(above) National Player of the Year Caleb Jonkman poses in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series as Manager Alex Friedman watches a Zach Liberatore ball fly onto Bray Street.
LA PORTE- The 2017 NWLA Committee concluded their rankings by naming the most coveted award to the 2017 NWLA National Player of the Year. Just a few days before, it was announced that Maple City's Manager Alex Friedman, who will be heading into his 8th season as the Magic skipper has been announced as the 2017 National Manager of the Year.
It was the first time that the NWLA has handed out this award, so it is great to see an ORWBL manager get some National recognition right off the bat, considering all of the work that goes in week in and week out as Manager's try to figure out who is able to make it and what not.
After a 2 year rough patch from 2014-2015, Maple City has turned into an elite force and there is no doubt that the signing of Caleb Jonkman has played a vital role in the turnaround.
For years, Maple City always played the little brothers role to the Newts and when Maple City signed Caleb Jonkman, the Newts had won 19 of the previous 22 matchups between the 2 rivals. Since signing Jonkman, Maple City has gone 6-3 against New Carlisle (including tournaments) as Maple City was finally able to get over the hump in 2017.
Friedman's ability to scout out talent and bring players together with no previous playing experience together has been quite fascinating to watch over the past 7 years. Just before getting swept by the Newts in the 2016 World Series, Alex Friedman leaned over to his Bench Coach Zach Wisniewski and said "We simply are not deep enough to beat these guys right now."
Friedman and his right hand man also made a splash by signing the eventual World Series MVP Anthony Rieff after months and months of angling to get him. His brother Austin also had some key moments with Maple City, as he actually was named as an All Star Reserve (1st appearance) and made some critical defensive plays in their 1st Round series win over the Hudson Lake Heat.
Friedman ended up making one of the biggest signings in ORWBL history right up there with the Newts acquiring the Warriors Core 4, and Noah Shail just a few years before. Jonkman played on the Maple City "Z" team in the 2016 Hometown Days Tournament led by the "Wizard" Zach Wisniewski, where they made a surprise run to the Elite 8, only losing by 1 run to the White Lightning.
From then on, Jonkman has been the catalyst of the team as Alex Friedman stated "What Caleb does on the field for us is obviously something that can't be matched, but what he did for our mindset in terms of teaching us how to win and creating a winning culture is something that was just as important to our success."
Maple City ended the summer with a league, playoff, and tournament combined record of 70-18 which was the most wins in a summer by any official NWLA Wiffleball Team in NWLA history.
While Friedman was honored by the award, he sounded like he was more proud for his leadoff hitter Caleb Jonkman who won a close vote to win the 2017 NWLA National Player of the Year. As stated earlier, Jonkman won the Central Region Player of the Year, but this honor is something that Jonkmamn will cherish forever.
Obviously, Jonkman's contributions to Maple City were not the only factors in him being named National Player of the Year as he is the 3 time reigning MVP in one of the nation's best up and coming league's in the country, the Leroy Wiffle Association.
Jonkman dominated the Leroy fast pitch landscape hitting 59 HR, 95 R, 106 RBI, while hitting a robust .622 AVG and leading his Lake County Liners to a league best 19-2 record. While we have seen that the kid can hit, it might be his pitching stats that are simply hard to match.
The elder Jonkman led LWA with a .063 ERA, while striking out 126 of the 158 batters that he faced. Jonkman also helped lead the Leroy National Squad to a respectable finish in the NWLA Tournament. He was also the catalyst behind getting Alex Friedman and Zach Wisniewski to come along with Leroy as Bench Coaches so that they could check out the National scene.
In Leroy's article called "The Year of Jonkman" they mentioned what he did for Maple City so we might as well dive in one more time before we call it a year. Jonkman started the year as the #3 hitter behind long time Magic stars Wes Ellis and Zach Liberatore.
Midway through the season, Alex Friedman made a change that would prove to reap rewards. Friedman moved Jonkman to the leadoff spot where he basically did whatever he wanted with the ball. That move turned out to be huge as Jonkman was constantly on base for the 2 greatest power hitters in Maple City history, Wes Ellis, and Zach Liberatore.
We saw this move pay off in a huge way in Game 5 of the World Series where Maple City held a 3-1 series lead but New Carlisle was getting very close to winning a 2nd straight game that would have put the pressure on the Magic and forced a game 6.
After an Anthony Rieff Home Run which nearly sent Scott Soos over the fence as he gave it everything he had, Jonkman punched a single to right field, using his long strides to reach base. He then gave a point to one of the many "HR guys" Wes Ellis who smashed a 2 run Home Run for some extra insurance in Maple City's 9-6 World Series clinching win.
Jonkman would end the season with a .609 AVG, white hitting 39 HR, 59 RBI, 58 Runs which were all team highs. Jonkman's .609 AVG was good for tops in the league, which certainly helped him win the 2017 American League Rookie of the Year Award. Jonkman also finished 2nd in the American League MVP voting and you can expect him to be in the running for that award for years to come.
All in all, these two winning these National Awards certainly go hand in hand a bit as both Friedman and Jonkman say that they would not have been able to do it without each other and all of the Maple City Magic players.
The year of Jonkman was something special to watch from both the ORWB, Leroy and National sides of it. Friedman, Jonkman and the Magic will look to continue to be a vital force for years to come as they will look to build off of their 70-18 summer that included their 5th Hometown Cup Final 4 appearance, their 1st win in the Hometown Cup Final 4, a Hometown Cup 2nd place finish (lost 7-6 to Cult West), their first ORWBL World Series Championship, a Peacefest Championship, a 2nd straight Friedman & Associates Fall Classic Championship as well as a Wifflin for Wishes Tournament Championship down in Indianapolis in October.
On top top of that all, Maple City won the Grand Slam Golden Ticket and will earn free entree to the four major tournaments next season in the area if the Grand Slam continues to be a thing moving forward. Including their Game 5 World Series clinching win over the Newts, Maple City closed off the year by winning 21 straight games in late season tournament play. It is safe to say, Maple City has a big target on their back as we are just days away from 2018.