A painting print of a Sky Sox pitcher on the Security Service Field mound bathed in the rich, red glow of sunset underwent some editing in the home clubhouse recently.
Over the scene, someone drew heavy rain and a flying piece of a torn infield tarp and scribbled "Reality" at the bottom. The alterations were done in jest, but it also pointed to the difficulties this season.
The Brewers finished their first year in Colorado Springs with a disappointing 62-81 record, last in the Pacific Coast League American North division. It was soon clear the Sky Sox would not win its first PCL championship since 1995, 20 years ago this month.
It was challenging at the box office too. Rain every day in May affected 16 home games while the Sky Sox lost seven dates including two each on typically well-attended Tuesdays, Thursday and Sundays. As a result, attendance dipped to 300,209 fans, 50,165 fewer than the record (350,374) set last summer. The 2015 average attendance of 4,619 dropped to a five-year low dating back to 4,351 in 2010.
"This is Colorado so we expect weather changes but this was one of the most unusual summers in Colorado Springs history," Sky Sox general manager Tony Ensor said. "Mother Nature usually wins but Colorado Springs fans are hardy and showed their loyalty."
The fans who did come, including the Triple-A franchise's 7 millionth fan in August, saw a much-improved home squad as the season went along.
"There's no question we have played much better in the second half," Sky Sox manager Rick Sweet said, referring to a 28-27 record following a 34-54 mark at the All-Star break July 13-15. "We changed the makeup of our club by bringing in younger players. Sometimes with older players they start to think things will be better for them somewhere else while the younger players are happy to be here and are hungrier."
A number of individual players made their mark, including catcher Nevin Ashley who was called up to the majors for the first time at age 31 Monday.
"Ashley had his best year in a long time," Sweet said. "He was strong offensively and strong defensively. With all the negatives from being a left-handed power hitter in this ballpark (first baseman) Matt Clark had a good year."
"The younger guys really changed the makeup of the clubhouse," Ashley said. "Everyone was looser and had fun."
The wind usually blew in for the first three months of the season, cutting down home run opportunities. Clark still recorded a team-high 20 home runs and tied with midseason acquisition and postseason PCL All-Star right fielder Domingo Santana with 77 RBIs apiece.
Ashley also made a big contribution by helping younger pitchers adjust to Triple-A. As a result, the Sky Sox recorded their best staffERA (5.01) since 2009 (4.73). It was the first season the Sky Sox pitchers did not give up a grand slam at home or away in franchise history. The Sky Sox recorded the best team fielding percentage (.981 percent) after making the fewest errors (98) in team history.
Next year, the makeup of the Sky Sox will be younger with many players moving up from Double-A Southern League playoff-bound Biloxi to Colorado Springs.
"We brought in a lot of older players from outside the organization because we didn't want to touch them," Sweet said. "You don't want to bring guys in just to bring them in. It is about development. Right now, they're Double-A players. Next year they will be Triple-A."