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Eric Peterson, Published May 06 2012

Simunic, RedHawks eager to put last season in the rear-view mirror

Fargo

Doug Simunic looked out a press box window at Newman Outdoor Field and glanced at the field and stands.

Calm seemed to wash over the manager of the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks minor-league baseball team.

“For me, it’s home,” said Simunic, who has been the RedHawks’ only manager in their 16-year history. “I don’t know any other place.”

While the surroundings are familiar, Simunic is coming of an unfamiliar season. Fargo-Moorhead had a 44-56 record last summer, the franchise’s first losing record.

Prior to last season, the Redhawks’ worst overall record was an 11-games-over-.500 finish in 2009. The team went 53-42 that season.

“I don’t want to experience it again if I can help it,” Simunic said. “It’s a fickle game, man, you got to understand it. Sometimes it’s who gets hurt at what time and we had some underachievers.”

The RedHawks played their first season in the American Association a season ago after playing their first 15 in the Northern League. Simunic won six Northern League titles, including five with the RedHawks.

F-M won back-to-back Northern League titles in 2009 and 2010 prior to its first season in the American Association, an independent league with roster rules similar to the Northern League.

“Coming off of two championships, I think our guys got a little complacent at the time,” Simunic said. “I’ve been doing this too long to sit around and let it stew. We’ve done a lot of good things here. We can’t forget those.”

A closer look inside the numbers and the team had its normal success at Newman Outdoor Field. It was road games that gave the RedHawks trouble. F-M posted a 30-20 record in its home park. In contrast, the team was 14-36 away from Newman.

“We didn’t fail here,” Simunic said. “We failed on the road. We have to be better at other people’s places. We’ve got to be road warriors. We got away from that a little bit last year and it hurt us.”

One losing season hasn’t deterred the fans. The team’s season-ticket base is up slightly from last season, said RedHawks general manager Josh Buchholz. Buchholz said the team has sold around 1,200 season tickets.

In the offseason, the RedHawks added a new state-of-the-art scoreboard with a light-emitting diode (LED) video board. The upgrade cost around $400,000. That replaced the manual scoreboard over the wall in left field.

“This is still a good place to come and watch a game. I think the fans are still enjoying it,” Simunic said. “It’s a great venue. It’s probably one of the top venues in the league.”

That said, Simunic plans to make last year’s record an aberration. He feels the team has upgraded its starting pitching with the additions of right-hander Kenn Kasparek, right-hander Aaron Shafer and left-hander Tony Butler.

“Those three guys have touched Double-A, and are pretty solid guys,” Simunic said.

Holdovers Alex Caldera and Jake Laber are also expected to round out the projected starting rotation. The RedHawks ranked ninth out of 14 teams last season with a 4.95 team earned-run average.

Simunic said one of the offseason priorities was to upgrade team speed. F-M ranked second to last in the league in runs scored last season.

“We were pretty much a station-to-station team. We didn’t have a lot of offensive prowess,” Simunic said. “We hit a lot of balls off the wall last year that went for singles. We can’t do that.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found

at peterson.areavoices.com