The 2019 Wilson Tobs season brought endless memories to Fleming Stadium and throughout the Coastal Plain League. For the first time in franchise history, the Tobs won the first and second half North Division titles as well as repeating as the North Division Champions for the second straight season.
It all started on May 26 when the Tobs hosted the Fuquay-Varina Twins. In front of 2,975 fans at Fleming Stadium, Wilson began a new season with an exhibition matchup, eventually picking up their first win by a 10-1 final. The offense exploded to begin the season. Including exhibition games, Wilson scored 70 runs to start the year during a five-game winning streak, twice scoring 21 runs on May 28 and May 31. Through those first five games, the Tobs tallied 61 hits and batted .341 as a team while stealing 14 straight bases.
Wilson went on to win 10 of their first 11 games, but not before mother nature stepped in. On June 7, the Tobs made their first trip to Hicks Field to face the Edenton Steamers. As the team arrived to the ballpark, Hicks Field was flooded from rain storms which made for the Tobs first rain out of the year. The weather did not let up as the Tobs were rained out for three straight nights with one cancellation. Wilson did not return to play until June 11, marking four days without baseball. Two days later, Jacob Gilmore joined the team and made his first start against the Fayetteville SwampDogs, striking out five batters in his debut across three innings of work, setting up Wilson for a victory. The Illinois product went to on to extend his outings as the summer grew longer, culminating in an All-Star selection.
Due to the rain, Wilson was subjected to three straight double-headers from June 17 to June 20 with one rain suspended game, splitting the six games 3-3. Wilson saw the final nine games of the first half exemplified by incredible single game performances.
The double-header marathon finished with a spot start from Tobs reliever Josh Sieglitz. Coming off a rough seven walk performance out of the pen, Sieglitz was strong on June 20 against the Martinsville Mustangs, striking out a season high nine batters as Wilson finished the stretch on a high note.
Just a day later, the Tobs went to War Memorial Stadium to face the Peninsula Pilots on June 21. In one of the more dramatic games of the season, the Tobs found themselves in an 8-2 deficit by the end of the fourth inning. Wilson's offense woke up, outscoring the Pilots 11-3 over the final five innings. Down by two in the seventh, Kevin Jordan sent a game-tying home run to left center for the first tie game since it was scoreless in the first. Peninsula responded in the bottom of the inning to regain the lead by two. After scoring once on a balk, and down to their final six outs of the game, Michael Calamari unloaded a deep three run home run to right field, setting the Tobs on top for good by a 13-11 score.
"That particular moment for me was exciting because I've never hit a late game go-ahead home run like that before," Calamari recalled. "But in a 13-11 game it was an entire team effort, also with KJ hitting a two-run shot to tie it at nine earlier in the game along with many other contributions from other guys."
Already a few impressive starts under his belt, Nick Hollas came out to the hill on June 22 at Hicks Field versus the Edenton Steamers. Continuing the season of dazzling strikeouts, Hollas set the bar with eleven punchouts across seven innings while only allowing three baserunners all game. The right hander from Texas retired the first fourteen batters in a row before allowing back-to-back hits and a run. Entering that night, Wilson held a slim one game lead in the first half North Division race. The performance snapped a six-game Edenton winning streak and set the Tobs up for success in the first half. Wilson went on to clinch the first half North title one day shy of the last game of the half, celebrating on their bus ride home from Wilmington, NC.
On June 25, the Coastal Plain League announced the selections for each division's All-Star teams. Later adding Gilmore as an injury replacement, Wilson had five representatives selected: Calamari, Nate Fiala, Hunter Gore, DeShawn Lookout and Jimmy Sharkey. The North Division team eventually fell in the All-Star game on July 8 played in Savannah, GA.
"It was a blast. All the guys were cool… we just had a lot of fun, stayed loose, just soaked it all in and enjoyed the moment," the starter Gilmore remembered.
Geared up for the second half with a title under their belt, Wilson was slow out of the gate, dropping three of their first five matchups. It was a small setback however, as Wilson took off to set their longest win streak of their season: six. It all culminated on July 18 as the Tobs defeated the Martinsville Mustangs in a rain-shortened five inning game 10-3. The final win of the streak marked second year head coach Bryan Hill's 200th CPL win.
"I've heard a couple people talk about 200 wins. You're either old or a really good coach," Hill joked at the time. "I feel honored to have been able to be around enough to make it to 200 wins."
The next night, Wilson was back on the road heading to Martinsville, VA. After a red-shirt senior year at the University of Texas at Tyler, Wilson's most veteran starter and quiet leader Nate Imig was next up in the rotation. The right hander, knowing he was playing in his final competitive season, had nothing to lose. He sat down eleven Mustangs across six innings of work.
"Kind of my goal going into the season, wasn't really sure if I wanted to keep playing baseball, if I wanted to make one more push or if I just wanted to sit back and enjoy it," Imig later explained. "I've kind of taken that route, just sit back and enjoy it. Try to teach the guys as much as I can and just have fun every day."
The Tobs second half was even more successful than the first. Infielder Chris Meyers found himself on a fifteen-game hitting streak from July 2 to July 29 where he batted .473 as the Tobs best bat down the stretch. Topping their fourteen first half wins with fifteen and clinching a second half title set the Tobs up as the top team for the divisional round of the playoffs. Wilson tallied first and second half titles for the first time in franchise history and were set to host a playoff game at Fleming for the first time in ten years.
On August 4, the Tobs hosted their rival Peninsula Pilots in front of 1,410 fans for the Divisional Round of the 2019 Petitt Cup Playoffs. Hollas took the ball for Wilson, surrendering a solo home run in the second inning. That Sunday night contest lasted two innings, before rain suspended the contest to the following Monday afternoon. In the bottom of the third down 1-0 the following day, Meyers came to the plate with two on and two out and sent a three-run home run to right center field. The Pilots eventually tied the game by the sixth before more back-and-forth battles ensued. Kevin Jordan brought home a run on a groundout, but the Pilots tied it again at four with an RBI single in the seventh.
Tied late in the game, Jared Carr stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the seventh. With only two home runs in the regular season, leading the Tobs with 49 games played, Carr turned around a fastball upstairs to right field for a home run. The solo shot cleared the right field high wall to give Wilson a 5-4 lead. The advantage stuck as the Tobs pitching staff shut it down to give Wilson their second straight North Division title under Bryan Hill.
Wilson's season ran out of gas the following day, falling to the Morehead City Marlins 4-1 on the road, also for a second straight season. The Tobs set a franchise record with 46 home runs in 52 games played, beating a previous high of 40 set in 2017.
Wilson finished their season shy of a championship birth, but with a 30-22 record for their most wins since 2016. Wilson welcomed in 31,796 fans to Fleming Stadium, broadcasted 102 hours on Tobs TV and 65 hours on Tobs Radio. The Wilson social media platforms of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram gained 1,296 new fans over the course of three months.
"What an amazing season. So close to the final outcome we were hoping for but boy was the ride fun," Tobs general manager Mike Bell expressed. "What an outstanding group of players, coaches, staff and fans that surround this organization. The memories made this year will not be forgotten."
On behalf of the Wilson Tobs organization, we would all like to thank every person who supported our organization in the 2019 season. From our sponsors and host parents to every person who walked through the gates, you're what made this year a success. We look forward to seeing your smiling faces back at Fleming Stadium next summer. As always, Tobs Roll.