The 2022 Rocket City Trash Pandas season was one for the ages, with the team putting together the best season by a Los Angeles Angels affiliate in a number of years in reaching the playoffs for the first time and setting numerous records along the way.
In the first article of our Season In Review series, here is part one of the Top 10 Moments from the Trash Pandas in the second season in franchise history. Part two will be published next week.
10. Cabbage Carries Trash Pandas To Opening Night Win – April 8
Opening Night is always special. For the Trash Pandas, the season began on April 8 on a cold night against their closest rival, the Birmingham Barons. We didn’t know it at the time, but that first game at Regions Field would prove to be a sign of what was to follow for the 2022 Trash Pandas.
In his second Double-A start, Brett Kerry began the season by recording his first six outs with strikeouts. Aaron Whitefield began the game with a single on the first pitch of the season. Trey Cabbage drove in the first two runs of the year in the fourth inning, silencing a heckler with a towering two-run homer.
The Trash Pandas scored two in the seventh to break a 2-2 tie, then Cabbage sealed the victory with a bases loaded three-run double in the ninth. Cabbage finished his Trash Pandas debut by going 3-for-5 with five RBI, leading the way in an 8-2 win. That would be the start of a three-game season-opening sweep, and Rocket City was off and running.
“It’s always great to get off to a good start,” Trash Pandas Manager Andy Schatzley said after the Opening Night win. “I’m happy for our guys. We’re excited for the chance to compete and I feel confident in the consistency of our effort and our attitude.”
9. Trash Pandas Tie Franchise Hits Record In Road Rout – May 18
Regions Field in Birmingham was the site of 10 Trash Pandas victories in 2022 including the first three games of the season. But one of their biggest offensive triumphs came in as part of a Wednesday morning game in May.
The 12-2 rout of the Barons included hits from 10 different Trash Pandas as the visitors tied a franchise record with 23 hits. Torii Hunter Jr. and Preston Palmeiro each hit a two-run homer to break the game open in the fourth for a 9-1 lead, and the Trash Pandas cruised from there to win. Bryce Teodosio led the way with four hits while Hunter Jr., Jose Gomez, Braxton Martinez, and Zach Humphreys all added three hits in the triumph.
In the eighth, the Trash Pandas got the hit they needed to tie the franchise record when pinch-hitter Gustavo Campero laced a single to center in his first Double-A at-bat, sending the Trash Pandas bench into a frenzy and capping an incredible day at the plate.
“It’s a big-time win. When you see your teammates succeed, it makes the game a blast,” Humphreys said. “It’s awesome to see everyone have a game like that because it doesn’t happen very often.”
8. Braxton Martinez Walk-Off Home Run – April 27
Early in the season, the Trash Pandas were looking for a signature win. They got it in wild fashion during the first Education Day game in team history. With a 11 a.m. start time against Birmingham on April 27, the Trash Pandas fell behind 4-0 early. The teams traded runs over the next few innings, with homers from both sides giving Birmingham an 8-4 lead at the seventh inning stretch.
A Torii Hunter Jr. two-run homer made it a one-run game in the seventh and Livan Soto tied the game with a sacrifice fly in the eighth, tying the game for the first time.
Kolton Ingram pitched a one, two, three top of the ninth to keep the tie, setting the stage for late heroics from one of the Rocket City veterans.
After working a 2-0 count against Barons reliever Declan Cronin, Braxton Martinez crushed the next pitch he saw high and gone over the fence in left field for his first career walk-off home run, giving the Trash Pandas their first lead of the game and an incredible comeback win.
“No matter what the score is, no matter where the game’s at, we always feel like we have a chance to win. Our pitchers always give us a chance and as hitters, we’re always battling,” Martinez said. “I can’t say enough about the team effort. We were down 8-4 at one point and we just kept chipping away to get into a good position to win it.”
7. Trash Pandas Win First Playoff Game - September 20
Following a first-half title, the Trash Pandas knew their playoff berth was locked up for three months before actually taking the field to open the postseason in Tennessee. The build up to the playoffs was matched by the instant outburst from the Trash Pandas offense at Smokies Stadium.
Home plate umpire Tom O’Neil said, “Play Ball,” at 7:12 p.m. eastern time. Not even 60 seconds later, the Trash Pandas were up 2-0. Zach Neto doubled on the first pitch of the first playoff game in team history. Preston Palmeiro followed by crushing a two-run homer on the very next pitch, giving the Trash Pandas the lead 51 seconds into the game.
Jordyn Adams homered the next inning to make it 3-0, and the lead eventually ballooned to 7-0 on RBI doubles from Neto and Logan O’Hoppe, who would score himself on a wild pitch. Starter Ky Bush was sharp for five scoreless innings, and the Trash Pandas survived a late push from the Smokies for a 9-5 victory in Game 1 of the North Division Series, with a loyal group of fans traveling from North Alabama to support their team on the road.
“It takes a little bit of the pressure off. It’s always important to get off to a fast start, more so in a playoff game,” Schatzley said. “The support was great. It only helps facilitate the emotional attachment to what these guys are doing. These guys are emotionally bonded to each other and they’re emotionally bonded to this fan base.”
6 – Sonny D, Logan O’Hoppe Hit First Home Runs In Schatzley’s 100th Win – August 5
Like most teams in Minor League Baseball, the Trash Pandas finished the season with a vastly different lineup than the one that began the year. On August 5, the new guys were on full display as a couple players in their first homestand with the Trash Pandas made their mark.
Batting second was catcher Logan O’Hoppe, making his second start with the Trash Pandas after being acquired in a deadline deal from the Phillies. He arrived in the Rocket City less than 48 hours earlier, and immediately made his mark at the plate. Once Livan Soto reached on an error to begin the bottom of the first, O’Hoppe crushed a two-run homer to left, his first with the Trash Pandas, to put the home team up 2-0 early.
Preston Palmeiro then took a four-pitch walk, giving another new Trash Panda his shot. First baseman Sonny DiChiara began the season at Auburn University. An Alabama native, he carried the team to the College World Series in Omaha and became a fan favorite in the process. At the MLB draft, the Los Angeles Angels called his name and assigned him to the Trash Pandas to start his pro career, welcoming him back to his home state. Batting cleanup on this night, DiChiara crushed his first professional home run, a two-run shot to left to nearly the same spot as O’Hoppe’s homer, giving the Trash Pandas a 4-0 lead after their first four hitters came to the plate.
That would be all the offense Rocket City needed. Chase Silseth dominated for 6.2 innings on the mound, allowing just one run while striking out nine. Kolton Ingram got he final out in the seventh and Brett Kerry pitched the final two innings to cap a 4-1 win, earning his first career save in the process.
The win was manager Andy Schatzley’s 100th as a professional and improved the Trash Pandas’ record to 57-43 though 100 games.
“It felt awesome to get my first home run,” DiChiara said. “I was looking for something over the plate and I got a fastball middle in and put a good swing on it.”