By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Those who wondered how the Cyclones would survive the heat of the pennant race without their leading hitter, Cole Frenzel, needed only look to the young man who took his position at first base last month.
Jayce Boyd, a member of Florida State's College World Series team earlier this year, continues to step up when it matters most for the New York-Penn League wild-card leaders as evidenced by his big performance in Wednesday night's come-from-behind 7-4 victory over McNamara Division-leading Hudson Valley before 5,525 fans at Dutchess Stadium.
Boyd, a 21-year-old right-handed hitting first baseman from Cantonment, Fla., has thrived in the role Frenzel filled so prominently before being promoted to Class A Savannah in July, taking his team-best .342 batting average with him to Georgia.
Never has Boyd's value to the youngest team in Cyclones history been more evident than over the past three games.
With Brooklyn clinging to a two-game lead over surging Batavia in the hunt for the 14-team circuit's final playoff spot, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound slugger has belted homers in each game during the Baby Bums' current three-game winning streak, driving in six runs during that stretch to help the Mets' Class A short-season affiliate shake off a rough 1-3 stretch that raised questions regarding whether the Cyclones had what it took to reach the postseason for the fourth straight summer.
"He’s played on big stages before," Brooklyn manager Rich Donnelly said of Boyd, who hit .353 with 19 homers and 156 RBIs during his three-year career with the perennial national title-contending Seminoles. "Every time he walks up there, I feel like he’s going to do something good.”
Something great might be more apt of late.
Boyd belted solo homers on back-to-back nights as Brooklyn escaped Aberdeen with a pair of key victories, and he carried the load for the Cyclones again Wednesday, connecting for a two-run double in the seventh to erase a 2-1 deficit before blasting a two-run shot, his fifth of the season, in the eighth to put the first-place Renegades away.
"I'm just trying to see the ball and hit it," Boyd noted humbly in a recent post-game interview at MCU Park.
Boyd's vision at the plate has been superhuman of late as he's hitting a sizzling .324 with three homers, seven RBIs, a double and two runs scored over the last 10 games. Though his season numbers -- .247 avg. and 19 RBIs -- may leave something to be desired, the the former All-Atlantic Coast Conference first team selection has been brilliant under the intense spotlight of the playoff chase, batting .379 (11-for-29) since the All-Star break.
The Cyclones, owners of one of the worst offenses in the league, have needed every big hit from the Mets' sixth-round pick in this year's MLB Draft. His solo shot in Aberdeen Monday night provided the winning margin in a 2-1 victory and he opened the scoring against the IronBirds the next night with a soaring missile over the wall in left-center.
Though he's played only 47 of the Cyclones' first 69 games due to his collegiate commitments, Boyd is just one homer behind catcher Kevin Plawecki (6 HRs) for the team lead. His glovework at first hasn't exactly been shoddy either, as he's committed only three errors at a position that commands his full attention for wild throws, bunt plays and outfield relays Frenzel, the top fielding first baseman in the league during his summer-plus on Coney Island, made one error in his first 19 games this season.
Batavia has won five in a row and eight of its last 10 games to remain within striking distance of Brooklyn with a week remaining in the regular season. The Muckdogs, who dropped two of three to the Cyclones earlier this summer in the only scheduled series between the playoff contenders, would lose the tiebreaker if they finish tied for the wild card.
The Cyclones were scheduled to conclude their home-and-home set with the Renegades Thursday night at MCU Park before diving into a three-game series with Staten Island. Brooklyn will complete the campaign with three home games against Lowell next weekend, hoping to earn a chance to compete for the franchise's first NY-Penn Championship since its magical inaugural campaign on Surf Avenue in 2001.
Boyd may have to continue his recent power spree to keep the Cyclones' playoff hopes afloat. But even if the clean-shaven, fresh-faced first baseman is unable to resume his home-run streak, he has at least proven worthy of filling Frenzel's spikes, and then some.
Former Poly Prep Country Day School standout Kevin Heller, who starred as a center fielder at Amherst College following his playing days in Bay Ridge, is likely to be on the field at MCU Park during the Baby Bums' regular season-ending series with Lowell from Sept. 3-5.
The only issue is, he'll be playing for the Spinners against our Cyclones.
Heller, who was picked in the 40th round of June's MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox, has been called up by Lowell after hitting .263 in 11 games with the franchise's Gulf Coast League affiliate.
“This is a dream come true,” Heller, a lifelong Yankees fan, noted after the rival Red Sox made his big league dreams come true two months ago. “This is the happiest I’ve been in a long time. I don’t know if I’ve ever been this happy.”
Though he's yet to make his Lowell debut, the right-handed hitting outfielder should be patrolling the lush green grass on Coney Island for what may prove to be Brooklyn's biggest series of the season as it tries to hold off hard-charging Batavia in the NY-Penn wild-card race. Lowell, which has been eliminated from playoff contention, could play the role of spoiler during the final series.
Heller graduated from Amherst as the program’s all-time leader in hits (172), runs scored (136), RBIs (126) and total bases (275). He also shared the school's career home run record (18). The Brooklyn native went 41-for-45 on stolen-base attempts during his four years as an outfielder and designated hitter, and he is one of only two players in program history to record four consecutive 40-hit seasons.
“Kevin is one example of the many student-athletes at Amherst who excel at the highest level in their sport,” said Amherst baseball coach Brian Hamm. “Amherst has produced many professional baseball players and front office personnel, and I am proud that Kevin will continue this legacy. He leaves Amherst and our program a better place.”
Heller didn't take long to pledge his allegiance to the organization that had enough faith in his skills to give him a shot at his big-league dream.
“I never thought I’d say this, but I’m probably the biggest Red Sox fan in the world right now," he said.
Now, he'll have a chance to strut his stuff before family and friends at our borough's sparkling 8,500-seat facility by the sea in the days leading up to his 23rd birthday. It's hard to imagine a better birthday present for a kid who honed his craft in the shadows of the Verrazano Bridge.
This, That and the Other Thing: Thanks to Boyd's rash of homers, the Cyclones rank second in the league with 41 long balls this summer, five behind circuit-leading Tri-City. ... Though he gave up his first two earned runs of the summer Wednesday night, RHP Logan Taylor picked up the win in relief. Taylor had gone 11 appearances spanning 15 1/3 scoreless innings before being reached for two runs on four hits over 2 2/3 frames against the Renegades. ... Though their hopes of capturing their first McNamara Division crown since 2010 remain slim, the Cyclones did pick up ground on Hudson Valley with Wednesday's win, moving within four games of the Renegades, whose magic number for clinching the pennant remained at four. ... RHP Tyler Vanderheiden tossed a perfect ninth Wednesday for his team-leading 11th save. Brooklyn's opening day closer lowered his ERA to 0.83.