BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY — Gregg Langbehn will rejoin his crew Friday to officiate the Wisconsin Rapids-Oshkosh West high school football game.
Langbehn, manager of the Traverse City Beach Bums, was hoping to miss his fourth consecutive week of football, but plans changed after Southern Illinois completed a three-game sweep of the Frontier League's No. 1 playoff seed on Saturday night.
All three first-round games were decided by one run — 1-0, 5-4 in 10 innings and 4-3.
"That's what playoff baseball is all about," Langbehn said. "We certainly had opportunities. We just didn't capitalize. The Miners did a little bit more than we did. We didn't play poorly. We just didn't do enough to win.
"Still, they've (players) got nothing to be ashamed about. It was an incredible season. They were disappointed, no doubt about it. But they also understand that's the way it goes sometimes. They had one of the best seasons in the history of the Frontier League."
Traverse City finished the regular season 64-32 — third best in league history. Third baseman Jose Vargas was named the league's MVP. Langbehn was voted Manager of the Year. Vargas, first baseman Chase Burch, second baseman Ryan Still and outfielder Jeff Flagg were picked as post-season All-Stars. The Beach Bums were selected as the Organization of the Year, too.
Yet, the team would have traded all those accolades for a championship trophy.
"Very disappointing," shortstop Kyle Eveland said about the playoff setback. "Three one-run games, that's heartbreaking. We had a better team, and normally the better team wins those one-run games."
Burch called it "a huge letdown."
"Everybody had the same goal in mind," he said. "We fell short of that, unfortunately."
Nonetheless, Burch admitted it was an "awesome season."
"We won two out of every three games we played, which is hard to do," he said. "Jason (Wuerfel, vice president/director of baseball operations) and Gregg did a great job putting this team together. It was a great group of guys. You can tell from the transactions that we didn't have to make many moves. We had great team chemistry, a solid lineup, really good pitching. If you ask anybody, they wouldn't think we'd be the ones sitting at home right now. Southern played great and beat us. That's the way it goes."
Traverse City's regular season record was a reflection of its dominant play. The Beach Bums led the league in runs, walks, home runs and total bases. They were second in hits and third in batting average. The pitching staff had the best earned run average and the bullpen topped the charts in saves.
Individually, Vargas drove in a league-best 100 runs. He was second with 29 home runs. Flagg was third in RBIs (83) and Burch fifth (76). Reid Kelly and Brooks Belter won 10 games apiece on the mound.
"So many things went well, went right," Langbehn said.
The Beach Bums also led in another category — fewest transactions.
"I'm convinced that played a major part in our success," Langbehn said. "There was production, there was consistency, and there was a camaraderie that I've never been a part of before. It was that good.
"There was never a need to make a trade. There would have been nowhere to put anybody if we brought somebody in. Everybody here was doing their job. We had a set lineup. It was very stable. It's going to be hard to duplicate that again. If there was ever a record set, I think that has to be one of them. We had three or four transactions all year. That just doesn't happen in independent ball, even in affiliated ball."
It all led to a cohesive atmosphere on the team, Eveland said.
"It was a great year, great group of guys, great chemistry," he said. "I think that's why we were such a good team. We did everything together, on the field and off. We would all hang out. We were like one gigantic family. Everyone was so close, so tight. That's what you've got to have to have a good team."
Langbehn sensed that chemistry early. In fact, he never had to call a team meeting once this season to address issues.
"I said from day one, these guys love playing baseball, they care about each other," he said. "It's the first time in my 22 years of pro ball — as a player, coach and manager — that there weren't any meetings, any issues to be dealt with. That's a real credit to the character of every player on that team. It was a lot of fun to be around them."
So what happens next?
Langbehn said he'll talk with Jason Wuerfel in the next couple weeks to start discussions for 2013. There will be turnover since the Beach Bums will be over the limit with experienced players.
"There's definitely a significant core group of guys that we would like to have back," Langbehn said. "But it's too early to talk about that."
Eveland said his future is uncertain. Eveland didn't join the team this season until training camp after he was released by the White Sox.
"About 20 minutes after I got released, I called Gregg and asked if there was a chance I could come out and try to win a spot on his team," he said. "Fortunately, I got that chance."
Burch said he would like to keep playing. Asked if that would be in Traverse City, he responded, "I have no idea. I'll be in touch with them. They'll let me know what they would like to do with me. I still plan on playing a couple more years. I still enjoy it."