By Roger Hoover
The 2010 Tennessee Smokies saw a season of unprecedented success in club history, culminating with a franchise-best 86-53 regular season record and a second-straight Southern League North Division championship.
While the season has been over since late September, the end of the calendar year is a good time to look back at all the Smokies accomplished in 2010. Here is a look at the top ten moments of Tennessee’s historic 2010 season.
10. Cashner Mows Down Mississippi: Smokies pitcher Andrew Cashner wasted no time in signaling that 2010 would be a special season for the Smokies. On opening night at Mississippi’s Trustmark Park on April 9, Cashner struck out the first seven men he faced and nine of the first 10 as the Smokies won 4-3. Cashner’s superb performance helped Tennessee get off to a 15-3 start to the regular season, giving the Smokies the best record in all of professional baseball.
9. Smokies Earn Big-Time Call-Ups: While Cashner and star shortstop Starlin Castro helped Tennessee get off to a great start on their first half North Division championship run, the two stars would end the first half of the season playing at Wrigley Field for the Chicago Cubs. Both stars left Tennessee on May 7, with Castro joining the Cubs and Cashner being promoted to Triple-A Iowa. Castro made history in his Cubs debut, driving in a big league record six runs for Chicago, the most for any rookie in a debut. Cashner would later be called up to the Cubs on May 31. Castro finished his rookie season as the Cubs’ everyday shortstop, and hit .300 with 41 RBI. Cashner went 2-6 with a 4.80 working in the Cubs bullpen.
8. Campana Finally Homers…Sort Of: With the North Division Championship Series against the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx tied at one game apiece heading into Game Three, the Smokies received the unlikeliest spark towards a victory. Leadoff hitter Tony Campana, who has never hit a home run in his professional career, hit an inside-the-park home-run to begin the ballgame. It was the beginning of a 4-6 performance for Campana at the plate that night, and Tennessee won 9-2 at Pringles Park on September 11. The next night the Smokies clinched the series by winning Game Four 5-2.
7. Archer Starts Spotless: After being called up from the Daytona Cubs, pitcher Chris Archer began his first Double-A action in memorable fashion. Archer did not allow an earned run in his first 33 innings with Tennessee, and was the Southern League Pitcher of the Week from July 19-25. Archer finished the 2010 season with a combined 15-3 record with a 2.34 ERA, and was named the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
6. What a Good Guyer: Outfielder Brandon Guyer had his best season in 2010, earning Cubs Minor League Player of the Year honors while finishing hitting .344 with 13 homers and 58 runs batted in. Guyer’s best stretch came in the second half, as he carried an 18 game hitting streak from July 26 to August 18, and was named the Southern League Hitter of the Week for the first week of his hit streak.
5. Tom Ricketts Says Hello: The Smokies were honored twice this season with a special guest in the ballpark. Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts visited East Tennessee twice to see the Smokies play, once on July 19 and during the first game of the North Division Championship Series in September. It was the first year of ownership for the Ricketts family, and he visited with Smokies players, fans, and was a guest on the Smokies Radio Network with broadcaster Mick Gillispie.
4. Thomas is Grand: Off all the moments in the first half North Division title run for the Smokies, it was a grand swing of the bat by Tony Thomas that helped the Smokies continue to shrink the magic number. With the Tennessee leading West Tenn in the standings by only a half game, and the Smokies trailing the Diamond Jaxx 4-2 on June 13, Thomas hit a grand slam in the seventh inning to give the Smokies a 6-4 lead in a game Tennessee won 7-5. Later that week, Tennessee clinched the first half championship in Mobile.
3. Fourth of July Fireworks from Chirinos: A record crowd of 7,728 fans filled Smokies Park on July 4 knowing they would see fireworks. However their favorite blast of the night wasn’t thanks to pyrotechnics, it was a walk-off homer by Robinson Chirinos. Chirinos hit his ninth homer of the season in Sunday’s game, a three-run shot that delivered instant victory to the Smokies over the Huntsville Stars.
2 Awards Galore: Honors poured into Smokies Park during the 2010 season. The awards began in June, as six Smokies were named to the Southern League All-Star Team: catcher Robinson Chirinos, catcher Steve Clevenger, outfielder Tony Campana, first baseman Blake Lalli, and relievers Ryan Buchter and Luke Sommer. Chirinos, Campana, and Brandon Guyer were further honored later in the season as postseason All-Stars. Manager Bill Dancy, in who has over 1600 wins as a minor league manager, was named the Southern League Manager of the Year, while Smokies General Manager Brian Cox was named the Southern League Executive of the Year. The Smokies Radio Network’s Mick Gillispie was named the Southern League’s Radio Broadcaster of the Year, and longtime Knoxville News-Sentinel Smokies beat writer Nick Gates won the Southern League Sportswriter of the Year Award, in addition to having press row at Smokies Park named, “Nick Gates Press Row.”
1. Smokies Win Rickwood Classic: With all that the Smokies accomplished in 2010, it was a special humid June afternoon at Birmingham’s historic Rickwood Field that tops this list of Smokies moments. In a tightly played 11-inning game at America’s Oldest Ballpark, the Smokies outlasted the Birmingham Barons 8-7 in front of 9,448 fans at the 15th annual Rickwood Classic on June 2. Marquez Smith hit a solo homer in the top of the 11th inning to give the Smokies the win, while Ty Wright shined with a 4-6 performance at the plate with two runs batted in. The Smokies wore throwback uniforms for the contest, and Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew was in attendance.
As great as 2010 was, we’re already looking forward to 2011!
Happy New Year Smokies Fans!