The last time my “Hughes, News & Views” column ran in the Tribune-Star was Feb. 7, 2016, when I primarily worked as a news reporter. That Sunday, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos’ defense were preparing to pummel the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
(Yes, that’s correct. The New England Patriots don’t represent the AFC in every Super Bowl.)
A lot has changed since then. Manning retired immediately after that 24-10 victory, although he appears in more TV commercials than ever, and yours truly has been back in the sports department full-time since late 2018.
One of the things I missed during my three-plus years in the news department was covering Terre Haute Rex games. This summer, I’ve been back at Bob Warn Field semi-regularly and reminded of the high-quality baseball that this team of collegians provides.
Heading into Friday evening’s doubleheader at West Virginia, the Rex sat 61/2 games behind the first-place Danville Dans in the Prospect League’s East Division and five games behind the second-place Chillicothe Paints. Only the top two teams in each division make the playoffs, so Terre Haute needs to step on the gas pedal for the final 12 games of the regular season.
Whether manager Tyler Wampler’s squad repeats as league champion or not, Terre Haute has been an entertaining club to watch, especially from the air-conditioned press box on those hot, humid Midwest nights.
One of my favorite games took place June 7 when Reed Hjelle rocketed a one-out, three-run homer to right-center field in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Rex over Chillicothe 7-6.
Then there was June 28 when Terre Haute, which had gone hitless through seven innings, rallied from a 5-0 deficit with five runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to edge Chillicothe 6-5.
On July 7, I got to see the Rex knock off the Lafayette Aviators 8-6 and 9-6 in the middle of the team’s record-setting 11-game winning streak. Mason Speirs (first game) and Justin Jenkins (second game) delivered crucial home runs in the sweep.
On July 12, Terre Haute’s winning streak reached 10 after a doubleheader sweep of the Dans (5-4 and 2-1). The nightcap was highlighted by Braydon Tucker’s 12-strikeout, two-hit pitching effort over six innings.
Something I had never seen in person or on TV at any level of baseball (or softball) was seven double plays in one game. But that’s what the Rex defense accomplished in defeating Danville 8-3 on July 18. Jenkins, a Terre Haute native who plays outfield for the University of Iowa in the spring, went deep again in that contest.
Before Friday, the Rex’s top hitters were outfielders Mitchell Garrity (University of Dayton) of Indianapolis and Aaron Beck (Olney Central College) of Evansville with .330 averages. Jenkins had the most home runs with four, runs scored with 28 and stolen bases with 12, while infielder Austin Weiler (Indiana University Kokomo) of Olathe, Kansas, was No. 1 in runs batted in with 27 and doubles with 10.
Pitching-wise, reliever Colten Panaranto (Michigan State) of Terre Haute was leading in wins (7-1) and saves (seven). Tucker, a Brazil right-hander who also hurls for Indiana University, had the most strikeouts with 40.
Defensively, infielders Will Hayes (Missouri S&T) and Ethan Hunter (Southern Indiana) of Terre Haute and Brendan Sher (Iowa) of Indianola, Iowa, seemed to be in the middle of a lot of double plays.
Yes, multiple memories have accumulated for fans who have braved the heat to watch Rex games this summer. The only achievement that would make 2019 even better is a late-season comeback that ends with the franchise’s third league championship since 2015.
David Hughes can be reached by phone after 3:30 p.m. at 1-800-783-8742, Option 5, or at 812-231-4224; by email at email@example.com; or by fax at 812-231-4321. Follow Hughes on Twitter @TribStarDavid.