It might not have been the way we wanted to finish the year, but wow! What a season for the Jet Couriers Melbourne Aces.
Now that the dust has settled on the 2017 Championship Series and we've had time to reflect, there's a huge number of positives that can be taken out of this past ABL season.
THE RETURN OF JON DEEBLE
A legend in Australian baseball circles, 2016 saw the return of Jon Deeble to Victorian baseball. After a prolonged absence from the game at an ABL level, Deeble returned to Melbourne to manage the team with his focus well beyond the 12-weeks of the season.
Deeble spoke openly throughout the season about his goals of uniting the Victorian baseball community, changing the culture in the Aces locker room and giving more opportunities to local talent and for Deeble's work this season, we give him three BIG ticks… But his work's not done…
A proud Victorian, Deeble remains determined to bring the Claxton Shield back to Victoria, so much so that he will return as Aces Manager in 2017/18.
OUR FIRST WINNING SEASON EVER
Despite playing in one other Championship Series (2012), our league leading 26-14 record this season is the first time we've ever posted a .500+ winning record in the new ABL.
MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR VICTORIAN KIDS
You only had to look at the Aces starting nine during the Championship Series to see how much faith an opportunity was given to Australian players this season. Six of the eight fielding positions during the Championships Series were filled by Australians with Cody Jones (CF) and Roman Collins (RF) the only exceptions.
With the numbers posted this season by guys like Liam Bedford, Jared Cruz, Jarryd Dale, Ryan Dale and the news that Aces Development player Matt Beattie has just signed with the Detroit Tigers, the future of Victorian baseball is indeed bright.
BIG LEAGUERS IN MELBOURNE
Jon Deeble excluded, the 2016/17 season saw six current and former Major Leaguers don an Aces uniform.
James Beresford and Brad Harman were joined by Peter Moylan who split his time in the bullpen as the Aces pitching coach. Add to that charismatic fan favourite Mark Hamburger, Virgil Vasquez and World Series starter Jeremy Guthrie and the Aces quickly became the talk of the ABL with the influx of big league talent.
THE ABL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES COMES TO MELBOURNE
Finishing on top of the ABL Standings meant our first Minor Premiership. It also meant that for the first-time Melbourne would host the Championships Series and when a helicopter landed in centre field to delivery the VIP's to throw out the first pitch in game one, we knew it was going to be special.
VIDEO: Footage courtesy of Luke Abels
Unfortunately, the result didn't go our way and the Brisbane Bandits were once again crowned ABL champions (and worthy ones at that), but it didn't stop the Victorian baseball community getting out to Melbourne Ballpark to support the Aces with an average of over 2,000 people in attendance across the two days.
A LEGEND RETIRES
Somewhat surprisingly, Aces games record holder Josh Davies called it quits early in the season.
The infielder and Aces stalwart cited family reasons for calling time on an accomplished career but remained involved throughout the remainder of the season, most noticeably coaching first base during the Championship Series.
The Aces payed tribute to Davies during the final home and away series against the Adelaide Bite.
VIDEO: courtesy of Melbourne Aces Facebook
THE BEST FANS IN THE COUNTRY
Despite some a couple of lean years in terms of results, the Aces faithful remained, well… faithful.
This past season saw the Aces smash all previous benchmarks for fan engagement, particularly online and within the baseball community.
For good and bad reasons, the Aces continue to be hotly debated online and within baseball circles and that's ok. Our members, fans and the Victorian baseball community are passionate about this team and we love you for it.
It would be remiss of us not to mention the help and support we received throughout the year from so many people. To all the staff, volunteers, sponsors, clubs and community groups that got on board to help the Aces this season, we sincerely thank you.
We want to wish the best of luck to all the players set to ply their trade in various baseball leagues and competitions around the world, both from the Aces and other ABL teams.
The 2016/17 season set a new benchmark for Aces baseball in so many ways but there's still so much more we can do.
As you trade your Aces cap and season tickets for your favourite MLB team's jersey and MLB.tv subscription, just know that we'll continue to work diligently throughout the offseason to put together another team that Victoria can be proud of. A team we're all happy to call ourselves a fan of and a team that will be striving toward bring the Claxton Shield back to Melbourne next season.