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Beyond the Scoreboard: Tourists’ Spanberger chasing Triple Crown

Chad Spanberger
Asheville Tourists first baseman Chad Spanberger (24) reacts to the ball during a game against the Columbia Fireflies at McCormick Field on April 12, 2018 in Asheville, North Carolina. The Fireflies defeated the Tourists 7-5. (Tony Farlow/Four Seam Images)

Over the last 17 months, Asheville Tourists first baseman Chad Spanberger has played in 197 baseball games as a collegian and professional.

In that span, the 6-3, 235-pound 22-year-old has produced some whopping numbers – 60 home runs, 187 RBIs (averaging nearly one a game) and a .305 average.

And that doesn’t include a prodigious display of tater-swatting at last month’s South Atlantic League All-Star Game’s Home Run Derby, where he hit 29 long balls and quit with 90 seconds remaining in his time slot because he didn’t want “to show off.”

It’s the kind of statistics that gets a Class A player noticed, promoted and placed on the top prospects list.

And his efforts this year sets up the left-handed hitting slugger – in the midst of his hottest stretch of the season – to make a run for the Triple Crown.

Leading the league in home runs, RBIs and batting average is a rare feat that hasn’t happened in Asheville since 1978.

During an impressive six-season stretch in the 1970s, Asheville produced three triple crown sluggers - Mike Reinbach in 1972 (30 homers, 109 RBIs, .346), Pat Putnam in ’76 (24 HR, 142 RBIs, .361) and David Rivera in ’78 (26 HR, 118 RBIs, .346).

After a torrid six-game stretch July 2-7 (13-of-24, eight runs scored, three homers and nine RBIs), Spanberger has played in 79 games and leads the SAL in RBIs (69), is second in home runs (21) and third in batting average (.317).

While enjoying his banner season and torrid two-season run, Spanberger said he hasn’t thought about winning the trifecta.

“My plan was to come in and get a bunch of RBIs and score runs (he has scored 58) and help the team win,” he said.

“Home runs are cool and I would love to win the title, but the stat I love is RBIs (his 69 lead the league by more than a dozen over the second-place hitter) because I know that helps the team,” he said.

His power surge began last year, his junior season at Arkansas. After struggling, with just six homers as a part-time starter as a sophomore, Spanberger hit 20 home runs with 58 RBIs and finished with a .305 average.

That was enough to convince the parent club Colorado Rockies to draft the slugger in the sixth round.

He showed his promise last summer in the Pioneer League, finishing second in home runs with 19, one behind Asheville teammate Casey Golden.

“My first two years at Arkansas, I didn’t do too much, then my junior year I hit 20 homers,” he said, not sure what happened beyond increased playing time.

“I really haven’t changed my swing since my freshman year in high school. I have a natural swing in which I try to get good leverage and backspin, but it’s not me trying to get the ball in the air. You do that, and you either pop up or strikeout.”

The long-ball skills have continued this season, highlighted by his domination of the All-Star Home Run Derby.

Spanberger hit 29 dingers in 5 ½ minutes. After realizing he had already clinched the title, he stopped his second session with 90 seconds left on the clock.

“That was a lot of fun, just awesome,” he said. “I tried to soak it all in, but I was trying to win and competing against the best in the league.

“When I realized I had the most, I stopped because I didn’t want to look like I was showing off.”

Asheville manager Robinson Cancel said his slugger has put in the time to get better.

“He’s come in and done a lot of work to improve his game, and it’s paying off,” Cancel said. “He reminds me of a guy I played with the Cleveland Indians, Travis Hafner.

“Chad’s an athletic guy who can steal bases (16 in 19 attempts). Right now it’s a matter of getting better. He certainly has big-league potential – a good athlete who has power and a good body.”

Spanberger said playing half of his games in the friendly confines of McCormick Field, where fly balls of just over 300 feet can disappear over the right-field wall, helps but the odd dimensions – including a wall in excess of 35 feet in the right-center power alley - also takes away some home-run balls.

“I guess it all evens out,” he said. “I’ve hit some line drives that could have been home runs but they hit the wall and I just got as single, and the other night I hit a 340-foot fly ball that would have been an out at most places but it was a home run here.”

On a pace to be one of the top sluggers the Tourists have produced in recent years, Spanberger admits he has some lofty goals.

The Tourists have had 12 players hit 30 or more home runs, the most recent Corey Dickerson (31) in 2011.

And 27 Asheville players have produced 100 or more RBIs, the latest Ryan McMahon and Correlle Prime (102 each) in 2014. Spanberger is on pace to hit more than 30 homers and eclipse the 100-RBI mark.

And he could be just the fifth player in more than 90 seasons of Asheville Tourists baseball to hit at least .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs, a short list that includes Reinbach, Ken Hottman (1971), Asheville resident Ian Stewart (2004) and Matt Miller (2005).

“Coming into the season, I thought 35 home runs and 110 RBIs would be a great year,” Spanberger said. “So we’ll see what happens the rest of the way.”

TOURISTS TATERS

The top home-run hitters in the history of the Asheville Tourists:

1. Mike Simms 39 1987

2. Ken Hottman 37 1971

3. Joe Koshansky 36 2005

4. Terry Clapp 35 1973

5. (tie) Bob Robertson 32 1961

Derrick Gibson 32 1995

RBI LEADERS

The top RBI producers in Asheville Tourists history:

1. Pat Putnam 142 1976

2. (tie) Ray Hickernell 139 1948

3. (tie) Harl Maggert 139 1937

4. J.C. Clark 129 1935

5. Ed Whited 126 1987

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