The party had just begun as the beer flowed in the clubhouse of the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Players and coaches surrounded each other and bounced as one to the beat of the music as Yasiel Puig dumped buckets of ice water on his teammates.
It was last Sunday, August 28, and the Los Angeles Dodgers Triple-A affiliate was celebrating their second straight American North Division title. The 25-man fraternity had survived the arduous grind of the minor league season and came out on top.
Jose De Leon was on the mound in the division clinching victory, striking out 13 Colorado Springs batters. Austin Barnes called the game and hit a two-run homer, and reliever Louis Coleman pitched the ninth inning to secure the victory. In a little over a week, the team would begin the Pacific Coast League playoffs with their eyes on a trophy.
Then it all disappeared.
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The cruel reality that is minor league baseball reared its ugly head and much like life itself, it all changed in an instant.
Less than 48 hours after beer cans were collected and the celebration came to an end, the OKC Dodgers roster was gutted as the big league club came a calling.
Major League rosters expanded from 25 to 40 men on September 1, and faster than you could say "Chicksaw Bricktown Ballpark," half of the OKC dodgers were headed to Los Angeles.
The move is commonplace for MLB franchises and don't expect anyone to shed a tear for the players who ditched the team bus for a charter flight and a chance to play in "The Show," but for OKC manager, Bill Haselman, he's left to pick up the pieces.
Last season, after clinching the division, the same thing happened and OKC went from a Pacific Coast League champion favorite to an early offseason as they were swept in three games by the Round Rock Express (Texas Rangers affiliate).
However, this season could be different for Haselman and the OKC boys. Reinforcements are on the way, and one of them is the No. 1 prospect in the Dodgers organization.
Just in time for the final series of the season, the front office promoted first baseman/outfielder Cody Bellinger and starting pitcher Chase De Jong.
The two rising stars made their Triple-A debut on Sunday, Sept. 4, and immediately made their presence felt as De Jong allowed one run with eight strikeouts in 5 and 1/3 innings pitched, earning his first victory with OKC.
Not to be outdone, Bellinger belted two home runs in his debut, knocking in three runs as OKC defeated the Omaha Storm Chasers.
"I was excited," Bellinger told MiLB.com. "It's kind of weird saying you're in Triple-A because you first see them and those guys are really closer to the big leagues than you are. But I'm just excited to get up here and see what it's all about."
The 21-year-old slashed .263/.359/.484 with 23 homers and 65 RBIs in 114 games with the Tulsa Drillers of the Texas League under first year manager and former MLB first baseman Ryan Garko. His first home run was a solo shot in the third inning and the second was a two-run dinger in the fifth inning off Omaha starter Jonathan Dziedzic,
"It's always fun to hit two homers in a game," he said. "It's just one of those things, but then again, you've got to go out tomorrow and try to help the team win again and stick with your approach."
As an encore, Bellinger belted another home run the following day, finishing 2-for-5 with two RBI and two runs scored. Bellinger has been on a tear recently. Between Triple-A Oklahoma City and Double-A Tulsa, Bellinger has hit eight home runs in his last 12 games and is batting .545 with 3 homers in his first two games at the Triple-A level.
"I think because it's toward the end of the year, that's when pitchers start to get tired," Bellinger said. "So I just try to step up and grind it out even harder for myself, just trying to take advantage of missed locations, and that's what I've been trying to do so far."
Oklahoma City opens up the Pacific Coast League playoffs on Wednesday when they host the Nashville Sound in a best-of-five series.
Now, with the addition of Bellinger and De Jong combined with stalwarts Corey Brown (22 HR), and O'Koyea Dickson (18 HR) the depleted Dodgers have the power to push through the playoffs.