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Irrepressible Sean Coyle will lead off tonight against Potomac. The Sox need one win to claim the Carolina League championship.
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
Salem’s Sean Coyle celebrates after hitting a home run against Myrtle Beach in April.
The Roanoke Times | File 2012
Salem's Sean Coyle throws back to first base as Frederick's Garabez Rosa slides in to second base.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Two eventful seasons in Salem — full of streaks, slumps, diving stops and stunningly majestic home runs — could culminate in a magical way tonight for Red Sox prospect Sean Coyle.
The 5-foot-8, 175-pound powerhouse has a full to-do list he wants to attack this offseason. Some yoga for flexibility. Some preventative exercises to avoid a repeat of this injury-marred year. Some tweaks to his plate approach that could lead to a more consistent swing.
Each player in the Sox clubhouse has his own such list, tailored to strengthening his weaknesses. Above all else, the minor leagues are about self-actualization, shaping the body and mind to create the best chance of reaching the majors.
But tonight, everybody’s goal list is short.
Win one more game.
“It is all about development in the minor leagues, but once we get to the playoffs, we’re out here playing to win,” Coyle said. “Our starting pitchers, they have a short leash. You’re going to make moves to win these games, maybe bunt a little bit more. It’s definitely a play-to-win atmosphere now, and that’s how it feels in the clubhouse.”
Coyle likely will DH and bat leadoff tonight for the Sox, who host Potomac in Game 3 of the Mills Cup Championship Series. Salem Mayor Randy Foley is scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch as the city hopes to celebrate its first Carolina League title since 2001.
Salem’s 2-0 edge in the best-of-five event has been fashioned mostly by dominant pitching, but Coyle’s timely return to the lineup hasn’t hurt.
After sitting out most of June and July with a knee injury, Coyle returned to Salem in mid-August to help the club clinch the second half Southern Division crown.
A sore elbow forced him to miss the regular season’s final few games and the two-game sweep of Myrtle Beach in the Southern Division Championship Series. Added to the postseason roster on Saturday, Coyle has delivered three hits (including a double and a triple) and three RBIs in the first two games of this series.
“It’s been great to be able to contribute to this team,” said Coyle, 21. “They were fun to watch when I wasn’t playing, but it’s definitely more fun to play.”
Coyle, a third round draft pick whose raw power has always belied his size, belted 10 homers in his first 53 games this season. He remained the team leader in that category long after he was placed on the disabled list.
But after experiencing recurring pain in his right knee, Coyle slumped to a .195 average in May. He decided to get checked out thoroughly.
Coyle essentially was listed as day-to-day as he sought a breakthrough while rehabbing the injury, first in Florida, then in low-A Greenville.
“It wasn’t like, oh, this injury is going to take three weeks,” Coyle said. “It was kind of frustrating not having a set day that I was going to be back, but every day I was going to work.
“I was never thinking, ‘Why me?’ I was always thinking, ‘What can I do to get back? What can I do to get the ball rolling again and keep having a good season?’ ”
The second half surge Coyle witnessed in Salem this year was a reversal from what he saw here last season, when the team lost most of its premium talent — and, subsequently, most of its games.
This year’s Sox have had promotions, too, but they’ve only seemed to get stronger. They enter tonight having won 10 in a row and 21 of 24. They’ve also been clutch; they’re unbeaten in their past 10 games decided by one run.
“I think a lot of it has to do with how the team meshes, as far as everyone’s personality goes,” Coyle said. “We have a lot of guys that are light-hearted guys, but they like to play ball and have a good time doing it. That’s a really important thing, especially with the length of the season that we play.”
Teammates have been supportive of Coyle throughout the rehabilitation process, a few requisite jokes about his training table tendencies notwithstanding. Perpetually positive, Coyle has cheered on the exploits of Mookie Betts — who has reached base in 34 straight games while staffing Coyle’s second base position — and was in the middle of the celebration after Salem’s sweep of Myrtle Beach.
He hopes to be in the middle of another one tonight. Either way, 10 years from now, Coyle will have no regrets about how 2013 unfolded.
“I think I’ll look back at it as a positive thing,” he said. “You can’t be a professional athlete and expect to never get injured, you know? So to be able to go through this and keep a good attitude and learn some things that I really need to work on this offseason … I think it could help me in the long run.”
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