After six seasons baking in the heat of San Bernardino, California, the Mariners ended their High-A affiliation with the Inland Empire 66ers in the 2006 offseason. They didn't have far to go to find a new affiliate, however, and soon linked up with the 66ers' neighborhood California League rivals, the High Desert Mavericks of Adelanto.
The Mavericks had just finished up a two-year agreement with the Kansas City Royals, their sixth MLB affiliate in 15 years. Until the Mariners came along, they hadn't managed to find a partner lasting more than five seasons. Their longest-tenured team, the San Diego Padres, hadn't been seen since the early 1990s, and no affiliate had brought home a Southern League title in a decade.
The Mariners brought more than fresh faces to the crowds at Stater Bros. Stadium. In six yearsx with the 66ers, they doubled the number of championships in San Bernardino's trophy case, culminating with the 2006 title over Tampa Bay's Visalia Oaks. In four of those six seasons, they placed second or first in the division, and only once did they fail to make the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the new club, the M's first few seasons in Adelanto bore more resemblance to their failed season with San Bernardino than any of their more successful performances. Unused to the hitter-friendly atmosphere of Stater Bros. Stadium, the Mavs' pitching staff dug their heels into last place in the South Division with league-worst ERAs of 6.44 in 2007 and 5.87 in 2008. It was a rude awakening for the young Mariners, who gave up over 1,000 runs in 2007, 300 more than they had allowed during their championship run in 2006. Even with the advantage that the high altitude afforded their lineup, the Mavericks finished fifth in the division and failed to quality for the postseason for two consecutive years.
By 2009, the Mariners had begun to acclimate to their unique environment. Twenty-three-year-old outfielder James McOwen quickly became the team's biggest story when he hit a triple against the Lake Elsinore Storm on May 10, then extended his hit streak by 44 more games before cracking on a fastball from Modesto Nuts' closer Craig Baker on July 10. No minor leaguer had managed a streak that long in 55 years, even though it fell a good 14 games short of matching the 69-game streak Joe Wilhoit established in 1919 (and 11 shy of Joe DiMaggio's legendary 56-game hitting streak).
The rest of McOwen's teammates found the spotlight on an even bigger stage. In the California League's split-season format, the Mavs clinched first place in both the first and second half standings, a feat never before accomplished by a High Desert affiliate. It was the first time the Mariners had pulled themselves out of last place during their time in Adelanto, and their dramatic finish would reap big results.
With an 83-57 record, a hot-hitting outfielder, and a pitching staff that boasted the up-and-coming Michael Pineda, the Mavericks coasted to the semifinals of the Cal League postseason, where they bested the Angels' Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, 3-2. In the final round against the Giants' San Jose Giants, however, the Mavs were unusually outmatched. Each game was lost by two or fewer runs, a scenario which, in a perfect world, should have yielded to High Desert's .643 winning percentage in regular season nailbiters. The title eluded them in a 3-0 sweep, culminating in San Jose's third championship in five years.
It would be three long seasons before the Mavericks saw another first-place finish. In 2010, their postseason efforts were squashed by the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in the first round, while 2011 brought the team back down to fourth place with a pitching staff that found its ERA, runs allowed, home runs, and strikeouts the worst in the league once again.
Granted, those seasons were not without their bright spots. Following the 2010 season, the club was purchased by Main Street Baseball, a long-time goal of former owner Bobby Brett, who was juggling ownership of both the Mavericks and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes since 2009. Owning two teams in the same league was frowned upon by Minor League Baseball, and while Brett was granted six months to find a buyer for the Mavericks, no real interest had accrued since the sale of the Quakes.
The 2011 season saw changes of a different kind. For all that Stater Bros. Stadium weakened the numbers put up by its pitchers, High Desert hurlers combined for the highest number of complete games (3) and second-highest number of shutouts (6) in the 2011 California League. It was also just the second time that at least two Seattle pitchers had recorded over 100 strikeouts in a season with High Desert -- southpaw James Gilheeney whiffed 109 batters, while right-hander Chris Sorce nicked 105.
By 2012, the Mavericks were ready to attempt the league title once again. As in 2009, they placed first in a three-way tie for the first half standings, and finished a full nine games above the rest of the South Division in the second half of the year for another 83-57 record. While their success seemed easy enough to duplicate, so did their mistakes. After qualifying for the semifinals against their former affiliate, now the Astros' Lancaster JetHawks, the Mavericks folded 3-1, their lone win a 16-run affair at the hands of High Desert first basemen Steven Proscia and Dennis Raben.
In the two years that followed, the Mavericks were left without a viable playoff contender, as many of Seattle's brightest prospects found their training elsewhere. Competing in a playing environment that dramatically aided its hitters' production and hampered the best efforts of its pitching staff, High Desert struggled to swing the balance in its favor. In 2013, the Mavs placed among the top three California League teams in nearly all offensive stats, and trailed them in every defensive category. Although the 2014 season saw the arrival of first-round draft pick D.J. Peterson and guest appearances from Erasmo Ramirez, Taijuan Walker, and Blake Beavan, the Mavericks managed only a two-win increase in their overall win-loss record, keeping them below .500 at 66-74 and nine games behind the second-place Lake Elsinore Storm and a postseason berth.
In the fall of 2014, it was announced that the Mavericks had formed a new partnership with the Texas Rangers for the 2015 season. The Rangers' High-A prospects, who previously belonged to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans of South Carolina, carry a history of success, with winning records and postseason appearances during each of their four years in the Carolina League. The Mariners, meanwhile, will make a return to one of their former affiliates (and, coincidentally, a former Rangers affiliate) and Cal League competitors, the Bakersfield Blaze.
High Desert trivia
- Notable Mavericks: Mike Carp, Steve Delabar, Roenis Elias, Nick Franklin, Greg Halman, Yoervis Medina, Brandon Maurer, Brad Miller, Michael Pineda, Stephen Pryor, Michael Saunders, and Kyle Seager.
- Back in 1988, the Mavericks were established as the Riverside Red Wave under the Padres' tutelage. A rebranding -- and change of venue -- was deemed necessary only two years later when the Red Wave found they could not successfully draw crowds without a beer license.
- During a match in mid-2009 against the A's Stockton Ports, the Mavs rebounded from a two-run deficit in the ninth inning to knot the game, 5-5. Evening gave way to morning as the game finally concluded after a tedious 12 innings and seven and a half hours -- along with it, a well-deserved, 7-6 win in High Desert's favor. At the time, it was the longest recorded game in California League history.
- Not a month after the High Desert clinched Cal League's longest game, they found themselves on the losing end of the league's longest regulation game. Following a four hour and 10-minute debacle against the Padres' Lake Elsinore Storm, the Mavs conceded a 33-18 defeat. The two teams combined for 51 runs and 58 hits, including James McOwen's 36th consecutive hit of the season (breaking the Cal League record for longest hitting streak). It was standout weekend for the Mavericks, who had just put up 16 runs the night before in a win against the Bakersfield Blaze.