"It's been a lot of fun," Javelinas manager Kevin Bradshaw said of watching his squad progress over the last month. "We started off losing two in a row and ever since then I think they understood it wasn't going to be easy. They were going to have to work hard.
"The pitching came around and the hitters had a lot of confidence and everything started falling into place. And we started gelling as a team."
That clubhouse chemistry has translated into on-field success as the Javelinas' .630 win percentage is tops among the AFL's six teams. With top prospects from the White Sox, Tigers, Dodgers, Brewers and Mariners, Bradshaw said his team clicked from the outset -- with five consecutive 2 1/2-hour workout days setting the tone.
"Any time you are around a bunch of guys that not only get along but are winning, it's always fun," said Bradshaw, a long-time Tigers coach and manager who serves as the organization's Minor League infield coordinator. "I love coming to the ballpark.
"And the most important thing is they understand, they haven't lost track or focus as to what each one of them has to do and why they are here."
Count Ackley among them. The 21-year-old has been forced to make adjustments in his first stint as a pro, with the most notable change being his playing time.
With seven quality outfielders on the roster, Bradshaw has had to rotate his players, which often results in putting Ackley -- a three-time All-American at North Carolina -- on the bench.
"The biggest thing is staying prepared every day," Ackley said. "I know I'm not going to [always] be in the lineup, so when I get in there I feel like I need to dial it up."
He did exactly that on Friday, smashing the second offering from reliever Tanner Scheppers (Rangers) into the Javelinas' bullpen in right field to cap the four-run seventh. Ackley's blast ended a 14-game homer drought, a statistics that, ironically enough, crossed his mind right before the game.
"I've kind of been thinking about that," he said. "I was [thinking], 'Man, I haven't homered yet?'"
The homer scored Cale Iorg (Tigers), who delivered a two-out single. Dodgers prospect Russ Mitchell added a pair of hits, including a double, to raise his AFL average to .333. Tigers right-hander Scot Drucker allowed one hit over three scoreless frames.
For the Rafters, Jarrod Dyson went 3-for-4 and fellow Royals prospect Aaron Hartsock (1-0) yielded a hit over two scoreless innings to pick up his first AFL win and temporarily delay the Javelinas' celebration.
"Of course, you [check the standings]," Bradshaw said when asked if his team was aware of the potential clinching. "But at the same time, we come out here and try to stress that we don't worry about yesterday. We had our chance, this game's over and we got to look forward to the game [Saturday].
"When you start looking at records and reading the stat sheets, you get caught up in that and you lose track of having fun and what you need to do for that day."