Democracy, dynasty in AFL title game

Democracy, dynasty in AFL title game

MESA, Ariz. -- There's been a lot of talk around the country recently about democracy and the power it wields. It may have been present in its purest form in the Mesa Solar Sox clubhouse.

Mesa didn't clinch its spot in Saturday's Arizona Fall League Championship Game until Wednesday afternoon, but manager Rocket Wheeler and his coaching staff decided to plan in advance. This was nothing new as Wheeler posted his lineups a week in advance so players would know when and if they were playing.

But this time Wheeler, along with hitting coach Ryne Sandberg and pitching coach Ray Burriss, decided to open up the process. Each member of the Solar Sox was asked to write out what they thought should be the lineup in the championship. Wheeler counted the votes and that's who's playing on Saturday at Scottsdale Stadium against the Phoenix Desert Dogs, a game which can be watched live on MLB.TV at 2:30 p.m. ET. Not surprisingly, with the way the Solar Sox gelled this season, there was a pretty good consensus.

"We've been a team all year," Wheeler explained. "I talked it over with Ryne and Ray and we decided to let guys vote on Monday and I went off the tally. It was pretty good."

There was certainly unanimity with who should get the ball. Everyone penciled in Braves right-hander Tommy Hanson, he of the 5-0 record, 0.63 ERA, .105 batting average against and 49 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings.

"We set that up last week," Wheeler said. "We knew that if he threw Monday he'd be able to pitch again on Saturday.

"He was well-deserving to start the game. He's pretty much dominated the league. He's been the talk of the league. When I talk to other managers they say the same thing we have, 'Wow.'"

Starting Lineups
Mesa
Phoenix
1.
Matt Young (ATL)
LF
1.
Eric Young Jr. (COL)
CF
2.
Jason Donald (PHI)
SS
2.
S. Tolleson (MIN)
SS
3.
L. Morrison (FLA)
DH
3.
J.P. Arencibia (TOR)
C
4.
Jeff Larish (DET)
1B
4.
Mike McKenry (COL)
DH
5.
T. Flowers (ATL)
C
5.
J. Donaldson (OAK)
1B
6.
S. Cousins (FLA)
CF
6.
Dustin Martin (MIN)
LF
7.
C. Wells (DET)
RF
7.
Chris Nelson (COL)
2B
8.
Van Pope (ATL)
3B
8.
D. Valencia (MIN)
3B
9.
Will Rhymes (DET)
2B
9.
Evan Frey (ARI)
RF
T. Hanson (ATL)
P
Jeff Manship (MIN)
P

"It's definitely an honor to get to throw in the championship game, especially for this team," Hanson said. "Hopefully, I'll do what I've been doing during the whole fall and give us a chance to win a ring."

If they do, it'll be the first time in five years the Desert Dogs haven't been fitted for them. Phoenix, despite having different personnel and different organizations every year, has won four straight AFL championships.

"Any time you three-peat, it's tough," Desert Dogs manager Stan Cliburn said. "Having the chance to go for five consecutive Arizona Fall League titles, it's unprecented. I take a lot of pride in that. It was a goal to keep that tradition going. We're half-way there. Hopefully tomorrow, we'll just finish it off."

Twins prospect Jeff Manship (2-1, 5.01 ERA) will get the start to try and help the Dogs go for No. five. The key, as it's been all season for the Desert Dogs, will be what Eric Young Jr. can do on the basepaths. The MVP candidate led the league with his .430 average, 20 stolen bases and a .504 on-base percentage. However, they will have to do it without cleanup hitter Sean Doolittle, who will not be with the team due to prior commitments.

"It's a situation we had no control over," Cliburn said. "We have to get through it. When you come down to this game, no excuses. Go with the best you got and the best team will win." Doolittle or no, it's clear the Solar Sox are well aware of what Young and the Desert Dogs offense can do.

"They have EY leading off," Wheeler said. "We have to keep him off the bases, he's their table-setter. They've got some bats in their lineup. They wouldn't have won their division if they didn't. It's going to be a great game and it's going to be fun."

"They've got some speed at the top of the lineup," Hanson echoed. "They've got some guys who can run and guys who can swing the bat, like Arencibia and Doolittle. They're in the final game because they're good, too."

Young, for his part, can't wait to try and disrupt the Fall League's best pitcher and give Phoenix one more championship. It might be mid-November and everyone is ready to go home, but for one day, there's no question that everyone will be all business.

"It's always a great time when you play in a championship game," Young said. "Both teams are going to be pumped up to play. There will be more fans in the stands and that brings more excitement.

With what Tommy Hanson's brought to the table this fall and in the Minors, he's a real good pitcher. You have to bring your A game. If you can't get pumped up for that, you don't need to be in this business."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.