ROME, GA - On September 16th, 2022, the Rome Braves season came to a close as the Bowling Green Hot Rods eliminated them from the South Atlantic League Playoffs. With one swing of a bat, nearly five months’ worth of magic was over. As each player made their way across the field and back to the clubhouse, the harsh reality of elimination began to sink in.
Rome’s last game in 2022 was on a Friday night in Bowling Green, Kentucky. With the way the schedule played out, the Braves were set to bus back to Rome on Friday night regardless of the outcome in Bowling Green. Bowling Green is about four hours from Rome, Georgia, so each person on the bus had some time to reflect on just how wild of a ride the 2022 season was.
Despite its harsh and abrupt ending, 2022 was a monumental and historic year for the Rome Braves. A magical ride that began with a simple roster announcement.
In early April of 2022, the Rome Braves announced their official roster for the rapidly approaching season. The 2022 campaign would be a big one, the first full season since Covid. The roster would include five 2021 draft picks headlined by Dylan Dodd, the 25th pick of the 3rd round. Andrew Hoffmann, Austin Smith, Dylan Spain, Justyn-Henry Malloy, and Tyler Tolve would round out the 2021 picks on the Opening Day Roster for Rome.
There would be a few familiar faces in the dugout in 2022 as 12 players from the 2021 squad would begin their 2022 campaign in Rome. Marrick Crouse, Dylan Dodd, Ben Dum, Tanner Gordon, Jake McSteen, Lisandro Santos, Davis Schwab, Dylan Spain, Rusber Estrada, Vaughn Grissom, Cody Milligan, Beau Phillip, Drew Campbell, and Andrew Moritz all made appearances for the R-Braves in 2021.
The roster would also include twin brothers in pitchers Roddery and Rolddy Muñoz. The Santo Domingo, DR natives both signed with the Braves as international free agents.
As Spring Training in North Port, Florida came to a close, members of the 2022 Rome Braves made their way to Rome. After one quick practice at home, the Braves hit the road to open the 19th season of Rome baseball in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Rome would walk away victorious in their first contest of the year, something the Braves have become accustomed to. With a 16-6 victory on April 8th, 2022, the Rome Braves would become winners of six straight Opening Day contests. The 16 runs scored were a franchise record and would set the tone for the offensive success the Braves would have all season.
After taking the series from the Greensboro Grasshoppers two games to one, the Braves would return home to face the Hudson Valley Renegades for the first time in franchise history. The Braves would be set to take on the Renegades for the first baseball action in the River City all year, but there were a few last changes needed to be made.
Just before the season opener, the Braves announced the new naming rights partner. AdventHealth Stadium would be the new home of the Rome Braves in 2022, marking the first of a multi-year naming rights deal between the Braves and long-time partner AdventHealth Redmond.
Secondly, the Braves would announce Logan Maddox as their newest play-by-play announcer. Maddox would take the helm from long-time broadcaster Kevin Karel. Maddox, who had already spent three years in the organization as a worker in the production room and in media relations, would now handle play-by-play duties for the 2022 Rome Braves season.
The first Rome Braves home game in 2022 would be on a Tuesday. Hudson Valley would come into town for the first ever meeting between the Braves and Renegades. The home opener would include all the traditional pageantry of baseball’s Opening Day like bunting around the stadium, and each team’s entire roster standing along the baselines for the national anthem.
Despite the celebration of Opening Day, the Rome Braves fall in their first game of the year in their home stadium for the first time in three years. The Hudson Valley Renegades jumped out early and never looked back.
The very next night, Rome would celebrate the accomplishments of the parent club as the 2021 World Series trophy would come to town. Members of the Rome Braves coaching staff and front office would receive their championship rings, and the Braves would record their first win at home in 2022. Pitcher Roddery Munoz would notch five strike outs in his first start of the young season.
As the series continued, the Braves would notch their first historic milestone on Saturday April 16th as Tanner Gordon notched a franchise record for strikeouts in a single game. Gordon would punchout fourteen Hudson Valley Renegade batters on his way to a three to two win. The Braves would wrap up the series with Hudson Valley with a win and hit the road for the first full road trip of the 2022 season.
Rome would find themselves in the Bluegrass State to take on the reigning High-A East champion Bowling Green Hot Rods. Rome faced Bowling Green more than any team in 2021, and the Braves and ‘Rods were right back in action here in 2022.
The Rome Braves would get off to their best starts in recent history after going 13-7 in the month of April. Rome would not fall further than second place throughout the month and would see two players receive Player of The Week honors in Landon Stephens and Tanner Gordon. In the last week of the month, Rome outfielder Landon Stephens would collect seven hits, four home runs, eleven runs batted in, a .769 slugging percentage, and a 1.136 OPS.
The Braves would hit their first bump in the road in the first week of May. The hot-hitting Braves would run into a buzz saw in the form of the Greenville Drive. In the six-game series with the Drive, Rome would be able to tally only one win. The Braves took game two of the series in a day game in which they won in extra innings, their first extra innings contest of the season.
After getting roughed up by the Drive, Rome would return home to take on the Winston-Salem Dash for the first time in 2022. The Braves would come out of the gates swinging and take the first five contests before dropping the Sunday finale to the Dash. The mid-May series would see Rome record their first walk-off hit of the season as Landon Stephens belted a homer in game three of the series. The very next night, Rome would walk it off once more thanks to a base hit from outfielder Drew Campbell.
After taking five out of six from the Dash, the Braves would embark on their longest road trip of the season. The trip was the longest both time wise and in distance, as Rome traveled north to take on the Aberdeen IronBirds. At the time, the IronBirds were the hottest team in the South Atlantic League and had yet to lose a series.
The Braves and ‘Birds would go back and forth for the first three games before Rome rattled off three straight wins to hand Aberdeen just their eighth, ninth, and tenth losses of the ’22 campaign. Aberdeen was well on their way to a first half championship, yet the Rome Braves had their way with the league’s hottest team.
From there, the Braves would trek over to Hudson Valley, New York to take on the Renegades for the second time in 2022. Despite splitting the six-game set with the Yankees affiliate, there were several positives to take away from the Braves and Renegades series. Landon Stephens would go on an absolute tear, collecting a .455 batting average with ten total hits over the series in Hudson Valley. Stephens would tally 24 total bases with two doubles and four home runs. The Braves outfielder would drive in thirteen home runs, picking up his second South Atlantic League Player of The Week honors.
The Braves would return home to wrap up the month of May and kick off the month of June with a six-game stint with none other than the Bowling Green Hot Rods. Surprisingly enough, this would be the first time all year that the Hot Rods came to town. Rome would take two out of the first three games against Bowling Green thanks to a strong pitching performance from Roddery Munoz and a clutch homer from Bryson Horne. Rome would drop the remaining games of the series, giving Bowling Green the edge they would need to eventually capture the South Atlantic League South Division First-Half title.
After the series with Bowling Green, Rome would stay home for six straight games with the Wilmington Blue Rocks. This was the first time that the Braves and Blue Rocks had faced each other in each of the franchises’ histories. The series would get off to an odd start as game one against the Blue Rocks would be cut short due to heavy rains. This would be the only weather shortened contest for the Braves in 2022. The Braves would settle for a series split with the Blue Rocks, with both teams winning three games each.
After two straight weeks at home, Rome would pack it up and head to “Beer City” for six straight games with the Asheville Tourists. It would be the first matchup against the long-time South Atlantic League foe. Right out of the gate, this series proved to be a slugfest as Asheville dropped nineteen runs on the Braves in the opener. Rome would bounce back the next night by hanging a ten piece on the Tourists to take game two, but game three would be the one everyone remembered.
The third game of the series between the Braves and Tourists would see Rome score the most runs in a game all season. The Braves would hop out in front in the top of the first with a home run from Justyn-Henry Malloy and a triple from Drew Campbell to put them up three runs to none. The Braves would go on to score twenty-two runs, but they would only need two to win the game. Andrew Hoffmann would record one of his best starts of the year, going seven full innings and striking out five. The righty would surrender one run on two hits, with one of the hits being a solo home run in the bottom of the third. Nine out of ten Braves batters would record a hit, including newly acquired Dawson Dimon. Seven out of the ten Rome hitters would record multiple hits. The nail in the coffin would be Vaughn Grissom hitting grand slams in back-to-back innings. That night alone, Grissom would walk away with four for seven with eight runs batted in on two home runs.
Rome would score a grand total of seventy-five runs over their six-game stay in Asheville, as well as fourteen home runs, three grand slams, eighty-two hits, forty-one walks, ten doubles, and one hundred and forty-eight total bases. The Braves would hit for a .373 average as a team, as well as putting together a team OPS of 1.088. After the series with Asheville, Cody Milligan would get the call to the next level. The utility player was promoted to Mississippi on June 21st.
Rome would return home once again to face the High-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers, the Hickory Crawdads. The series with the Crawdads would be nothing to write home about aside from a solid outing from Andrew Hoffmann (6.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 7 K, W) and Willie Carter’s first home run inside AdventHealth Stadium. Hickory at the time was also home to Luisangel Acuna, the younger brother of former Rome Brave and Atlanta Braves phenom Ronald Acuna Jr. Aside from that, Hickory would take four out of six from Rome to wrap up the first half of the 2022 campaign.
The Braves finished the season’s first half with a record of 36-30. Rome would land third in the SAL South for the first half, falling behind Hickory and the first half champion Bowling Green Hot Rods. Winning the first half locks up a playoff spot, and the league’s defending champions were one step closer to defending their title.
Rome opened the second half of the season with a trip to Greenville, South Carolina to take on the Drive once again. Luis De Avila would make history as he no-hit the Drive on July 2nd, 2022, in game one of a double header. The seven-inning complete game no-hitter would be the first of such in franchise history. De Avila’s no runs, no hits, one walk, and nine strikeout performance would earn him South Atlantic League Pitcher of The Week honors for the first time all season. The no-hitter in Greenville could be seen as a turning point in the season for De Avila, as he quickly became the anchor of the Rome rotation.
The Braves would take five out of six from the Drive before retuning home for an Independence Day celebration to kick off another six-game set with the Asheville Tourists. Game one would be on July 4th, and the stadium would be packed with folks looking for fireworks on and off the field.
Dylan Dodd would get the ball in game one and take a no-hitter into the fifth inning. Dodd’s Independence Day performance would see him hurl five innings of no-hit ball, as Dodd continued to build on an impressive season in Rome.
The very next night, Rome would find themselves in extra innings once again as the Tourists mounted a comeback in the late going. A Javier Valdes ground ball up the middle would give the Rome Braves the win, and Kanekoa Texeira would notch his 100th managerial win. Texeira took the helm of the Rome club at the beginning of 2021. The Braves would go on to sweep the Tourists in six games, the first six-game series sweep since the six-game series was introduced in 2021.
The early season success of the Rome Braves would not go unnoticed, especially by the people in Atlanta’s front office. After the Asheville series in early July, the Rome roster would see a bit of a shake up as Vaughn Grissom, Justyn-Henry Malloy, Dylan Dodd, Andrew Hoffmann, and Lisandro Santos would all be promoted to Double-A Mississippi.
From a winning standpoint, things now looked bleak for the Rome Braves. The whole left side of your infield, your top two starting pitchers, and one of your best reliever have all just been stripped from your roster. Now what?
In corresponding moves, Rome would get two guys by the name of Cal Conley and JJ Niekro added to the roster. Conley was the number fourteen overall prospect in the Braves system, and Niekro is the nephew of Braves legend Phil Niekro. Both Conley and Niekro would get the start on their first days as High-A ballplayers. In one of the biggest moments of the season, JJ Niekro would step up and deliver a career performance against one of the league’s best teams. Against the Bowling Green Hot Rods in his High-A debut, JJ Niekro would toss six full innings of one run baseball while only allowing three hits and striking out six. Cal Conley would record a hit in his first at-bat as a Rome Brave, and the Hot Rods would fall to the Braves in the series opener, extending the Braves season high winning streak to eight straight games.
Rome would go on to take the series from Bowling Green four games to two and solidify their place atop the South Division for the second half as they headed into the All-Star Break. MiLB observed the MLB All-Star Break in 2022 despite there not being any Minor League All-Star games since 2019.
As the All-Star break came to a close, Rome would make their way to Winston-Salem for the first and only time in 2022 for a three-game weekend set. Rome would pick up right where they left off as they took down the Dash in the first game back from the break. After dropping one game on Saturday, Rome would take the series from the Dash two games to one.
From Winston-Salem, the Braves would trek over to Hickory, North Carolina to take on the Crawdads once again. Second verse, same as the first for the Braves in their battle with the Crawdads. Rome dropped three straight contests to open the series with Hickory, ultimately falling four games to two in the series.
Despite a lackluster ending to the month of July, the Braves still held a lead in first place over Bowling Green headed into August. August would see the Braves welcome the Greenville Drive to town for the first time all season.
The Braves would once again come out hot and take the first game of the series in convincing fashion, as the bats would combine for ten runs to take down the Red Sox affiliate. The series against Greenville would be full of high-profile names and unlikely heroes as Darren O’Day was the first Major League rehab appearance for the Braves in 2022. O’Day would help propel the Braves to a win by tossing a perfect outing and keeping the Drive bats at bay. The very next night, Nick Clarno would be the hero for the Braves, driving in a pair of runs in his High-A debut. Clarno was picked up as an undrafted free agent earlier in 2022. Clarno spent his college days at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina, and spent two summers as a world famous Savannah Banana. Clarno quickly became a fan favorite at AdventHealth Stadium.
The Braves would complete yet another six-game sweep when they took down the Drive on that Sunday, giving Rome two six-game sweeps in 2022 after having none at all in years prior. From there, the Braves would travel once again to the Tarheel State to take on the Tourists one last time in 2022.
Much like they did all season, Rome would rough up the Tourists one last time. The Braves would take four out of six from the Astros affiliate, helping build on their SAL South Division lead.
The Braves would return home with a bang as 2019 MLB All-Star Mike Soroka would return to the City of Seven Hills for a rehab assignment. Soroka had not pitched off a mound in nearly two years and began his journey back to the majors in Rome on August 16th, 2022. It was the first time Soroka had donned the Rome Braves logo since he helped bring the South Atlantic League title back to Rome in 2016 with the likes of Austin Riley, Max Fried, and Ronald Acuna Jr.
Soroka would make headlines as he tossed four innings of scoreless baseball. Despite missing so much time, Soroka got right to work on that Tuesday night against the Greensboro Grasshoppers as he struck out the side on ten pitches in the opening frame. Soroka would go on to finish the night with four full innings pitched, while striking out eight of the fourteen batters that he faced.
Mother nature would not be kind to the Braves in the remainder of the series, as rain would cancel two games in the series with Greensboro. The Braves and Grasshoppers would split what was only a four-game series.
Rome would hit the road to Bowling Green once again, but this time with a chance to win the division. If all went according to plan, the Braves had a chance to clinch the SAL South on Bowling Green’s home field. However, Rome would hit a bump in the road as Bowling Green began to heat up in their chase to repeat as champions. The Braves entered the series with the Hot Rods with a four and a half game lead as they sat comfortably atop the division. However, Rome would go on to drop four out of the six contests to the Hot Rods. Rome would also lose starting outfielder Willie Carter for the season to an injury in his foot. Despite getting roughed up in Bowling Green, the Braves were able to escape Kentucky still clinging to a lead in the division.
As the season began to wind down, several members of the Braves’ 2022 draft class began to find their way to Rome. Names like Keshawn Ogans and Ian Mejia were ones that stood out as the Braves made their way down the stretch.
Rome would end their home slate of games on a Saturday night against the Greenville Drive. Despite winning the series opener against Greenville, Rome would drop the next four contests to the Drive, matching a season high losing streak of four. Rome would also find themselves with a zero in the run column for the first time all year on September 2nd. Rome was the last team across all levels of professional baseball to be shut out in 2022. During the series with Greenville, Drew Campbell would injure a finger while diving after a ball in the outfield, cutting his season short.
From there, playoff hopes looked slim. A late surge in the second half from Asheville paired with a trip back to Hickory for six games left Rome Braves fans with little hope of clinching the South Atlantic League’s South Division in the second half.
However, much like they had all year long, the Rome Braves never quit.
When the roster was stripped in July, they did not give up.
When the injury bug reared its head in the last half of August, they did not give up.
When the last series of the year was against a team they had only beaten four times all year, they did not give up.
The Rome Braves went into Hickory and took four out of five from the Crawdads and clinched the SAL South Division on a Friday night. On the backs of Beau Philip, Luis De Avila, Royber Salinas, Bryson Horne, and Tyler Tolve, the Braves were Division Champions once again.
For the first time since 2018, the Rome Braves were in the playoffs. The road to the championship ran through Rome once again. This time however, there would be a large task standing in the way of the Braves.
The Bowling Green Hot Rods would be the opponent for the Braves in the South Atlantic League Divisional Series in 2022, and Bowling Green was as hot as they had been all season.
Game one of the SALDS came on a Tuesday night in Rome, Georgia. Rome would send Atlanta's No. 21 overall prospect Royber Salinas to the mound and the Hot Rods would send Logan Workman to the mound to take on the Braves.
Workman and Salinas would go punch for punch in the opening frames, as the game would be scoreless through the first three frames. Salinas would end his night after turning in four and one third of an inning with three hits, one run, three walks and an even ten strikeouts.
Workman would hold the Braves hitless for five innings, strike out seven, and only walk two. The Braves would not record their first hit until the bottom of the seventh when Keshawn Ogans laid down a bunt single.
Bowling Green carried a one to zero lead headed into the bottom of the eighth thanks to a Johan Lopez double that scored Heriberto Hernandez. However, walks from Brandol Mezquita and Jacob Pearson would put two runners on with no outs. A Cal Conley ground out would move everyone up ninety feet, and a Geraldo Quintero single would plate a pair to give the Braves the lead.
Down to their last out in the top of the ninth, Bowling Green would come back to tie the game at two runs each thanks to a Abiezel Ramirez double off Grant Holmes.
As the game headed to its extra frame, the Braves found themselves in prime position to take game one with the automatic runner on second. Although Kadon Morton and Jacob Pearson would go down in order to start the inning, Atlanta's No. 14 overall prospect Cal Conley would come through in the clutch.
In the bottom of the tenth, Cal Conley would hit a ground ball to second baseman Abiezel Ramirez. Ramirez would sail the throw and Brandol Mezquita would score from second to give the Braves the win.
After taking game one by a final score of three runs to two, the series shifted to Bowling Green on Thursday. The Rome Braves only needed one more win to advance to the South Atlantic League Championship Series.
With a trip to the SAL Championship on the line, Rome would send Luis De Avila to the mound, as De Avila had been the anchor for the Rome rotation in the second half.
Bowling Green would jump on De Avila early and never look back. Bowling Green would take game two to force a winner-take-all game three on Friday night. More than ever, Rome needed a win.
The Braves would turn to 2022 Draftee and Auburn Tiger Blake Burkhalter, who would be making his High-A debut in the win-or-go-home game for the Braves.
Burkhalter, Atlanta's No. 25 overall prospect, would record two full innings while being tabbed for two runs on four hits, one of which was a two-run home run in the bottom of the second. It was from there that Bowling Green jumped out in front and keep their foot on the gas.
On September 16th, 2022, the Rome Braves season came to a close as the Bowling Green Hot Rods eliminated them from the South Atlantic League Playoffs. With one swing of a bat, nearly five months’ worth of magic was over.
Despite its harsh and abrupt ending, 2022 was a monumental and historic year for the Rome Braves. Rome would finish the year 74-54 (.578%), the highest winning percentage in franchise history.
Rome would win thirty-nine games at home while only losing twenty-four.
Luis De Avila would lead the league in earned run average, innings pitched, and shutouts thrown.
Austin Smith would lead the league in saves and games appeared, and find himself tied for the fourth most saves by a Rome Brave ever in a single season.
Landon Stephens would find himself tied for the seventh most runs batted in in a single season with seventy. Stephens would have the twelfth highest single season slugging percentage in franchise history with .455, and the fourteenth highest single season on base percentage in franchise history with .357.
Cal Conley would record the South Atlantic League’s longest hitting streak of the season with a hit in eighteen consecutive games ranging from July 15th to August 7th.
Vaughn Grissom would notch the longest on base streak in the South Atlantic League, reaching in thirty-seven straight games from May 27th to July 10th.
Luis De Avila recorded the team’s first seven inning no-hitter in franchise history on July 2nd.
Tanner Gordon recorded a franchise record for strikeouts in a single game with fourteen on April 16th.
The 2022 Rome Braves season was nothing short of magical, and as the twentieth season of Rome Braves baseball is just around the corner, one can’t help but think the magic is just getting started.