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Invaders eye playoffs after a slow start

Roswell pitcher Jonathan Fleckenstein throws a pitch during a recent game at Coastal Baseball Park in Houston, Texas. (Submitted Photo)

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It was supposed to be a flashback for the Roswell Invaders this season. The Invaders brought back former championship pitcher Bryan Kloppe to manage the team. Kloppe pitched in 2015 and got an out as they won their second Pecos League Championship game.

This season was not going to be easy, no matter who was managing. Then COVID-19 hit. The fact that the Invaders are playing baseball in Houston, Texas and not Roswell says it all.

The Invaders relocating to Houston to play their season also helped keep the dreams of the players alive for one more season. In a season of adjustments, the Invaders are tied for third place with a shot at making it to the playoffs.

Roswell is tied with the Houston Apollos for the third and final playoff spot. As of press time, they were playing the No. 1 team the Tucson Saguaros with no results yet available.

“This year’s been crazy,” Kloppe said. “We have been trying to put the team together with a totally different situation than we have ever had.”

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Roswell’s Taichi Nakamura gets ready to slide into second base during a recent game at Coastal Baseball Park in Houston, Texas. (Submitted Photo)

The team has a 5-13 record with 11 games to go and Kloppe is positive that with recent additions to the team’s pitching staff, they can make a push for the final spot. He has talked about the challenges of overcoming the setbacks of being in Houston and not having the ability to draw on the hometown fans of Roswell for support.

“This is not my first slow start,” Kloppe said. “In 2017, we started out slow with the Invaders and we made it to the championship series. In 2018, my team in Bakersfield started out 1-6 and we won the championship. We are turning it around and we have won the last two games.”

Because of COVID-19, the league has shifted the games from teams’ home states to Houston. It has also led to a reduction in teams playing, from 16 to four. Next year the league plans on having all 16 teams back in their hometowns.

Kloppe normally waits until all of the leagues have finished their spring training before picking his team. With COVID-19, he was a little bit behind. He feels this is one of the reasons for such a slow start.

He didn’t have any guys picked until he got to Houston. Another reason for the slow start is the team only had two returning players and lacks experience.

Kloppe expects a strong finish to the season with 12 games left. He has picked up a couple of pitchers and some new players, and hopes to make it to the one-game playoff. If they can pull it off, Roswell will face Tucson in the championship.

Life is different for players and coaches in Houston. Some of the players are sharing apartments and other players are staying with host families. Kloppe feels like even though the Invaders cannot be in Roswell, they are representing Roswell with their effort to the best of their abilities.

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.

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