SIKESTON - The Sikeston Bulls are more than half way through the Kitty League season of 2006.
Currently, the Bulls are 8-19 and 9 1/2 games behind league leader Owensboro, Ky.
The Bulls are electric at home this season going 7-4 with the aggressive play of suicide squeezes and stolen bases implemented by manager Matt Marshall.
The Bulls, on the road, are an entirely different story. Sikeston is 1-15 on the road but have been competitive in nearly all of its games. Of the Bulls 19 losses, nine have come by one run.
"Overall I have been pretty happy with our play," said Marshall. "Our record does not reflect how well I believe the team is playing. Every game we have played good enough to win most nights. But we have been on the wrong side of the coin. We have played a lot of one-run games. The game is a matter of inches sometimes and we have had some tough luck. A ball would drop in for the other team, while our ball would just go foul. It has been frustrating at times for the team, but they play hard and if you have watched a Bulls game, you have seen some really good baseball."
The losses on the road are tough and are not made any easier with the absence of Jamie Puckett. Batting .271, Puckett leads the Bulls with 10 stolen bases and is a coach on the field for Sikeston.
"Anytime you have a player of that caliber that can't go every time," said Marshall, "it is a big loss for the team. Jamie has to work and pay for college so that is the way it is. He is a team leader and it doesn't help that he is not on the road. We have other guys that we can plug in and that are quite capable. The guys that are on my bench, are just as capable of starting, as the guys that do start. But, Jamie makes us go when he is out there and it is hard not to have him.
"We have done things to win games on the road, but sometimes luck plays against us and we pick up a tough loss. It is not like we are going out there and getting killed, a lot of the games come down to the last at-bats or last pitch. It would be nice to win some of those games, but like I said, you watch our team play and you have seen a good game. The guys are improving each and every game and the kids are getting so much out of this experience."
Sikeston has not only had to deal with the loss of Puckett on the road, the Bulls have lost some quality players throughout the season.
Catcher Clint Wallace is out for the season due to injuries. Wallace was leading the Bulls in hitting at the time of the injuries batting .357 with four RBIs. Wil Moore had a close friend die and also has had some injuries to work through. His timetable for return is uncertain.
The toughest loss for the Bulls was losing center fielder Jared Elmore a couple of weeks ago. Elmore, the emotional leader for Sikeston, had to return to school.
Cat-quick, with a good glove and strong arm, Elmore was improving his hitting and was quickly becoming a force in the league.
At the time of his departure, Elmore was third on the team in hitting at .309 with five runs scored, four runs driven in and three stolen bases.
"Losing Jared was a tremendous loss," said Marshall. "He needed some classes to be eligible next year. Simply put, Jared was a superstar in this league. Our opponents always wanted to know where Jared was hitting in the lineup. Jared is the type of player that impacts the outcome of every game he played in. He was a vocal leader and the team rallied around him. Jared's energy and enthusiasm for the game was really contagious throughout the team. It was a big loss for us to lose Jared, no doubt."
Some Bulls have stepped up as the season has progressed. Adam Darby was named the league's Offensive Player of the Week last week and has raised his batting average over .260, is tied for the team lead in home runs with two, leads the team in triple with two and is tied for second with 12 RBIs.
Shortstop Tyler Martin batted .230 at Hannibal-LaGrange last season, but with the Bulls has hit over .270, driven in 10 runs and is second on the team with four steals.
Designated hitter Sean Bard has been the most consistent threat offensively all season for the Bulls. Bard leads the team with a .318 batting average and has hit eight doubles. In addition, Bard is tied for the home run lead with two and is tied for second on the team with 12 RBIs.
On the mound, Ryan Anderson and Justin Rodgers lead the Bulls with two wins apiece. Rodgers and David Reynolds have a complete game pitched apiece.
Andrew Moss leads Sikeston in strikeouts with 38 in 35 innings of work. Closer Dan Robbins has three saves in four chances.
Off the field, general manager Jason Compton and his interns have been trying to keep the Bulls' fans entertained all season.
"I think things, as a whole, are going more smoothly than imagined," said Compton. "A lot of that has to do with the two interns (Andrew Lambert and Michael Roslen) that I have. They have been great and that makes my job that much easier."
Attendance at Bulls' home games have the look and feel of a minor league game. From the music pumped between innings and the sound effects that draw laughter, the Bulls are not only trying to field a good team, but to also put on a good show in the process.
"We are going to have a lot of home games remaining," said Compton. "I believe we had 13 or 14 home games left, so will have some things pop up during that time. We make changes with the way we present the game on a nightly basis. We have music and the sound effects that gives the game a little different atmosphere at the park. It is a work in progress with the different things that we try. We are going to do some Field of Dreams themes with some of the local little leagues, where the kids can come out on to the field and run the bases. Some night coming up we are going to have some coozees to give away with our logo to keep your beverage nice and cool. That is going to be sponsored by Allen Wire and we are in the process of making those and getting them out."
From the word go, the Bulls wanted to gain some trust in the community and slowly build for the future. Attendance has been spotty, but Compton believes that the Bulls will build a following as time passes.
"Our goal at the beginning of the season was to have a couple hundred people attend the home games each night," said Compton. "We are probably averaging around 90 a game. We wanted to take steps forward from last season with the Bootheel Bombers and in terms of attendance, we are head and shoulders above last year.
"A lot of teams start off hot in the first season and everything is fine. However, they start to taper off year after year. The way we started is to gradually build and instead of having the big attendance at the start and then tapering off, we are hoping to snowball this and if we take our 90-100 this season, then next year turn it into 125-150."
Compton insists that for the Bulls to survive they have got to capture the imagination of area youths.
"Our last home game against Union City was a real step forward for our franchise," said Compton. "It was YMCA T-ball night and we had 381 people in attendance. Granted, a lot of that was the kids coming out and doing some things, but we know they had a great time. The players spent 30 minutes after the game signing autographs for the kids. So we want to get those kids to come back. That is a goal, get them out there and hopefully they will want to come back.
"At the start, our hope was for the kids to latch on to this team and make it their own. We did not know how that would work or what type of process it would be. It didn't take long to get some excitement going with the kids. We did a birthday party on the first weekend, we took a trip out to the little league park and had the guys sign some autographs and we have the honorary bat boy/girl every night at the park. All of a sudden we hear kids arguing over who their favorite player is on the Bulls. The kids in the community who have come out to the games, have really latched on. I really didn't expect the kids to catch on to the Bulls so quickly. If we can get the kids to come out, they are going to bring their parents."
For the players and coaches, supporting the Bulls is a big deal for the team. "From last year to this season," said Marshall, "there is no comparison. To see the community come out and support the team is a great feeling from what we had to endure last year. There is nothing better than to be at Wal-Mart or whatever in the community and to see a person with a Bulls hat or shirt. It is not just at the park, the Bulls are real and exist inside the community. It makes the guys feel real good that they are appreciated for what they are doing out there. It matters to the guys."
The Bulls are back in town and will have a doubleheader on Monday against the Farmington Firebirds at VFW Stadium at 5 p.m.