GREENSBORO — This is the hard part of the South Atlantic League summer.
It’s mid-August, and a little more than two weeks remain in the regular season.
For most of the Greensboro Grasshoppers, this is their first full season of professional baseball, a five-month, 140-game grind. Most have never played more than 70 games in a single year before.
They’re sore. Arms ache. Legs are a little tired. The summer heat and daily grind — remember, most days the players come to the ballpark five hours before first pitch for the early work that is the backbone of player development — have sapped some energy from their bodies.
And yet they must perform, for these Hoppers are in a pennant race.
“Sometimes you’ve got to step back, man, and remind them to go out there and have fun. It’s supposed to be fun,” Hoppers manager Miguel Pérez says. “If you keep pressing and pressing, you’re putting pressure on yourself and you end up trying to do too much. Especially guys who look at their stats and the numbers aren’t where they wanted them to be at this point of the year. You can’t do that. You have to stay engaged with the team. … We want to maintain that chemistry where we all put the team before us as individuals.”
Greensboro heads into the weekend against Augusta, the best team in the Sally League’s Southern Division, with a 72-50 overall record. The Hoppers are 6 games behind first-half champ Delmarva in the second-half standings. But Greensboro trails Hickory (73-46) by just 2½ games in the race for the No. 2 overall record in the North, which would determine a playoff spot if Delmarva sweep both halves.
“I just started watching the standings a couple of days ago,” Pérez says, “and that’s only because I hear the guys talking about it when I’m walking around the clubhouse. They’re aware. They want to get in. So let’s see, man. Let’s see what happens. We’re right there. There’s not too many games left, but at the same time there are a lot of big games left. This series (against Augusta) is huge. The next trip is huge, going to play Delmarva, going to play Hickory. Let’s see how it goes.”
For Pérez, the manager’s job this time of the season is to keep his young players loose. He must also adapt to the roster that turned over significantly after a strong first half.
Only three of the 13 pitchers on Greensboro’s roster were here opening night. Outfielder Fabricio Macías, shortstop Connor Kaiser and catcher Grant Koch are the only regular starters remaining.
“The first group put us in the (playoff) position we’re in,” Pérez says, “but this second wave deserves a lot credit, too, because of the way they’ve been playing. It’s right there for us. We’ve been up and down lately, but that’s part of the game. Especially at this point of the year. …
“It’s nice to have the winning record, but what I go to is, ‘Look how many guys we’ve promoted from this team this year.’ So many guys have gotten better and had success, and that’s why we’re where we’re at right now.”
One of those first-half Hoppers has continued to flourish since his promotion.
Mason Martin, a Sally League All-Star promoted to Bradenton of the Florida State League, leads all of affiliated professional baseball — 190 teams from Advanced Rookie League to The Show — in runs batted in.
Martin, a 20-year-old first baseman, has batted .252 with 32 home runs and 119 RBIs in 119 combined games between Greensboro and Bradenton.
Pitcher Brad Case, also a Sally League All-Star in Greensboro who was promoted in July, ribbed his teammate on Twitter on Thursday, writing that Martin “Currently leads world in RBI’s (sic), protein intake and hair flips.”
“All true,” Martin replied, along with three laughing-until-crying emojis.
Oh by the way, one month and three days after his promotion, Martin still leads the Sally League with 23 home runs and 83 RBIs.
In his last two starts for the Hoppers, 19-year-old right-hander Noe Toribio pitched a no-hitter of sorts.
Toribio (2-2, 3.92 ERA) pitched six no-hit innings against Asheville last week before reaching his pitch-count and being lifted. Then he opened with three no-hit innings against Augusta on Thursday. His combined line: 9 innings, 0 hits, 0 runs, 4 walks, 9 strikeouts.
The no-hit stretch ended when Augusta’s Franklin Labour and Sean Roby hit back-to-back doubles with no outs in the fourth inning Thursday. Toribio was charged with three earned runs in that game and took the loss.
• The Hoppers wore one-night-only Woodstock commemorative jerseys on Thursday night, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the famous three-day music festival in 1969. The jerseys were auctioned for charity. …
• The national anthem was special that night, too. A.J. Rivera, the director of marketing and communications at Pest Management Systems, recreated Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a Fender electric guitar. …
• Hoppers outfielder Jack Herman, a 19-year-old rated by MLB Pipeline as Pittsburgh’s No. 30 prospect, went 1-for-3 with a walk and an RBI on Friday to extend his on-base streak. Herman has reached base by hit or walk in 17 consecutive games heading into Saturday. ...
• Miss Lou Lou Gehrig, the Hoppers popular bat-dog, turned 8 years old on Friday.