SIOUX CITY -- It’s nothing so dramatic as “Mission Impossible,’’ but it was a king-sized challenge accepted just a couple weeks in advance of the 2017 American Association season by a young baseball team dubbed the Salina Stockade.
After visiting every other city in the league, Sioux City becomes the last venue visited by the travel team agreeing to fill the Laredo schedule after the Lemurs folded just weeks before the season. “Salina” takes on the Sioux City Explorers for a three-game series Tuesday through Thursday nights.
Even though their record is a lowly 6-49, an outfit that lists 18 rookies on a roster of 22 has been surprisingly competitive, suffering 22 of their losses by margins of three runs or less -- nine of them one-run setbacks.
Then, there’s the intriguing story of the Stockade’s 73-year-old J.D. Droddy, a Harvard Law School graduate who flew 44 combat missions over Vietnam and has been everything from a playwright to a baseball manager.
Laredo, “rewarded’’ for its 2015 league title with a 2016 attendance average of 892, didn’t throw in the towel on 2017 until just two weeks before teams were scheduled to begin training camp.
That’s when Pecos League Commissioner Andrew Dunn proposed to fill the void in this year’s schedule with a team consisting largely of players from his own league.
The Stockade has no official connection with the city of Salina (pronounced suh-LINE-uh, by the way), but they have played South Division rival Wichita a four-game series there at Dean Evans Park, where the teams will meet another three times when Wichita again hosts the annual NBC World Series.
Funded by the American Association, the travel team enabled the league to maintain a 12-team format and the schedule that was formulated several months before the season.
The Stockade picked up their most recent win on Sunday, July 9, with a 5-1 verdict over the Texas AirHogs, a much-improved team that won the first two games of a three-game series concluding here Sunday. After clipping Wichita 4-3 in their second game on May 22, they dropped 22 in a row before the first of their four wins over the first-year Cleburne (Texas) Railroaders. Another 12 consecutive losses followed as the record plummeted to 2-35.
Salina, which has gone 4-14 since then with a current six-game losing streak, is 6-25 against its three division rivals (4-9 vs. Cleburne, 1-5 vs. Texas and 1-11 vs. Wichita) while dropping all 24 of its games outside the division. That includes six games with Lincoln along with three each against everyone else besides the Explorers.
Droddy, a native of Call,Texas, 130 miles northeast of Houston, graduated from Stephen F. Austin University before serving 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. He was a second lieutenant when he served in Vietnam and later retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1986.
Harvard Law School came next, followed by law practices in Oregon and Kentucky. He earned a Ph.D in political science from the University of Kentucky and taught four years at Western Kentucky before taking on the CFO duties at Vermilion Community College in Ely, Minn.
After two years in Minnesota, he sought out warmer weather in New Mexico, where he dipped his toe in baseball in 2011 as a host family for the White Sands Pupfish of the Pecos League. The following year, he became a coach for that league’s Trinidad (Colo.) Triggers, taking over as interim manager midway through the schedule and then continuing to lead the team for another two seasons.
After a year away from baseball, Droddy came out of another “retirement” last summer, leading the Tucson Saguaros to a Pecos League championship. And, he was seemingly retired yet again when he took on the travel team job.