RABBITS IN REVIEW: KOKOMO JACKRABBITS ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PROSPECT LEAGUE PLAYOFF HUNT

KOKOMO, Ind. – With three weeks left in the season, the Kokomo Jackrabbits have enjoyed a strong second half and now sit firmly in the second of two Prospect League East Division playoff spots. Following a doubleheader sweep of Champion City on July 15, Kokomo is second in the East Division, 1.5 games behind Chillicothe. The Rabbits are also 1.5 games in front of third-place West Virginia with 18 games remaining on the 60-game schedule (59 for Kokomo due to a rained out contest that will not be made-up). The top two teams in each division move on to the playoffs.

In game one against Champion City, the Jackrabbits took home a 1-0, extra inning win in walk-off fashion. It was a strange day of baseball indeed at Kokomo Municipal Stadium. The Jackrabbits and Kings were slated for a doubleheader of seven inning games, but things took a turn for the unexpected.

Game one was stopped in the top of the third due to severe weather that dumped nearly two-inches of rain on the City of Firsts. After a 1 hour and 44-minute delay, play resumed in what became a pitcher’s duel. Jackrabbits starter Alex Dorethy pitched before and after the delay, throwing five shutout innings of one-hit baseball (six strikeouts) before handing the ball to Cam Zunkel. The Rabbits reliever pitched the rest of the way and earned the win with three, one-hit shutout innings to complete the combined shutout – the fourth of the season for the Kokomo pitching staff.

Scoreless in the eighth inning, Marcos Sanchez led-off with a double to left field. It didn’t take long for the Jackrabbits to capitalize as the next batter, Ian Walters, stroked a base hit to right field for a walk-off, RBI single to seal a Jackrabbits victory.

The win was the 50th in skipper Gary McClure’s career in Kokomo. It was also the 10th walk-off victory (second this year) and the 15th extra-innings game (7-8 overall, 5-2 at home) in franchise history.

Game two of the double header was then forfeited by Champion City – its second forfeit in three games – giving the Jackrabbits two wins on the day and improving the teams record to 23-18.

JULY 14: The night before was not as nice to the Jackrabbits as they dropped a 12-9 decision to the West Division leading Terre Haute Rex at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.

Runs were easy to come by for both sides in the matchup. Adam Ketelsen got the start for the Jackrabbits and struggled right out of the gate, giving up three runs in the first inning. He was pulled with two outs in the third, giving up seven earned runs on six hits and two walks.

After the team gave up 10 runs in the first four innings the bullpen was able to calm the Rex bats, giving up just two runs the rest of the way. The bullpen performance was highlighted by a strong outing from Chase Nix, who went three innings, collecting four strikeouts without giving up a run.

Colin Butkiewicz was the Kokomo Coke Player of the Game with three hits, including a triple to start a ninth inning rally that looked dangerous. The Jackrabbits scored three runs, then loaded the bases with two outs. Shortstop Neil Lambert struck out to end the game on a called third strike that many in the crowd, and Lambert himself, believed to be ball four.

JULY 13: The Jackrabbits lost on the road at Springfield 11-6.

JULY 12: Two hits were enough to earn the Jackrabbits a home 2-1 win thanks to a quality team effort on the mound. Starting pitcher Chandler Coates earned the win on six innings pitched, allowing just one run. He tallied six strikeouts while giving up just four hits and two walks. His Prospect League-leading sixth win of the season helped earn Coates the Kokomo Coke Player of The Game honors. Pitchers Nick Alvarado, Chase Nix and Braden Niksich (save) combined to throw three scoreless innings in relief of Coates and maintain the Jackrabbits narrow lead.

Tavon Lindsay and John Sechen had Kokomo’s two hits. Ian Walter ripped an RBI and Sechen and Marcos Sanchez scored the two runs.

Courtesy of the Kokomo Jackrabbits and Sports Journal staffs

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Z92.5 FOOD CHALLENGE: THE COTTON CANDY HOT DOG EARNS THREE THUMBS UP

KOKOMO, Ind. – Earlier this summer, Tom Ando, director of food and beverage services for the Class AA Erie SeaWolves, created a food item that seemed crazy at first before going viral on social media: The Cotton Candy Hot Dog. On July 5, Sports Journal Publisher Dean Hockney joined Z92.5 Morning Show hosts Jessica Green and Ben Rutz for a live on-air taste test of the latest ballpark food craze.

The Cotton Candy Hot Dog consists of three ingredients – cotton candy shaped into the form of a hot dog bun, a freshly cooked hot dog and Nerds as the top condiment. For this taste testing, fresh cotton candy was not available, so Sam’s Club donated its individually packaged pre-made cotton candy – the Erie SeaWolves use fresh cotton candy.

“The Nerds are like the coney sauce or mustard,” Hockney said during the radio broadcast, which was also shown live on Facebook Live. “Then you eat it.”

After forming the bun, placing the hot dog in the middle and pouring the Nerds across the top – and on the floor of the studio – Hockney took the first bite.

“That’s not too bad,” he said. “The juice of the hot dog, along with the saltiness of the dog and sweetness of the cotton candy and Nerds actually works.”

“Actually, that is not as bad as I thought it would be,” commented Green, who sported a blue chef hat and a matching apron with ‘Chefsica’ printed on the front.

Of the three taste testers, Rutz seemed to enjoy the concoction the most.

“The cotton candy is sweet, combined with the salty flavor of the hot dog and crunch of the Nerds – I give it a thumbs up,” said Rutz. “This is really good.”

Rutz was so enamored with the Cotton Candy Hot Dog, he immediately had thoughts for an improved version.

“Here is what you do,” he said. “Put the hot dog on a stick and spin [fresh] cotton candy around the hot dog and have just cotton candy and the hot dog.”

Rutz also noted that the last time the Morning Show duo said “not as bad as we thought it would be” while tasting something on the air was the Twinkie dog with cheese.

“I think the [cotton candy hot dog] was better,” said Green of the latest taste challenge.

While it may not have been something the trio would make at home, they all gave the Cotton Candy Hot Dog a thumbs up – meaning it would be a great addition to a sporting event’s desert list.

Story by Dean Hockney. Have you seen an interesting food item that has been advertised as being sold at a sporting event? Let us know and Dean Hockney might accept the challenge live on the Z92.5 Morning Show with Jessica Green and Ben Rutz.

 

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THE DEAN’S LIST: ASSESSING THE KOKOMO JACKRABBITS MOVE TO THE NORTHWOODS LEAGUE

THE DEAN’S LIST BY DEAN HOCKNEY

The Kokomo Jackrabbits time in the Prospect League is quickly coming to an end. As announced on July 3, the squad will leave the league at the end of the current season and join the Northwoods League for the 2019 summer collegiate campaign.

As someone who has been around the team for all four seasons of its existence, the move is not really a surprise. The writing has been on the wall since the first press release on Sept. 2, 2014, that stated: “In addition, the Prospect League is looking into moving its corporate headquarters to Kokomo in an effort to grow and improve the league.” Four years later, that HQ move not only failed to materialize, I am not sure how serious the league was about a move in the first place. Then, ROC Ventures – the ownership group of the Jackrabbits – pulled its Jamestown Jammers (New York) team out of the league in 2016.

But that has not been the only hiccup for the Prospect League-Jackrabbits relationship – from the outside looking in, scheduling has been a major issue. After a 2015 campaign that looked promising, the season schedule of games has been troublesome. Part of that is due to teams joining and leaving the league, and league officials said they would fix the problem.

Part of the schedule issue is an unbalanced travel schedule, such as the Jackrabbits having not played a game at the Danville Dans historic stadium or Hoosier-rival Terre Haute since 2016 – both of those locales would have been ideal for Kokomo fans to visit. Then there was last year’s travesty when the Lafayette Aviators and Jackrabbits played an anguishing 20 times in 60 games – and the two teams are not even in the same division. This year, that was reduced to 14 meetings – still too many for non-division opponents.

On the financial front the Prospect League is not helping one of its top-drawing teams. During each of its first three seasons, the Jackrabbits finished third in overall attendance (142,297 overall spectators for an average of 1,598 per game). But this season may have different results as the Rabbits have its first-ever Monday games, which are not big draws, and only play five Friday and three Saturday contests when gates are normally at a peak. To top it off, during Howard County 4-H fair week, they are home five times when crowds are typically lower at the stadium. Attendance is already down from this time last season, and by the end of the season, the Jackrabbits could have an attendance decline for the first time ever – and that would be shameful considering how much the community supports the program.

But the Prospect League had plenty of positives, like bringing the 2016 All-Star Game and 2017 Home Run Derby to Kokomo Municipal Stadium. While rain dampened the ASG, it was still an enjoyable event. Under then-coach Matt Howard, the Rabbits earned a playoff berth in 2016 and hosted its first – and to this date only – playoff game. And through July 1, the Rabbits boast an overall regular season record of 102-104 with 54 of those wins coming at Municipal Stadium.

The Northwoods League will not be without its own set of issues – namely travel. The Rabbits will be the most southern team in the league, and I will make an assumption that they will land in the South Division. The closest division team would be in Kalamazoo, Michigan (172 miles) and the furthest in Wausau, Wisconsin (449) – much different than Lafayette (45) and West Virginia (412) in the current Prospect League. The league does play divisional games only during the regular season, meaning the Jackrabbits presumably would play seven teams from Wisconsin, two from Michigan and one from Illinois – if they are assigned to the South Division. If not, hello Canada.

Will the Jackrabbits be competitive in the Northwoods League? It is hard to tell, but if they can draw from the talent pool around the Midwest who want to stay closer to home – including Indiana, Purdue, Kentucky, Louisville and Notre Dame – they have a great chance of success. Municipal Stadium is still a draw for talent, but it is a huge gamble on the part of ROC Ventures. So here is to the Jackrabbits taking the Prospect League title this year and earning a Northwoods League playoff spot next season.

Until next time, remember to keep the man and ship in sports – and I’ll see you at the game.

Dean Hockney is the publisher of the award-winning Sports Journal of Central Indiana and the public address voice of Kokomo Municipal Stadium for the Kats and Rabbits. You can follow him on Twitter (@Sports_Journal) for the latest in local sports news and in-game reports.

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