Brian Golden

At first blush, it’s complicated.

The longest current playoff streak in Minor League Baseball is seven years.

And it belongs to the Lancaster JetHawks.

In the minor leagues, winning has never been deemed as important as player development.

Until now.

We got a ringside seat to it at The Hangar.

Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow never believed player development and winning were mutually exclusive.

So he created a dynamic in 2011 that didn’t put winning and development on parallel tracks.

He merged them into the same track.

Players who played for each other as much as they did for themselves helped make the Astros world champions in 2017, just as Sports illustrated had predicted on its cover in 2014.

JetHawks Hall of Famer George Springer said that after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston in late August 2017, the Astros were playing for their neighbors.

“I don’t honestly know if we would have accomplished all this, if playing for the people of Houston didn’t take us to a level we never reached before,” Springer told me on the field at Dodger Stadium after Game 7.

More and more major league clubs are adopting the Astros’ approach.

The JetHawks’ parent club, the Colorado Rockies, is one of them.

The Rox aren’t purposely leaving players in Lancaster to boost the won/lost record.

It wasn’t part of The Plan to lose the season’s first six games in a row.

But as the season unfolded, the JetHawks found a way to turn adversity into an energy drink.

“When things were going bad, we all pulled together in our clubhouse to fight our way out of it,” said center fielder and leadoff man Matt Hearn. “You can feel how much closer our team is now than when we started the season.”

Isn’t that the group dynamic every major league club covets?

“You want them to learn how to win together when they get to the big leagues,” Luhnow told the Valley Press in 2015. “We want our players to get a head start on that when they’re playing together in the minor leagues.”

Hearn checks both boxes for winning and player development.

He had to fight his way back into affiliated baseball with the Gateway Grizzlies of the Independent Frontier League.

Now he’s put himself into position to lead the California League in hits and stolen bases.

Colorado’s adoption of this approach has produced players like Garrett Hampson.

Less than a year after helping the JetHawks reach the 2017 California League championship series, the former Long Beach State star came up and gave the varsity Rockies a big boost as the club posted back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history last year.

These dog days of August are in fact the best time of the year for the JetHawks.

They’ve earned the chance to define their own destiny.

To be the only franchise among the more than 150 in MiLB to make it eight straight playoff appearances would be remarkable.

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