By the time the calendar reaches the middle of November, most baseball players have put aside their bat and glove for a while. It is a time for relaxing after a long season, not for the steady stream of adjustments the game demands players make every day.
But the season continues for the players in the Arizona Fall League. Such a long season is as much a mental test as a physical one.
Salt River first baseman Kyle Parker said learning what kind of mental fortitude is required to play baseball at a high level is the most important lesson he has taken from the AFL.
"November gets pretty long and you start feeling tired," Parker said. "But I'm working on staying mentally tough and mentally ready for each game."
Parker showed he is still going strong Monday. He went 2-for-5 with a double and a home run in Salt River's 8-1 victory against Glendale at Camelback Ranch. The victory extended the Rafters' winning streak to four games and kept them a half-game out of first place in the East Division with three games to play.
Parker, the Rockies' No. 9 prospect, doubled and scored a run in the fourth inning. In the fifth, his three-run home run broke the game open, capping a four-run inning for the Rafters.
Parker is hitting .282 with a .553 slugging percentage in 21 games this fall. He said he is trying to stick with his routine and remain consistent at the plate.
"I just try to stay within myself and swing at good pitches," Parker said. "If I do that, I know good things will happen."
Parker has also worked to improve his defense at first base this fall. The Rockies drafted him as an outfielder and he primarily played in left field this year, but he is playing first base to increase his versatility.
Parker said he thinks his defense has improved during the AFL.
"I'm trying to get better and more comfortable there," Parker said.
The Rafters also got solid games out of right fielder Stephen Piscotty and third baseman Jake Lamb. Piscotty, the Cardinals' No. 7 prospect, went 2-for-4 with a home run and a walk. Lamb, the D-backs' No. 11 prospect, was 2-for-5 with a double and a run.
Salt River right-hander Sam Gaviglio entered Monday having thrown five scoreless innings in back-to-back starts. Though he pitched well, the Cardinals farmhand couldn't make it three in a row. Gaviglio allowed one run on five hits in five innings. He struck out four batters and lowered his ERA to 3.58 this fall. The four Rafters relievers who followed him combined for four scoreless innings.
Glendale center fielder Jared Mitchell led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run off Gaviglio. The home run was the fifth of the fall for the White Sox No. 10 prospect, tied for second most in the league. But the Desert Dogs were unable to add any more runs and saw their four-game winning streak snapped.
The loss, combined with Surprise's victory against Scottsdale, eliminated Glendale from contention for the West Division title. Salt River, however, remains in a tight race with Mesa for the East Division crown.
Parker said because the Rafters are such a close-knit team, they are able to continue to focus on improving and not worry as much about the division race.
"It's just a bunch of guys that get along really well and are really good at baseball," Parker said. "There's no really added pressure. We just enjoy being at the field and getting better every day."