My #19 moment from the Wilmington Blue Rocks first twenty seasons is…
The two year affiliation with the Boston Red Sox.
In surprising news following the 2004 season, the Blue Rocks did not renew their player development contract with the Kansas City Royals. Instead, they signed on with the Boston Red Sox.
That relationship lasted just two seasons (2005, 2006) and produced THE worst team in the club’s history (2005). They were just 60-80 and finished in last place in the eight-team Carolina League for just the second time in the twenty seasons. The Blue Rocks tied a franchise-worst with 37 home losses and won a franchise-low of 26 games on the road. They also lost 12 extra inning games and a franchise-worst 33 one run games. The pitching staff was bad, as they allowed a franchise-worst 131 homeruns and had a 4.36 ERA. They were a team with little speed, as they stole a franchise-low of 69 bases, but their catchers only threw out 24% of base stealers.
There were some positives in 2005. The Blue Rocks set a franchise record by coming back from nine runs down to beat Winston-Salem 11-10 on August 18th. They also won their 1000th game on August 24th.
Even with the losing, some big names came through Wilmington (though mostly in 2006 as prospects were jumped to Double-A in 2005). Anibal Sanchez pitched in 2005 on the terrible team and was a Carolina League All-Star. Jacoby Ellsbury anchored the first half division champs in 2006 (though they made the playoffs with a losing record). Justin Masterson, Jed Lowrie, Michael Bowden, and Clay Buchholz all were in Wilmington by the end of 2006 for the playoffs. Current Royal Luis Mendoza was the Blue Rocks Opening Day starter in 2006.
The only game of the divisional series that the Blue Rocks won in 2006 was Game 1 when Buchholz struck out a then-career high ten batters in a then-career high six innings. Mike James became one of the most decorated Blue Rocks relievers. He tied a franchise record with 25 saves and 43 games finished. Outfielder Jeff Corsaletti set a franchise record (and led the league) with 97 walks and walked four times in a game on July 4th (the only Blue Rock to accomplish that feat). He also had 32 doubles (which is in the top five in Blue Rock history).
It was a rough two seasons in Wilmington for the Red Sox, as fans never really took to liking them and begged then-owner Matt Minker to bring the Royals back (though they once again led the league in attendance).
And that he did (and the Red Sox bought the Salem franchise and moved the team there).