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Pelicans' season a success despite losing record

MYRTLE BEACH -- The Myrtle Beach Pelicans finished their 2010 season a dismal 58-82 Monday, which came close to matching their franchise-worst mark of 53-84 last year.

Yet spectators at BB&T Coastal Field – and there were a lot of them – witnessed the talents of some players who could be playing at the major league level as early as next season.

Players off the 2010 squad can all look to pitcher Craig Kimbrel, first baseman Freddie Freeman and outfielder Jason Heyward as examples. They were on the Pelicans’ opening-day 2009 roster and have been playing for the Atlanta Braves this year.

“I feel very good about a lot of the guys who have come through here this year,” Pelicans manager Rocket Wheeler said. “I tell them all the time they don’t know how close they are to the big leagues.”

Most of the Pelicans’ talent was on the mound. The Braves’ top pitching prospect, 19-year-old Julio Teheran, struck out 76 and walked 13 with a 2.98 earned-run average in 631/3 innings with Myrtle Beach while being named to the All-Star Futures Game. Ace Randall Delgado posted a 2.76 ERA while leading the Carolina League with 1171/3 innings pitched and 120 strikeouts before his promotion to Double-A Mississippi, and J.J. Hoover went 14-7 between Myrtle Beach and Mississippi.

“A number of those guys who came through there this year have a good chance to be productive major league pitchers,” said Braves director of player development Kurt Kemp. “When you look at wins and losses, it might not have been as good a year as we would have liked, but we thought a lot of guys made good progress and did a really good job in Double A., which spoke well for what they accomplished in Myrtle Beach.”

The Pelicans enjoyed a strong attendance year with 223,176 spectators for an average of 3,282 per game, though they fell short of the team aggregate attendance record set in 2008 by 19,221 and average game attendance record of 3,610 set in 2009.

Myrtle Beach was fourth in attendance in the Carolina League behind Winston-Salem, Wilmington, Del., and Frederick, Md., but also fourth among all 30 teams in Advanced Class-A ball, including those in the California and Florida State leagues.

Those numbers don’t include the California-Carolina League All-Star game, which was a sellout at 6,599 spectators, or a game July 29, which was a sellout that had to be called after a couple innings because of rain. “You put those two together, and you’re even with last year,” first-year Pelicans general manager Scott Brown said. “Despite the fact that we haven’t won as many games as we would have liked to, I think people had a ball and they’re still coming out to Pelicans games for the fun and entertainment.”

Brown said the franchise had a record year for sponsorships, though there is still room for improvement in the sales of BB&T Field’s eight skyboxes. “We stuck with our value, and what we think it’s valued, and sponsors have responded,” Brown said.

The team added all-you-can-eat seats below the roof of the clubhouse in right field during the season, adding to seating options that also include a picnic area in right field and beach seats in left field. Brown sees room for improvement in attendance figures before the summer tourist season.

“We’ll try to get more people out here on the weeknights in April and May when school is in session,” Brown said. “That’s kind of the fun part, rebuilding after each year; looking at what worked, what didn’t work, what we’re going to add that’s new.”

With the Pelicans’ player development contract with Atlanta expiring on Sept. 30, Myrtle Beach could possibly be looking at a new parent club in 2011.

Will Wheeler, a Pawleys Island resident, be back for a sixth season in Myrtle Beach, along with pitching coach Kent Willis, hitting coach Rick Albert, trainer Chas Miller and Wheeler’s son and the team’s bullpen catcher, Missile Wheeler?

“I don’t know,” Rocket Wheeler said. “There are so many things going on, so we have no idea. We just have to wait and see.”