Expectations for the Aeros have been running high the past few years.
That's what happens when the Indians' Double-A team reaches the Eastern League Championship Series four times in five years, claiming a pair of titles in 2003 and 2005.
Problem is, fan expectations no longer include getting to the title game. These days, it seems, the team's fans won't settle for anything less than a title.
Despite a handful of team accomplishments and individual player accolades this season, the Aeros came up short for the second consecutive year, losing to the Trenton Thunder (New York Yankees) three games to one in the Championship Series best-of-five matchup that concluded Sept. 15.
In 2006, the Aeros pushed the series to the limit in a deciding Game 5 in Portland, Maine, against the eventual champion Sea Dogs (Boston Red Sox).
While many fans felt the Aeros should have won it all in 2006, they weren't as upset after this season's loss in the finals.
‘‘Last year, I kind of felt like the Indians robbed us of a title when they wouldn't let (ace Adam) Miller pitch,’’ said long-time season-ticket holder Gary Rosen. ‘‘This year, you could tell Trenton was the better team, and we did good to get as far as we did.’’
This year's championship series pitted the league's best pitching staff, Trenton's, against the league's top hitting team, the Aeros. When it came down to it, however, the Thunder not only pitched well, but also saw its offense contribute, especially in their 10-5 deciding game at Canal Park.
‘‘We could talk about being a better offensive team all we want,’’ Aeros second-year manager Tim Bogar said, ‘‘but they were a very good team and got hits when they needed to.’’
Meanwhile, the Aeros got solid pitching when they needed it only with Jeremy Soweers on the hill.
This, despite the fact they had some added help in getting the right-handed Miller and left-hander Sowers from Triple-A Buffalo in time for the playoffs ` controversial moves that appeared to go against EL rules prohibiting players from higher levels joining teams in the postseason.
While Miller's addition had little impact (0-0 7.50 ERA in two appearances, including one start), Sowers (2-0, 0.68 ERA) was dominant in his two starts.
‘‘I feel like I'm pitching the best I have all year,’’ Sowers said Sept. 14 after helping hand the Aeros their lone win against Trenton. ‘‘I'm ready to go up there and try to have an impact.’’
Which brings us to another ususual aspect of the season: Instead of most players looking to work their way to Buffalo, such as right fielder Brian Barton did successfully, many went to Cleveland after using Akron as a springboard.
Not long after starting the season in Akron, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, right-handed reliever Jensen Lewis and left-handed starter Aaron Laffey were suiting up for the Indians and helping the Tribe win a division title Sunday.
‘‘That's what's really gratifying - to see guys like that whose careers really took off here,’’ Bogar said.
And they weren't the only ones to post career-type years.
First baseman Jordan Brown put his name firmly on the Indians' prospect list by being the most consistent hitter. He batted a league-best .333 with 161 hits and won EL Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year honors. More impressively, Brown did it on a bum right knee that will require offseason arthroscopic surgery.
Following with the tough-it-out theme, after a horrendous first half that had his batting average hovering around the .200 mark, center fielder Trevor Crowe put his swing together in the later part of the season, finishing with a respectable .259 average that included 26 doubles, 50 RBI, 62 walks and a team-high 28 stolen bases.
Although the Aeros didn't get the kind of help they usually do from an infusion of Class-A Kinston players, help for next season should be on the way.
The K-Tribe had four pitchers finish with more than 10 wins, saw third baseman Wes Hodges bat a healthy .288, featured the dazzling play of shortstop Josh Rodriguez and was bolstered by the continuing emergence of first baseman/designated hitter Matt Whitney.
With that kind of help, the Aeros might just push their championship series run to five appearances in six seasons come next year - with that elusive third title to boot.