JOLIET – The Slammers have not enjoyed the type of season they had wanted.
Their plan was to contend for the Frontier League East title and earn a spot in the playoffs. It does not appear either will occur as the Slammers dipped to 33-41 with Friday night’s loss to the Washington Wild Things at Slammers Stadium.
However, three hitters who have occupied prime positions in manager Jeff Isom’s lineup all season are feeding off each other, relying on each other, and all three continue to hit.
Entering Saturday night’s game, Ridge Hoopi-Haslam sported a .352 average with 13 doubles, two triples, eight home runs and 37 RBIs. Melvin Rodriguez was at .313 with 19 doubles, one triple, nine homers and 41 RBIs. Edwin Gomez was hitting .289 with 14 doubles, two triples, nine homers and 34 RBIs. Hoopii-Haslam sported a .941 OPS, while Rodriguez and Gomez had respective marks of .856 and .850.
“The three of us hang out a lot,” said Hoopii-Haslam, who also has a team-high 16 stolen bases. “I’m the only one that doesn’t speak Spanish, but those guys are my clique. Melvin and I are brothers. Just to have them around me in the lineup is a confidence builder, for sure.”
“What we do all works together,” Rodriguez said. “We’re somewhat older guys, we know what the game’s about. We have to keep the mindset to not give up, and we help each other do that. A baseball season can be a grind, especially when you get into August. Every day during the season is a long day.”
Rodriguez, who has been with the Slammers for two full seasons, and Gomez both are natives of Puerto Rico. Hoopii-Haslam is from Hilo, Hawaii. Rodriguez was an All-American at Jackson State, Walter Payton’s alma mater, and was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 18th round in 2015. The Detroit Tigers selected Gomez out of high school in the fourth round in 2009.
While Rodriguez and Gomez are hoping for a return to affiliated ball, Hoopii-Haslam is awaiting his first shot. He is in his third season of independent ball.
Rodriguez, the Slammers’ everyday second baseman after spending most of last season in the outfield, is 26 and Gomez will turn 26 in two weeks. Hoopii-Haslam is 23. The age limit in the Frontier League is 27.
“Rodriguez is my only offensive player back from last year,” Isom said. “We knew he could hit. Last year he hit a solid .260 for us, and he has been getting better every day. He takes pride in his hitting. He has a lot more at-bats this year where he’s taking advantage of some hitters’ counts.
“Gomez has been our most consistent hitter from the beginning of the year until now. Before we went on the recent losing streak, when we still were in the running for the playoffs, Gomez pulled his groin and was out about 10 games. We lost almost all of them.”
Gomez is an outfielder by trade, but lately he has been at first base, affording better opportunity for the groin to heal.
“When we moved Rock [Shoulders] to Schaumburg, Gomez primarily became our first baseman,” Isom said. “He has come into his own now as a hitter. Maybe the organization he was with gave up on him too soon. He was a high-round pick seven years ago and never really showed the power, but it’s starting to come.”
“Everything is positive now,” Gomez said. “I was hurt a lot in the minors. The last two years, I have been able to play. I need playing time and Ice [Isom] gave me an opportunity. And it helps to have guys like them [Hoopii-Haslam and Rodriguez] around me in the lineup.”
Isom likes having the three-headed monster come to the plate in succession.
“Those three guys are a good mix in the 2-3-4 spots,” he said. “They are pretty interchangeable, but we like ‘Hoop’ near the top. He can run.”
Rodriguez said playing for Isom the last two years has been a plus.
“I love Ice a lot,” he said. “We had really good chemistry here last year when we won the division.
“I’m like everyone here. I want to see if I can move on to an affiliated league. I’m 26 and still learning. We have to keep the mindset of don’t give up and then see what happens.”