Another good week ended even better for Hillsboro manager Vince Harrison, who arrived home from the team's road trip at Tri-City to his wife and three young kids who are visiting from Ohio.
"They were asleep by the time I got home last night, so I got a little rough-housing this morning," Harrison said with a chuckle. "But it was all worth it."
The manager has three kids, two of whom are twin girls born during his Kane County team's playoffs in 2015. Harrison said that living apart from his family has changed as his kids have gotten older, but they're also always happy to see him — even if he's not first on their list.
"The last two years flying across the country to Hillsboro has been and experience for them and now they see some different things and kind of remember stuff," Harrison said. "But truthfully, they're happy to see me, but they associate Oregon with Barley (the Hops mascot), and they're already asking about when they're going to see Barley."
On the field, Harrison was happy to again be on the right side of their series at Tri-City. The Hops took four of the series' six games with the Dust Devils and in the process have won eight of their last 12 games, improved to 26-23 overall, and are just 1.5 games behind first-place Eugene.
Minor league baseball is more about development than wins and losses, but Harrison said winning is still a big part of the game and the process of getting better is simply more fun when you're doing just that.
"Guys are developing and trying to get to the big leagues and working on things, but it's a lot more fun coming to the field every day when you get to shake hands and win," Harrison said. "We try to keep the guys engaged and realizing that development is cool and that's what we all want to do, but it sure is a lot more fun developing with a winning culture. And I think guys are buying into that."
It was the bats that they were buying into against Tri-City. The Hops have struggled at the plate for much of this season, but they batted .309 over the last series' six games, led by Danny Oriente and Tristin English who combined for 22 hits in the series.
Harrison said Oriente, who batted .423 against Tri-City, is a clubhouse favorite. While he may not jump out at you on paper, Harrison acknowledged, his intangibles and overall skill set are invaluable to the team on and off the field.
"Danny might not be the fastest guy or have the most pop, but he's a guy I want up there when there's a guy on third base," Harrison said. "He can pretty much handle the bat and he's ready for any situation, and he's so loved in the clubhouse that when they see him doing well, it just kind of boosts the team."
English was on fire last week, too, hitting .478 over five games with 11 hits in 23 at-bats.
Harrison said he challenged the 25-year-old first baseman during the week to hit more line drives, even telling him he didn't want him to hit a home run. English duly deposited the next pitch he hit into the stands.
"I told him, 'I know you can hit home runs, but I don't need you to try to hit a home run,'" Harrison said. "And sure enough, what ends up happening? He hits a home run."
English wasn't the only one the Hops manager challenged this past week. In fact, he challenged the whole team to get something going on the road.
Prior to their series with Tri-City, the Hops were just 4-12 on the road this season. Harrison said they pinpointed the type of outs they were making, and he asked his players to focus on doing things a little differently. And it worked.
"It was really more about making these guys understand how they've been making outs and challenging them to be more productive," Harrison said. "We had some guys make some adjustments and that can just be contagious, and we saw some good things happen."
On the mound, Kenny Hernandez again dazzled, throwing eight innings in the Hops 10-4 win June 3, allowing just a single earned run on five hits while striking out eight and walking one with just 88 pitches.
Harrison said Hernandez is a great example for the rest of his staff, citing his business-like attitude and overall efficiency on the mound.
"He's a prime example of a guy who knows how to mix pitches," the manager said. "I completely trust him, and he just goes out there and does what he does. We always like when he's on the mound."
Hillsboro hosts last-place Everett this week and will look to avenge a five-game sweep at the hands of the AquaSox last month.
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