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Suns' sole survivor rewarded

September 12, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

In another time and another place, Ambiorix Concepcion might have been standing on a deserted island with $1 million tucked in the pocket of his tattered pants.

Concepcion, the center fielder for the Hagerstown Suns, is the only player to spend the entire season with the team.

The reward is something more than money can buy.

He will be leading Hagerstown to its first South Atlantic League championship series in 11 years when the Suns host Kannapolis today in the first game of the best-of-5 finals.

"I'm excited," Concepcion said Saturday after the Suns defeated Delmarva 9-7 to win the North Division title. "In my short career, I have been in the playoffs one other time. In the playoffs, I have come to win and play hard."

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Concepcion has outlasted the 49 other players who wore Hagerstown uniforms for at least part of the season. He has been a fixture in the Suns outfield, playing in 132 of Hagerstown's 139 games.

It's a bittersweet accomplishment, though, considering the main goal in minor league baseball is to move up. Some players were given the chance to move to more advanced teams in the New York Mets organization, with each step getting them closer to their goal of playing in the majors.

Concepcion was a member of the Mets' 40-man roster, which means he is considered one of the top players or prospects in the organization. He produced amazing numbers in the New York-Penn League in 2004, but he struggled in the South Atlantic League this season.

The 21-year-old hit .305 with eight home runs in 66 games for Brooklyn last year, helping the Cyclones win their division. With the Suns, he had a .251 batting average with 15 home runs and 66 RBI.

He is an outstanding outfielder with a strong arm that keeps opposing base runners from gambling.

"I could feel bad that I have been here all year," Concepcion said. "But now I know everything about this league. I know the pitchers throw me the baseball away and they keep throwing me breaking pitches. Now, I know these things and I can help push my teammates so they can do better."

Concepcion has been able to experience the Suns at their highest points, when they opened the season with seven straight wins and when they won the North Division's first-half title in a playoff. He's also seen the low points, like most of the second half, when Hagerstown was gutted by promotions and injuries and finished in last place.

A loss Saturday would have sent the Suns home, and the franchise would have fallen short of the finals for the fourth straight year. The only time the Suns have won a league championship was in the Carolina League in 1981, their first year in Hagerstown.

"If we had lost, we all would have had our heads down," said Concepcion, who had three hits and scored two runs. "But everybody was pulling for each other. It was a tough second half, but we came together in the final two weeks."

The chance to make a run for a league title has made it all worthwhile for Concepcion, the Suns' sole survivor.

"I love pressure," he said. "To get the major leagues, I have put pressure on myself. In the second half, I have made adjustments and I'll be ready for this. It's time to come back to the house with the rent money."

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