Even though the Aberdeen IronBirds ended their 2014 season with a losing record and at the bottom of their division, the players wore broad smiles Monday evening after clinching a 10-6 victory over the division-leading Hudson Valley Renegades.
"I can assure you, everybody in that clubhouse is happy right now," center fielder Jay Gonzalez said after the game.
The IronBirds played their final regular-season game in front of 3,696 fans at Ripken Stadium.
The 'Birds finish their regular season with a 27-48 record, and they will not go to the playoffs.
The end of the 2014 season is very different from the IronBirds' 2013 season, when they had a 40-32 regular season record and went to the postseason, although they lost both games. Last year's season was the best in team history; this year's one of the worst.
Monday's victory was the team's third straight win; they beat the Renegades 3-1 Sunday in a game cut short by thunderstorms in the bottom of the fifth inning, and they shut out the Lowell Spinners, 3-0, on the road Saturday.
Although the IronBirds have struggled offensively this year, their bats were alive for their last game, as left fielder Randolph Gassaway drilled a three-run shot in the fourth inning to give the 'Birds their first lead, and Baltimore Orioles transfer Steve Clevenger tied the score at 6-6 in the bottom of the seventh inning with a two-run homer.
"It was kind of relaxed in the dugout today," Clevenger, who was sent to Aberdeen by the Orioles for a two-game rehabilitation, said. "[We were] just tying to enjoy the last game of the season, trying to go out on a good note."
Clevenger, the designated hitter, also snagged a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth to give the IronBirds their 10-6 lead.
Gonzalez, who wrapped up his first season with the 'Birds and was one of three all stars on the team, acknowledged that "it's been a tough year; it's been a lot of close games."
He also contributed to Monday's victory with a one-run double during the eighth-inning rally.
Gonzalez said he was taking in the end of his first season of professional baseball.
"It's kind of surreal," he said. "I can't believe I just finished my first pro season; might as well enjoy this."
He called the home victory "awesome."
"Getting a win anywhere is fun, but there's nothing like ending a season getting a 'W' at home," he said.
Clevenger said he was glad to come to Aberdeen "to be a mentor and show these guys how the game's supposed to be played."
The Orioles acquired Clevenger from the Chicago Cubs in a trade during the 2013 season.
Both players praised the fans and staff at Ripken Stadium.
"Fans and staff, all around they do a great job," Clevenger said.
Gonzalez said "there's nothing like Aberdeen."
The Orlando, Fla., native recalled going to minor league games in his hometown as a child and seeking autographs from the players.
"It's just awesome being on the other side," he said.
Monday's crowd was a mix of fans, some season-ticket holders, and others attending their first game of the season.
Veteran fan Joe McDeshen, of Aberdeen, watched the action from the stands along the third-base line.
He said he has been attending games since the IronBirds' first season in 2002.
"I love it at this stadium," he exclaimed. "It's a great stadium, family oriented."
He noted the IronBirds have been "pretty lousy" in 2014, but he still enjoys the atmosphere of Ripken Stadium.
"It's still fun to come out and root for the IronBirds," he said. "That's what I do, ever since I've been coming."
Lee Stewart, of Howard County, attended the game with his girlfriend and other friends.
"Compared to last year, [team performance has] been kind of rough, but it's a nice place to go," he said of the stadium.
He said he enjoys seeing the young players "that are out here just trying to make it," as well as the major leaguers who are transferred to teams such as Aberdeen.
"You get kind of a mix of the future and the present," he said. "You can't beat it as far as value."
Stewart spoke to The Aegis before the 'Birds came back in the seventh.
"We'll see if they're able to get out of this and maybe get the bats going in the last couple of innings," he predicted.
David Phillips, cub master of Cub Scout Pack 555 of Port Deposit, gathered with his Cub Scouts and other adult leaders in the club level after the game.
"It was a great game," Phillips said. "All my Scouts loved it; they all stayed to the end and cheered them on."
Phillips said it was the first IronBirds game for the whole pack.
Diana Ricker, of Carroll County, cheered as the IronBirds made their final out in the top of the ninth inning for the win.
She attended to the game with her son Colin, age, 8, and husband Will at the invitation of Adam Malat, advertising sales manager for The Baltimore Sun Media Group, parent company of The Aegis.
"It was great fun," Diana Ricker said.
She said she enjoyed how close the fan seating is to the players, and that one can "hear the crack of the bat, just great fans, good times."
Colin picked up a foul ball near the concession areas along the third base side.
"I liked it a lot, and I'm really happy that I got the ball," he said of his Ripken Stadium experience. "I hope to have another chance next year, too."