE MONDAY HIVE: ‘This Is Going To Be Good’ — How The Unknowns Of 2021 Disappeared

By John Bohnenkamp

The biggest challenge, Tad Lowary said, was the unknown.

No one knew what to expect on May 30, when the Burlington Bees had their home opener against the Clinton LumberKings.

The Bees lost their affiliation with Minor League Baseball in December when Major League Baseball reduced the number of affiliates. Instead of a full season of Class A baseball, the Bees would be part of the Prospect League, a summer league of college players. Instead of 70 home games of major-league prospects, there would be 30 scheduled home games featuring a team of local players, and players from around the nation.

Lowary, who became the Bees’ manager of operations in April when general manager Kim Parker left to become the West Regional Supervisor for MLB, knew that it was a scramble to get ready for the season. MLB’s announcement came in December, which left the team not much time to put together a roster.

Plus, it had been almost 21 months since the Bees had played a home game — the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out all of the 2020 minor league season.

“There was a pretty short time frame,” Lowary said, “to figure it out.”

None of that mattered on that Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend, when Lowary looked out and saw the line for tickets stretching to the far end of the parking lot.

“It was insane,” Lowary said. “The line was all the way across our parking lot for several innings. The lines at the concession stands were clear across the concourse for the entire game.

“Having seen that, we were like, ‘This might work out. This is going to be good.’ It kind of eased our minds a little bit, that this might turn out well.”

A few hours before the Bees played their season finale against the Quincy Gems on Wednesday night, Lowary thought that, indeed, it had turned out well.

“For all of us in the office, on the staff, we’re really happy with how it went,” he said. “The overall support from the community has been outstanding.”

The Bees drew 2,897 fans for the opener. The final attendance for the season was 25,080 fans in 28 dates, an average of 896. That ranked seventh among the 16-team league.

Community Field had noise again, and it was something everyone noticed.

“I can’t get over the fan support,” Bees manager Gary McClure said after Wednesday’s game, which had an official attendance figure of 3,200 on a night where there was free admission. “We had great crowds all year that were into it. They were a part of (the game). It was exciting for the players.

“Even this last game tonight didn’t really mean anything. But all of those people show up, you feel a responsibility to go out and win the game.”

“The crowds have been more enthusiastic, I think,” Lowary said. “Part of it, I think, is being cooped up for the last year and a half. But part of it has been the way these guys play baseball. What you see on the field, how they cheer on their teammates, that feeds into it as well. Even the hard-core fans have said, ‘Hey, this is fun to watch.’”

If anything, Lowary said, the season has provided a foundation for the future.

The organization was left in limbo as MLB let the clock run out on the Professional Baseball Agreement with the minors at the end of September, 2020. Fall is usually the time when minor league teams begin selling advertising and ticket packages for the coming season, but all the Bees’ front office staff could do was wait for the decision they knew was coming.

“We were in such a holding pattern,” Lowary said. “I mean, we were sure, but not having anything official with Major League Baseball, we just couldn’t do anything.”

Once the decision came, the organization had to find a new league, and once an agreement was reached with the Prospect League, there was a scramble to put together a roster and sell a schedule to businesses and fans in the community.

“We were kind of forced to do things in a short window,” Lowary said.

Now, the window is already open for next season.

“It gives us a blueprint going into next year — these are the things we need to do, these are the things that went well, these are things that didn’t go so well,” Lowary said.

The short time frame also led to a scramble to find players.

“You do the best you can,” McClure said. “But we got some good players in here.”

Lowary and his staff treated game nights as if they were Midwest League games, and visiting teams noticed.

“You would see players out there on the field, taking pictures, things like that,” Lowary said. “I thought we did a good job of making this a good place for baseball.”

The Bees could get financial help from the Minor League Relief Act, a yet-to-be-passed bill in Congress that would provide professional teams grants of up to 45 percent of their total 2019 revenue because of the lost 2020 season due to the pandemic.

“I don’t know what the dollar amounts would look like at this point, or what the status (of the bill) is at this point,” Lowary said. “Any amount is going to help.”

There will be baseball at Community Field throughout the rest of the summer and fall — several weekend tournaments are scheduled, and Southeastern Community College will play its fall schedule at the ballpark. SCC will also play its spring schedule at Community Field next season.

One season for the new-look Bees was gone, the offseason was ahead.

But Lowary said he would take a deep breath of relief first.

“And then we’ll get started on next year,” he said, laughing.

The unknowns were long gone.

Photo: Fans fill Community Field for last Wednesday’s season finale for the Burlington Bees. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 11, GEMS 5: A Goodbye For Gray, A Farewell To 2021

By John Bohnenkamp

The final out of Jack Gray’s pitching career was a fly ball that settled into the glove of Burlington Bees left fielder Sam Monroe, just a couple of feet from the left-field wall.

With that, Bees manager Gary McClure popped out of the dugout to take Gray out of the game. The two hugged, then Gray hugged each of the Bees’ four infielders before leaving to a loud ovation.

The Bees’ 11-5 win over the Quincy Gems in Wednesday’s Prospect League game at Community Field was a goodbye to the season that brought a new kind of baseball to Burlington.

No longer a Class A minor-league affiliate, the Bees settled into their new summer league of college players. Some of those players were building for the future but for Gray, a local player whose grandfather had played such a big role in the history of the Bees, it was a chance to get in the final innings of his career, which included stops at nearby Carl Sandburg College and Western Illinois University.

The goodbye, Gray said, was “magical.”

“That was my very last time out as a pitcher,” said Gray, a graduate of Burlington’s Notre Dame High School. “To end it here, to end my career in Burlington, I almost started to cry. I started to tear up on that final out.”

Gray had pitched three scoreless innings, pumping his fist as shortstop Zane Zielinski secured Ryan Hutchinson’s grounder and threw him out at first base to end the eighth inning.

Gray wanted to get one more out.

Tyler Clark-Chiapparelli, who was leading off the ninth inning, hit a home run off Gray in the Bees’ 2-1 win at Quincy last Friday. Gray remembered that.

“I wasn’t supposed to go out in the ninth inning,” Gray said. “I told (McClure) I wanted one more at-bat. I said I wanted him, and then after that you could put in who you want.”

For a second, it looked like Clark-Chiapparelli’s drive was going to get out of the ballpark. But it died near the fence.

“I just left a fastball high and inside,” Gray said. “It was just magical to get him out right then and there.”

Gray’s grandfather, Ed Larson, was a long-time Midwest League executive who also served as the Burlington Baseball Association’s president during his career. Larson died in 2019 during the Bees’ last season in the Midwest League.

Getting a chance to play at the ballpark where he had seen so many games with his grandfather meant a lot to Gray.

“It’s been, really, a dream come true,” said Gray, who was 2-2 this season with a 4.64 earned run average. “Right after that (last out), the emotions started hitting me fast. I started thinking about my grandpa. It’s meant so much to me to be here.”

“He’s from here. I think he’s a fan favorite,” McClure said of the decision to keep Gray in the game. “He’s got a lot of heart. I love the kid. Just give him a chance to get that hitter out, and get an ovation.”

The Bees (28-32 overall, 13-18 second half) and Gems (27-32, 14-18) weren’t going to make the playoffs, so this was the finish line.

Quincy’s Andrew Fay played every position, starting the game at catcher before working his way around the infield and outfield. He ended the tour as the Gems’ final reliever, getting a strikeout and a ground out to end the eighth.

The Bees scored five runs in the first, adding two runs in the second and fourth innings before scoring single runs in the fifth and the eighth. Zielinski, the Bees’ leading hitter this season at .317, had three hits and scored four runs. Dylan Hale had three hits and drove in two runs. Rome Wallace and Justin Baehler each drove in two runs.

“It’s been kind of a long season,” McClure said. “We were just so up and down for so long. We just couldn’t really find our consistency, find our rhythm.

“You know, it was a good season. We had some kids hang in there and stay with us. I’m really appreciative of them. Proud of them.”

Gray held his No. 14 jersey in his hand as he talked about his season. He will start his new career as an assistant coach at Carl Sandburg in a week.

“I get to stay in baseball,” he said, smiling.

Photo: Burlington Bees pitcher Jack Gray threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings in Wednesday’s 11-5 win over Quincy. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

THE MONDAY HIVE: The Stories Of 2021 Built A Foundation

By John Bohnenkamp

The Burlington Bees will end their first season in the Prospect League with Wednesday’s home game with the Quincy Gems.

It was an uncertain time for baseball in the southeast Iowa community after Major League Baseball’s contraction of Minor League Baseball cost the city its Class A Midwest League franchise.

More than 2,000 people showed up for the Memorial Day weekend opener against the Clinton LumberKings — another contracted Midwest League team — beginning a summer of baseball that had some interesting story lines.

A look at five of the top stories:

Jackson Jones’ chase of the league’s home run record. The catcher-outfielder from Marietta, Georgia was one of the league’s best sluggers. Jones is batting .302 with a league-leading 18 home runs, two off the league’s single-season record, and a league-high 17 doubles.

Jones hit a rough stretch in recent weeks — he has just five hits in his last 37 at-bats — compounded by a hand injury suffered when he was hit by a pitch in the July 28 game against Quincy. He sat out Sunday’s game against Springfield after playing in Saturday’s doubleheader against Normal.

The quiet hitting of Zane Zielinski. The infielder from Chicago, Ill., leads the team with a .313 batting average.

Zielinski isn’t a power hitter — he has just four doubles and two home runs — but he’s become a reliable part of the Bees’ offense. He is batting .385 in the Bees’ last 10 games.

“He’s had a really good season offensively,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “He’s been hitting the baseball well. He’s been getting a couple of hits a game, and just had really good at-bats.”

The locals. Jack Gray pitched at Notre Dame High School. Reece Wissinger pitched for Burlington High School. This season, they got a chance to play for the hometown team.

Wissinger had a dominant season out of the Bees’ bullpen. The right-hander, who played at Southeastern Community College last season, was 3-0 with four saves and a 1.92 earned run average. Wissinger struck out 41 in 18 ⅔ innings, while walking just four. He gave up four earned runs, three of those coming in a June 26 loss to the Cape Catfish.

Gray had a family connection to the franchise — his grandfather, Ed Larson, was a former president of the Burlington Baseball Association and was a long-time Midwest League vice-president. Gray has thrown 30 innings in 21 games, with a 2-2 record and a 5.40 ERA.

Pitching success. The Bees had several pitchers who had strong seasons.

• Garrett Langrell went 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA.

• McLain Harris went 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA. He struck out 55 in 45 ⅔ innings.

• Chas Sagedahl had a strong finish to the season. He didn’t allow a run in three of his last five starts. Sagedahl had a 2.86 earned run average in those last five starts, and he struck out 10 in 6 ⅓ innings in Friday’s 2-1 win at Quincy.

• Jalen Evans was a late arrival, but he struck out 35 in 31 innings. Evans left the team in mid-July to begin his professional career, signing with Cleburne in the independent American Association.

Setting the baseline. The first season for the Bees in a new league was going to have its ups and downs. The team was built late, since it wasn’t until December when the official word came down that the franchise would lose its affiliation with MLB.

Now there’s a foundation. The players who have been here, whether on the Bees’ roster or with visiting teams, have seen the facility and what it offers. That will make it easier to put together a roster for next season.

The community has seen what the league is like as well. There’s stability within the organization, and the questions that have hung over the franchise in the last two years as MLB planned its contraction are gone.

The season ends on Wednesday. But it’s been a good beginning for the future.

Photo: The Clinton LumberKings and Burlington Bees stand for the national anthem before the home season opener in May. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

SLIDERS 7, BEES 5: The ‘Unexplainable’ Costs Bees In The 9th

By John Bohnenkamp

Gary McClure tried to explain what he called the “unexplainable.”

What could have been a crucial ninth-inning double play turned into the go-ahead runs in the Springfield Sliders’ 7-5 win over the Burlington Bees in Sunday’s Prospect League game at Community Field.

“It’s really a tough loss,” McClure, the Bees’ manager, said. “Hard to swallow.”

The Bees had a chance at a double play with one on and nobody out in the ninth, but pitcher Jack Gray’s throwing error on a play where there was confusion about who was covering second base led to a three-run inning for the Sliders.

Gray, who had pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings, started the ninth inning and hit leadoff hitter Justus Burke with a pitch. Tate Wargo followed with a comebacker to Gray, who whirled and threw to second base, where neither shortstop Zane Zielinski nor second baseman Joey Fitzgerald made the play. The ball went into center field, allowing Burke to go to third base. Nick Terrell followed with a double off Gray to put Springfield up 6-5, then Terrell scored on Chase Kessinger’s double off Bees pitcher Jacob Greenan.

“They talk about who’s got the bag before the play,” McClure said. “Zielinski was supposed to have the bag. You know, he thought he saw Fitzgerald really close to the bag — which he was, basically on the bag — so he let up. And then Fitzgerald just let the ball go because I … I can’t explain it. It’s really unexplainable.

“The ballgame’s over. The ballgame’s over if we complete that play.”

The Bees had a chance to tie the game in the ninth inning. Dylan Hale opened the inning with a double, then Fitzgerald walked. Chase Honeycutt bunted the runners to second and third, but Rome Wallace struck out and pinch-hitter Justin Baehler grounded out to end the game.

Gray (2-2) was the losing pitcher.

“He pitched well,” McClure said. “We got the ground balls, we got the ground ball (on Wargo), and then the air kind of came out of the tire after that.”

The Bees (27-31 overall, 12-17 second half) trailed 4-3 in the fourth, but Zielinski’s sacrifice fly in the inning tied the game. They took the lead in the seventh when Fitzgerald singled to score Zielinski.

Cal Engebretson (1-0) was the winning pitcher.

Photo: Burlington Bees catcher Chase Honeycutt tags out Springfield’s Chase Kessinger to end the top of the ninth inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)