Streak puts Reno Aces’ Vargas in Pacific Coast League elite
LVN Editor Emeritus
To say Reno Aces second baseman Ildemaro Vargas had a combination of skill and luck during his 35-game hitting streak would be an understatement.
The Aces infielder put together the longest hitting streak in Aces’ history and the fifth longest in the Pacific Coast League — a stretch that lasted almost six weeks. His streak came to an end Sunday night in Las Vegas when the 27-year-old Venezuelan grounded out twice to shortstop and another time to second in a seven-inning game.
“I had good hitting,” Vargas said through his translator and Reno pitcher Alberto Suarez in describing his game against the 51s.
Vargas joins exclusive company in the PCL along with the legendary Joe DiMaggio, who hit safely in 61 straight games while playing for the San Francisco Seals in 1933. Jack Ness, who played for Oakland in 1915, follows with 49 games. DiMaggio was 18 years old in his first pro season when he made history.
“Hitting streaks were a big deal back then. The newspapers all covered them and the drama would build. (During the streak), people could call in to special lines that the newspapers set up to find out how Joe did,” wrote Dennis Snelling in “The Greatest Minor League, a History of the Pacific Coast League 1903-1957.”
DiMaggio went on to establish Major League Baseball’s all-time record with hits in 56 consecutive games in 1941. Meanwhile, James Oglesby had a 44-game streak the same year of DiMaggio’s record. In modern times, Las Vegas player Joey Cora’s 37-game streak came in 1989 to put him in fourth place.
During the streak, Vargas menaced opposing pitchers by hitting .363 with 15 RBIs, 11 doubles, two triples and one home run. His on base percentage was .408.
Reno manager Greg Gross said Vargas’ streak was impressive. During the streak, Gross said Vargas was aggressive and didn’t receive too many walks.
“I think you’d be surprised with anybody who would go that long,” Gross explained before the Aces faced Sacramento. “In little over six weeks, he was as disciplined as he has been in the last two years. Disciplined in pitch selection, he hardly gave away any bats.”
Gross, though, said he was more impressed with Vargas’ batting average and his ability to get a hit in his last at bat with the streak on the line. During one game late in the streak, Vargas tripled in his last at bat, but Gross said everything fell into place.
“Someone had to get on to allow him to bat,” he said.
Earlier in the streak, though, the affable Vargas began to develop some superstitious habits. Normally, he wouldn’t wear the same batting gloves in every game, but he did during the streak. Vargas said he had holes in the palms and showed a cellphone photo of the gloves, smiling as he talked about getting some new ones.
He, along with Suarez, laughed about the future of the old batting gloves.
“Retiring my babies,” he said, putting his phone away.
Gross said superstitions develop among players although many won’t admit it. In fact, he said other players placed in the same situation may have had the same tendencies. His teammates were behind him during the streak, but when an at bat neared for Vargas, his colleagues began to leave him alone.
The Vargas streak became everyday news on the Aces’ website and Facebook page. The sports programs on Reno television also highlighted Vargas’ mid-summer quest. Besides his teammates and the Aces faithful, Vargas said friends back home in Caripito supported him and his parents watched the games on the Minor League Baseball app. He pointed a tattoo on his left arm of his grandmother, “mama,” and another of his 3-year-old son, who was able to watch his father during the streak.
“My mom was texting me,” Vargas said through Suarez, adding he wanted to keep in contact with his parents.
With the streak over, Vargas isn’t dwelling on its end. He had three hits and scored two runs in Monday’s game against Sacramento. He had another hit Tuesday.
“Whatever happens, happens,” he said.
Vargas has been playing professional ball for a decade. First discovered at an academy in Venezuela, he later signed with the St. Louis Cardinals at the age of 16 and played with the organization until he was released in 2015. Vargas first donned a Reno uniform in 2016 when he appeared in 49 games after beginning the season at Mobile and Visalia. In his first full season with Reno in 2017, he batted .312 in 112 games while batting in 65 runs and hitting 35 doubles.
With less than two weeks remaining in the regular minor-league season, Vargas hopes he gets the September call up to Arizona, where he played 12 games during the 2017 season.
By then, Vargas may be ready for another streak.