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Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks manager Doug Simunic watches part of the Tuesday, August 30, 2011, game against the Kansas City T-Bones from the dugout. It was the last game of the season at Newman Outdoor Field. Dave Wallis / The Forum

RedHawks look ahead to 2012 as first losing season ends

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FARGO - The long, hard season is finally over for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks.

A 6-5 win against Kansas City before 3,494 fans Tuesday at Newman Outdoor Field put a cap on the first losing season in the 16-year history of the club.

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It's was mostly high-fives and handshakes as the RedHawks racked up five Northern League championships from 1996-2010. But that was replaced by head-scratching and second-guessing this year in the team's first season in the American Association.

"I would not want to have four or five years like this," said Fargo-Moorhead president and owner Bruce Thom. "I have no regrets that this is the last game. Now we can turn the page and start preparing for next year."

A turnaround next season could be pivotal to helping regain the franchise's steam, and to the overall goodwill of the hardcore RedHawks fan base that expects a winner with their hot dogs, beer and sunshine.

Fargo-Moorhead has won 60 or more games six times since manager Doug Simunic became the manager in the team's inaugural season.

However, salary cap issues, injuries and poor performances by many of the players that helped guide the RedHawks to back-to-back Northern League crowns in 2009 and 2010 combined to keep the team stagnant this season.

"I don't want to say pivotal, but it is important that we turn it around and start playing winning baseball again, there is no doubt about that." RedHawks general manager Josh Buchholz said. "We certainly set the bar high, and we have high expectations as an organization. There is nobody who has been here for all those years that is happy with the way things have gone this year."

According to Thom, Fargo-Moorhead will likely make several changes on the field next season.

Many of the players who didn't perform will be jettisoned. Fresh faces will come in to take their places.

For the most part, the RedHawks will use a formula similar to the one Winnipeg used to start the season.

The Goldeyes essentially started from scratch with a new roster after moving with Fargo-Moorhead, Gary and Kansas City from the Northern League.

Not doing the same may have cost the RedHawks dearly. But Thom and Simunic expected a team that earned two straight NL titles would be good enough to have a chance in the American Association.

It was a salary cap nightmare, giving the team almost no flexibility when it was clear moves had to be made to try to jump-start the team midway through in the season.

The same mistake won't be made again next year, Thom said.

"I think Doug and the staff did not think the American Association would be as good as it really was," Thom said. "We will learn from this year and move on."

It's unclear where the new talent will come from. One of the biggest issues for independent baseball leagues is that the talent pool of available players is dried up early.

So it's imperative for the RedHawks to put together a good team in the offseason.

Simunic has done it before. There is confidence he can do it again under the American Association's salary-cap constrictions.

The team will scour the wire for players released in spring training, hoping to find some gems willing to give Fargo a try in an effort to get back to affiliated baseball.

"Last year we kind of had our team in order," Simunic said. "We will look around and take our time (next year). Spring training doesn't let out until March and there are a lot of good guys there. We will talk to a lot of these guys and see what they want to do.

"We will add a few bits and pieces to it and hopefully we can recapture a championship here in Fargo."

Thom is hoping a more balanced schedule will also help produce more wins.

This year the RedHawks played no games against the South Division. Five of the six teams in the division have records below .500.

Thom said the RedHawks and Winnipeg have requested an early spring swing to the south.

With changes on the horizon, Simunic and his staff may be the only ones not on the hot seat.

Simunic has one year remaining on his contract. Thom said the manager's expiring contract will be addressed next year.

Simunic likely will be extended.

"Doug is my manager, and I intend him to be my manager for a long period of time. That's it. Case closed," Thom said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler's blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com

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