Last season, the Mankato MoonDogs hit a franchise-record 52 home runs in 70 games, though 20 of those came by outfielder Shaun Cooper.
MoonDogs manager Mike Orchard said before this year that he hoped his team would still hit for power, though no one would be able to match Cooper’s record-setting performance.
It looks like he was right.
Craig Massoni smacked two long two-run homers that propelled the MoonDogs to a 6-1 victory over Willmar in a Northwoods League baseball game Monday afternoon at Mankato’s Franklin Rogers Park. It was the team’s 23rd homer in 27 games, which puts the pace around 60 for the season.
“In this league, you have to have guys who can hit it out of the ballpark,” Orchard said. “It’s nice to have a lot of guys who can do that. Craig had a big day today.”
Massoni’s two homers gives him four on the season, taking over the team lead. Eight players have at least one home run.
“It’s awesome when you know it’s out,” said Massoni, who led the Chabot College team with six home runs last spring. “Both of those, I had a pretty good idea when I hit it. It’s an indescribable feeling.”
Massoni had only seven at-bats in the last seven games, sometimes entering games as a defensive replacement. With a lot of quality outfielders, it’s tough to find at-bats for everyone.
“I’ve been here since the beginning, and as the new guys come in, I know we have to get them in there, too,” Massoni said. “The biggest mistake people make is that when they’re on the bench, they lose confidence. Even if I’m not playing, I try to come to the ballpark and work hard and be ready.”
Nick Ratajczak led off the MoonDogs’ first at-bat with a sharp double into the right-field corner. He eventually scored on David Andriese’s fielder’s choice. Massoni then launched a long, two-out homer to left-center that made it 3-0.
“He does a good job against a certain type of pitcher, so I’ve kind of looked at him as a matchup guy,” Orchard said. “If he keeps wining like that, he’s going to force me to play him more. After the first seven to 10 days (of the season), he’s been swinging it pretty well.”
In the second, Ratajczak’s two-out single over the mound scored Drew Stankiewicz to extend the lead.
Massoni’s second homer was equally long and high, pulled more to left field to score Chad Christensen.
“I like to hit fastballs, and (the Willmar pitcher) kept trying to challenge me with fastballs. I just took advantage.”
Wayland Moore didn’t give up a hit until there was one out in the fourth inning, and finished five shutout innings to get the win, allowing only the one hit with five walks. Derek Howell added three hitless innings of relief before Trey Nielsen allowed a run in the ninth.
The MoonDogs (20-7) and Willmar finish the three-game series today at Willmar, beginning at 7:05 p.m. Then, seven games will remain in the first half, with five against second-place Waterloo.
“We’ve had the luxury of playing a lot of home games in June, but we feel like we can go on the road and win,” Massoni said. “We have a good group of guys here that like to work hard and like to win.”