TinCaps Hot Stove — Conversation with Mike Nutter

We figured by the end of the day we’d have something official to say about reported Padres moves involving former TinCaps and perhaps future TinCaps. Alas, no confirmations have been made. There will be plenty of time to discuss pending moves whenever they do — or don’t — happen.

To discuss things that have happened this off-season, we sat down with TinCaps President Mike Nutter. On the rundown:

- Parkview Field events

- 2014 TinCaps organizational accolades

- Winter Meetings recap

- Padres news

- Hardball Capital news

- The Holidays

Stay tuned for future Hot Stove videos later this off-season. Maybe tomorrow we’ll have some finalized Padres deals to delve into. Until then, appreciate you reading/watching, and please be in touch in the comments below, by email, or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan.

P.S. If you’re still shopping for the holidays, don’t forget to visit The Orchard Team Store at Parkview Field, the seasonal location at Glenbrook Square, or online here.

 

Winter Meetings Journal — TinCaps Head Groundskeeper Keith Winter

So far this week, we gave a general recap of last week’s Winter Meetings for the TinCaps’ traveling party and shared Keith Winter’s acceptance speech for winning the Single-A Sports Turf Manager of the Year Award.

Here’s more from Keith on the experience he had in San Diego…

Sunday, December 7

As our plane from Fort Wayne waited for a gate at the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport, our connector flight to San Diego closed just before TinCaps President Mike Nutter got to our next gate. While waiting for my carry-on after we finally docked, the pilot walked up the jetway complaining that “the gate had been available the whole time.” It seems what we had here is a serious lack of communication! We arrive in “America’s Finest City” three hours later than expected. Our subsequent rental car experience at PAYLESS made it quite clear that you do get what you pay for. The lengthy wait did give Mr. Nutter the chance to be briefed by my wife on “how there is no such thing as a free lunch” (circa 1981- Bill Hawk).

Monday, December 8

The three-hour difference in Eastern vs. Pacific time made the 12:15 PM Awards Luncheon seem like dinner. Nevertheless, after I stepped to the podium and gave my acceptance speech (see below) before the 1500+ in attendance, master of ceremonies Matt Vasgersian of the MLB Network asked the crowd for “a show of hands if they thought that Keith Winter of the Fort Wayne TinCaps is a better public speaker that three-quarters of the major league media relations directors.” A nice shout out for our club, and I guess after spending 25-years as a television broadcaster, that I should be able to break the traditional “groundskeeper” stereotype.

After the luncheon, the four sports turf award winners (AAA, AA, A, Short-Season/Rookie) participated in a seminar/workshop where we answered questions and provided insights for other minor league executives and personnel. I am always amazed at how many teams are unhappy with their field, and thankful for what we have to work with here in Fort Wayne.

Tuesday, December 9

I met San Diego Padres head groundskeeper Luke Yoder and his assistant Peter Hayes at Petco Park for lunch along with a look at the field. We had some good fellowship and sharing, but there was little to look at from a field perspective as the Padres’ “Winter Holiday Carnival” covers the entire playing surface. When that wraps up after the first of the year, next is Monster Trucks and then Motocross. Around the first of March, they will then tear out the battered turf and replace the entire playing surface. San Diego’s almost perfect year-round weather warrants use of the ballpark for hundreds of special events. It was hard to see one of baseball’s best playing surfaces reduced to a grazing ground for live reindeer.

Tuesday evening, the Padres hosted a reception for all their minor league affiliates in the home clubhouse. The food was excellent and included the best “fresh-made” Southern California tacos I have ever eaten! Got to meet and greet new Executive VP/GM, A.J. Preller, new director of player development, Sam Geaney, and spent over half an hour with newly named Scouting Director, Mark Conner, who has been a frequent visitor to Parkview Field. To say the least, the Padres are getting younger in the front office. Padres manager Bud Black and most of his staff were there along with former Padre greats such as Randy Jones (only Cy Young winner in team history), and all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. It was fun to see former TinCap player names like Liriano, Spangenburg, and Quackenbush among the name tags in the classy clubhouse. It is true, you have it made once you arrive in the big leagues!

Wednesday, December 10

The morning Baseball Chapel breakfast started the day at 8 AM, with some encouraging words from the guest speaker and opportunity to fellowship with other Christians who are living out their faith in professional baseball. Major leaguers on hand included Twins manager Paul Molitor, Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny, and former Braves great and current broadcaster John Smoltz. Of course my wife “had to” talk with Smoltz since he was a favorite our middle son as he was growing up in the 90’s. Baseball Chapel continues to be a source of encouragement and strength for players, coaches, and front office personnel in major and minor league baseball.

The closing “Gala at Petco Park” on Wednesday evening opened the concourse and field to all registered minor and major league winter meeting attendees. There were thousands of hungry AND thirsty participants, so after checking it out, I decided to enjoy our final night in San Diego with a quiet, Italian meal with my wife in downtown San Diego’s Gaslight District. If you ever have the opportunity to visit  S.D., it is definitely worth the trip.

Our thanks to Keith for sharing his journal from the Winter Meetings. If you want even better insight to the experience, ask him to compare it to the first ever Winter Meetings in ’81.

One thing that was fun for Keith, and many others, back then and stays true today is the true baseball wheeling-and-dealing that gets done. And for the first time in a while, the Padres are in the middle of it. Tomorrow we’ll try to get caught up on the most recent moves San Diego has made, which include many a former recent TinCap.

Thanks for reading, and please be in touch in the comments below, by email, or on Twitter@John_G_Nolan.

P.S. If you’re still shopping for the holidays, don’t forget to visit The Orchard Team Store at Parkview Field, the seasonal location at Glenbrook Square, or online here.

 

A Groundskeeper’s Tale: “What Mama Wants, Mama Gets”

If I ever write a book, I’ll request the publisher make the cover as ugly as possible and the pages as glossy and shiny as possible. That’s because I truly believe in the mantra that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

Case in point? TinCaps Head Groundskeeper Keith Winter.

When you Google “groundskeeper,” this is the first result you get…

Willie from “The Simpsons” (via Wikipedia)

And if you were to ask me what I think of first when I hear “groundskeeper,” I’d probably say this…

So groundskeepers have that going for them, which is nice… or not so much. While stereotypes exist for a reason, you have to be quick to realize when they don’t fit. And in the case of Keith — and for that matter many other groundskeepers in baseball, golf, and all over in 2014 — the stereotype doesn’t fit. In short, Keith, who has a Master’s in Sports Administration and encyclopedic knowledge on the science behind managing a ball field, worked in television for 25 years before becoming a full-time groundskeeper.

Why are we even talking about this? Well, as previously mentioned, for the second year in a row, Keith was named the Single-A Sports Turf Manager of the Year by Minor League Baseball and the Sports Turf Managers Association. The trophy was presented in San Diego at the Winter Meetings on Dec. 8.

Again, if we’re making the mistake of going off stereotypes, you’re not expecting all that much from the 2-minute acceptance speech of an award-winning groundskeeper. At least not from an entertainment standpoint. But then you’d be wrong. Because if you know Keith, you know that he’s got the type of personality that can take over a room. And as the video below showcases, that’s any size of room. Even a grand ballroom.

In case you’re unable to watch that video, here’s the text of Keith’s remarks:

“I’m very honored to win this award for the second year in a row, and to be included among the previous two multi-time honorees. 

When our media relations coordinator (hey, that’s us!) told me that the Fort Wayne TinCaps and Parkview Field, who I represent, are the first ever repeat winner in Class-A baseball, I was humbled, because there have been, and are, many individuals who who work very hard at this craft.

Winning back-to-back is further proof of the great work of my entire grounds crew and the fantastic support of our front office and ownership group, Hardball Capital.

Most head groundskeepers in professional baseball would agree that there is some pressure that goes with the job. Whether it’s dealing with the weather, special events, and on-field concerts like Florida Georgia Line, or just getting a field ready 70-plus times, it can squeeze you a bit.

Let me conclude with a quick story about “real pressure.”

Pulling out of Disney at last year’s Winter Meetings, my bride of almost 33 years turns to me and says, “That was one of the highlights of my life!”

Now, you need to know that we raised three baseball-playing sons who competed in high school and college, so she has been to literally thousands of baseball games. 

But she says, “Hanging out in the lobby, talking to Jim Leyland, watching the MLB Network and ESPN crews, that was great!”

She turns to me and asks, “Where is it next year and what do I need to do to make sure you win again!”

Now… that’s pressure!

But any man who has been married for any length of time would agree when I say…

What Mama wants, Mama gets!

God bless, and thank you very much.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Keith Winter! The TinCaps are lucky to have Keith not only for his tremendous work as a groundskeeper, but also for his personality. I’m glad 1,500-plus people from around the country were able to see that in San Diego.

Next time on the blog, we’ll further showcase Keith’s personality as he shares his journal from his Winter Meetings experience.

Thanks for reading, and please be in touch in the comments below, by email, or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan.

P.S. If you’re still shopping for the holidays, don’t forget to visit The Orchard Team Store at Parkview Field, the seasonal location at Glenbrook Square, or online here.

TinCaps at the Winter Meetings in San Diego

You may have heard, the 113th annual Baseball Winter Meetings were held last week in San Diego. It was the first time in 29 years that “America’s Finest City” hosted.

As Chris Jenkins noted in the San Diego Union-Tribune, it’s an understatement to say the Meetings have changed drastically over the years. Yet, it’s still a summit of not only all MLB teams, but MiLB clubs, too.

The TinCaps were represented in San Diego by President Mike Nutter, Head Groundskeeper Keith Winter, and Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier.

In fact, Mike was quoted in that article linked above.

“We all learn from each other, spitballing with people from all over the minors,” said Mike Nutter, the 42-year-old president of the Ft. Wayne TinCaps, the Padres’ Single-A affiliate that’s made the Midwest League playoffs six straight years. “We have people come up to us and ask how we can do 33 fireworks nights in a 70-game schedule. If we hear something in talking to guys from the Lake Elsinore Storm, we can steal it, borrow it, make it our own for the people here in Fort Wayne.

“Listen, man, not everything works. We’ve come back, tried something and said, “What were we thinking?” But it’s ok; we’re willing to fail in the minors. There’s no concern that something is just stupid. Ok, maybe it is, but if you let your guard down and study concepts, you come up with good ideas.”

So while the headlines you see coming out of the Winter Meetings are about the likes of Jon Lester signing for $155 million or the TinCaps’ parent club, the Padres, trading for Matt Kemp, there’s more going on.

For example, last Monday there was an Awards Luncheon. Among those recognized? A pair of TinCaps staff members.

(We’ll have more on Keith’s award acceptance and experience in another post.)

We neglected to mention another Fort Wayne representative who had BIG FUN in San Diego.

The fact that the Padres were hosting made these Meetings extra special for the TinCaps contingent. While 29 big league organizations in San Diego held a reception for their minor league affiliates at a hotel, the Padres welcomed the TinCaps and company to a cooler venue.

A couple of other Fort Wayne-related highlights:

Populous — the architectural firm that designed Parkview Field as well as the likes of Camden Yards and Olympic stadiums in London, to name a few — held an event that featured Jason Freier as a speaker. Jason was the star of the event.

* Ballpark Digest, for the first time, held a party. Many of the top teams and operators in the country were there. The TinCaps were recognized as the top franchise in Minor League Baseball and also awarded the distinction of having the best new food item (BIG APPLE dessert). Ballpark Digest’s editor will be on hand for a game at Parkview Field in 2015 and present the awards in an on-field pregame ceremony.

Unsurprisingly, the consensus was San Diego and the Padres hit a home run as hosts.

Tomorrow we’ll share more about Keith’s travels and award acceptance. Later in the week, we’ll look at some of the headline deals around baseball and how they relate to the TinCaps. Until then, thanks for reading, and please be in touch in the comments below, by email, or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan.

P.S. If you’re still shopping for the holidays, don’t forget to visit The Orchard Team Store at Parkview Field, or the seasonal location at Glenbrook Square in Fort Wayne, or online here.

Winter Wins Single-A Sports Turf Manager of the Year Award

Brian Schackow, TinCaps VP — Finance, had yesterday’s TOTD. That’s Tweet of the Day for those not fluent in acronyms made up on the spot.

For the record, most of @Schack17‘s tweets are strong contenders for TOTD. This one comes after the news that Keith Winter is Minor League Baseball’s Single-A Sports Turf Manager of the Year, sponsored by the Sports Turf Managers Association.

It comes one day after Ballpark Digest named the TinCaps the 2014 Team of the Year in Minor League Baseball. That came after Ballpark Digest dubbed Fort Wayne’s BIG APPLE the Best New Food Item in Minor League Baseball in 2014.

Those accolades were on the heels of Stadium Journey ranking Parkview Field the best Minor League ballpark in the country. That praise followed Abby Naas, TinCaps Director of Promotions and Community Relations, being recognized as the Midwest League Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year.

Lest we neglect to mention Mallex Smith was voted by fans as Minor League Baseball’s Top Offensive Player. Jake Bauers made the Midwest League’s Postseason All-Star Team.

And to bring this full circle, before Keith was named Single-A’s Sports Turf Manager of the Year for a second consecutive year, the TinCaps Grounds Crew won its fifth straight Midwest League Field of the Year.

We’ll find out next week if Brian is Minor League Baseball’s Rookie CPA of the Year… For now, it’s a chance to appreciate what has been accomplished, while preparing to achieve even greater success in 2015 and beyond.

MUSICAL GUEST

BTO, take it away…

Please reach out with any comments, questions, or concerns (?) on Twitter (@John_G_Nolan), in the comments below, or by email. Thanks for reading.

TinCaps = Minor League Baseball’s Team of the Year

The offseason has seen the TinCaps collect a number of honors so far, and today came the biggest yet. Ballpark Digest announced the TinCaps are their 2014 Team of the Year in Minor League Baseball.

This is No. 1 out of all 160 organizations in Minor League Baseball — not just Single-A. The award is based on outstanding performance in the front office combined with a major commitment to community service. You can read more on that here.

Design Credit: Tony DesPlaines

Design Credit: Tony DesPlaines

Here’s the updated list of accolades the TinCaps have received so far in 2014:

* Minor League Baseball’s Team of the Year (Ballpark Digest)

* Minor League Baseball’s No. 1 Ballpark Experience (Stadium Journey)

* Minor League Baseball’s Best New Food Item – BIG APPLE (Ballpark Digest)

* Minor League Baseball’s Top Offensive Player – Mallex Smith

* Midwest League Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year – Abby Naas

* Midwest League Sports Turf Manager/Grounds Crew of the Year

* Midwest League Postseason All-Star – Jake Bauers

* Midwest League All-Star Classic Bunting Contest Champion – Mallex Smith

Spoiler alert: I can tell you there’s at least one more to add to that list tomorrow.

If you haven’t seen it yet, this video by the TinCaps Video Duo of Melissa Darby and Jared Law does an amazing job of capturing the essence of what makes TinCaps baseball special.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your contributions to making the TinCaps the crème de la crème of minor league sports. This wouldn’t be possible without the fans who support the team. Would love to hear what you love about the TinCaps. Let us know on Twitter (@John_G_Nolan), in the comments below, or by email.

Veterans Day — TinCaps Salute to Heroes

Today — the 11th day of the 11th month — is Veterans Day. And so on behalf of the entire TinCaps organization, I extend a deep gratitude to our nation’s Veterans and all those currently serving in our Armed Forces.

To quote George Washington:

“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”

I’d like to think the TinCaps do a pretty good job of showing this appreciation. And I preface this by saying I am in no way looking to put the spotlight on the team that I work for here. The intent is to highlight our Veterans and Military.

*************

Photo Credit: Brad Hand

Photo Credit: Brad Hand

Above is a photo of Clem Smith throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Parkview Field on the Fourth of July. Clem is a Navy Vet who’s now 98-years-young.

The Fourth was also Salute to Heroes Night. In addition to Clem’s first pitch, the TinCaps recognized 11 military members and one police officer.

NAME BRANCH RANK
Robert L. Jackson Army (Korean War) Private
Brian & Sue Horn Army Sergeant, Private First Class
Dan Sorrell Army (Still Serving) Staff Sergeant
Kirby Cochran Police Officer Detective
Kevin Matthew Pape (passed) Army Rangers Staff Sergeant
Rodney D. Zody (passed) Navy
Brandon Bruce Air National Guard Staff Sergeant
Justin O’Reilly Army Sergeant
Jeremy Chandler (on duty) Air Force Technical Sergeant
Robert Valdez Marine Corps Sergeant
Jason Fritz Army E-5 Sergeant
Kyle Cooke Marines Lance Corporal

Here’s a video recap of that special night.

That night the TinCaps wore special patriotic jerseys. During the game, the jerseys were auctioned off to fans and raised more than $1,400 for Honor Flight Northeast Indiana. If you want to talk about an incredible organization serving Veterans, look no further. In case you’re not familiar, Honor Flight is a nonprofit that sends Veterans to Washington, D.C. to reflect at their memorials.

The TinCaps also wore their red, white, and blue unis on Military Appreciation Night (June 11), when the team gave 880-plus tickets to Veterans and current military members, as well as their families. That was through partnership with the Northeast Indiana Military Assistance Network.

Photo Credit: Jeff Nycz

Photo Credit: Jeff Nycz

And maybe the most special moment of the 2014 season at Parkview Field came in the regular season finale. The TinCaps were down 8-0 to the West Michigan Whitecaps after just 1 1/2 innings. (At the time, it seemed like it could spell the end of the team’s playoff hopes, although that turned out not to be the case. Before I give it away, just watch…

Thank you, Sgt. Nick Conrad. Thank you, Mr. Clem Smith. And thank you to all who serve or have served and their families.

On a personal note, I would like to pay my respects to two of my best friends from high school. James Livingstone and Hayes Cozza, who graduated from the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Naval Academies, respectively. James is now a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, while Hayes is a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

Both of my grandfathers, John Nolan (Korean War) and Richard Schulz (World War II), also served. I never had an opportunity to talk to my Dad’s Dad about his time serving as a medic, but what I’ll always remember about the times I got to ask my Mom’s Dad about his service in WW2 was that he only wanted to tell me about what others had done and always deflected any praise for himself.

My grandfather, Richard Schulz

What I do feels extremely insignificant by comparison. It is insignificant. I’ll just say as a broadcaster, though, I make it a point to never call an athlete a “hero.” It’s a massive pet peeve of mine. The greatest of broadcasters do it. But I think it’s a mistake. Sure, one could be a “hero in a sports sense,” but to call someone who gets the game-winning hit a “hero” does an disservice to the word and to those whom it should be bestowed upon. (A conversation for another day is how “Veterans Day” sales at department stores and the like that offer savings to all customers — not exclusively veterans or current military members — is another injustice.)

Again, thank you.

BIG APPLE News: TinCaps Win Best New Food Item, Mets Sign Cuddyer

Awards season continued for the TinCaps on Monday. Ballpark Digest announced that the BIG APPLE is the winner of its “Best New Food Item” in Minor League Baseball for 2014.

Here’s what Ballpark Digest publisher Kevin Reichard had to say about the BIG APPLE:

“The TinCaps do a great job in promoting the brand around apples and Johnny Appleseed. This new food item works both as a fun item and something you’d expect from a team constantly working to impress fans.”

If you need a refresher on all the ingredients that go into the five-pound, batting helmet-filling dessert, let’s review:

* 4 heaping helpings of Parkview Field’s signature Apple Crisp

* 4 hand-made apple dumplings

* 5 scoops of rich, creamy, vanilla ice cream

* Topped with whipped cream

* Drizzled with hot caramel

* Garnished with – what else – delicious red apple slices

* Sprinkles are added for good measure

It feels necessary to remind you now that Parkview Field also has one of the healthiest menus in all of Minor League Baseball.

Now, in other Fort Wayne/Big Apple-related news…

Photo via Mets Merized

A 1998 Wizard is on the move…

Here’s a look at Michael Cuddyer’s numbers in Fort Wayne. He’s in the team record book in a few places. Cuddyer’s tied for third for most doubles in a season with 37. He’s also tied for sixth in RBIs in a season with 81. Where he takes the cake? Errors.

Cuddyer committed a Fort Wayne franchise record 61 errors in 122 games at shortstop. Now you may be thinking to yourself, “I’ve never seen Cuddyer play short before.” And you’d be right. As a major leaguer, Cuddyer, in addition to DH-ing, has played 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, CF, RF, and even pitched once for the Twins in 2011. But in the bigs or the 4 1/2 years he spent in the minors after Fort Wayne before becoming a mainstay in Minnesota, he never again played at short.

Photo via Grandstand Sports

It’s interesting to note on that card, Cuddyer’s signature isn’t the worst you’ve ever seen, but it’s also not the most legible. Fastforward to today, and not only is Cuddyer considered one of the best hitters in the game, he’s also thought of as having the neatest John Hancock. This MLB.com story by Mark Newman explains which former Twins great is responsible for why.

Photo via MLB.com

It’s nice to see a young player develop on the field, but it’s also cool to witness the off-field maturation. Cuddyer’s a two-time All-Star who won the NL batting title with the Rockies in 2013. He spent much of 2014 on the disabled list, but when he was healthy, he produced and even hit for the cycle once. As someone who grew up rooting for the Mets, it’ll be interesting to see if he has more success in New York than most who’ve arrived with high expectations over the years. Here’s more from ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin on what the move means for both Cuddyer and the Mets.

MUSICAL GUEST

Very tempting here to go with Taylor Swfit’s new song, “Welcome to New York.” However, I’ll abstain. Frank Sinatra, take it away…

Interesting tidbit: According to this NBC News story, Jerry Seinfeld listens to Sinatra in his dressing room before he performs. Sure enough before his performance in Fort Wayne last Thursday, The Embassy was playing Sinatra.

Please keep in touch on Twitter, @John_G_Nolan, in the comments below, or by email. Thanks for reading.

Zoning in on TinCaps in the Fall League

The Arizona Fall League ends a week from today. Well, technically there’s a championship game on the 15th. And if the season ended right now, the seven former TinCaps playing for the Surprise Saguaros (11-13-1) would be in that title game. After all, there are only two three-team divisions. Here’s a peak at the AFL standings.

And for a check on how LHP Brandon Alger (2012), RHP Tyron Guerrero (2013-14), RHP Justin Hancock (2012-13), INF Jace Peterson (2012), OF Hunter Renfroe (2013), OF Mallex Smith (2013-14), and INF Trea Turner (2014) are all doing, here are their numbers with Surprise.

Renfroe wasn't in Fort Wayne long, but the Mississippi State alum showed as much power as any recent TinCap.

Hunter Renfroe wasn’t in Fort Wayne long, but the Mississippi State alum showed as much power as any recent TinCap. (Photo Credit: Jeff Nycz)

After watching him for 23 games in Fort Wayne a year ago, it’s really no surprise (yes, pun intended) to see Hunter hitting home runs. He’s tied for tops on the team with four homers, while he leads the way with six doubles and 39 total bases. Hunter recently had a two-homer game you can read about here. MiLB.com also wrote last week about another homer he hit and got his thoughts on having the chance to play in the AFL Fall Stars Game. Hunter launched a home run in that Fall Stars Game which, by the way, you can watch a full replay of the game here.

Coincidentally, he hit that homer off Trevor Gott, who like Hunter was drafted by the Padres in 2013 and played for the TinCaps that year. Trevor, though, was traded to the Angels in July. Gott and Renfroe both started 2014 with Advanced-A Lake Elsinore where they had All-Star first halves and were promoted to Double-A San Antonio before Trevor was traded.

Also in that Fall Stars Game, Jace Peterson went 1-for-1 at the plate. Tyron Guerrero was named to the team but didn’t pitch.

Sticking with 2013 TinCaps for now, ESPN’s Keith Law recently took note of Defiance, Ohio’s Justin Hancock. Law wrote:

“The Padres took Justin Hancock in the ninth round in 2011 out of Lincoln Trail Community College in Illinois. It looks like a steal right given Hancock’s stuff, even though the results aren’t there yet. … It’s a smaller frame and he hasn’t been durable in the minors, so I don’t want to overrate the stuff, but it’s easy to imagine the fastball/changeup combo alone making him a good big league reliever, with the breaking ball the separator between him and the rotation.”

Another guy from ’13 (in addition to ’14): Mallex Smith, who made headlines, or at least tweets, today.

That would be the result of baseball’s Pace of Game committee experimenting with rule changes in some AFL games. Other than that, though, Mallex has made more headlines in Arizona for his (take a guess…) speed.

There you see 2012 TinCap Jace Peterson doubling Mallex home. But in addition to his bat — which has had some big days, as chronicled here — Jace continues to display a great glove.

Finally for now, to another star middle infielder, Trea Turner ’14. He recently did an interview with MLB Pipeline‘s Billy Joel.

MUSICAL GUEST

I’m not one to circle dates on the calendar or have high expectations for events, but I have to say I’m pretty darn excited to see Jerry Seinfeld perform tonight at The Embassy Theater right next to Parkview Field. With that said, Jonathan Wolff, take it away…

Thanks for reading. Keep in touch on Twitter, @John_G_Nolan, in the comments below, or by email.

The Time Livan Hernandez Got His Driver’s License With Mike Nutter

The newest ESPN Films “30 for 30,” Brothers in Exile, premiered Tuesday night. The documentary tells the story of Livan and Orlando Hernandez — the half-brothers from Cuba who fled to the U.S. in the mid-90s and went on to become World Series-winning pitchers. Of course the story isn’t that simple. In association with MLB Productions, director Mario Diaz chronicles the great risks they took to eventually achieve their success. You can watch ESPN’s preview here.

Sports Illustrated media critic/reporter Richard Deitsch calls it one of the five best “30 for 30″ films yet. In that link, Deitsch also has notes on how the documentary came to be, including how Diaz obtained footage of Livan and El Duque from Cuba. Awful Announcing also has its own Brothers in Exile review here.

Photo Credit: Louis DeLuca/Getty Images

There’s a bit of a TinCaps connection to this.

Some more details to that story from 1996…

The setting was spring training in Viera, Florida. Mike was 24 and had just started his first full-time job out of college as a group salesman with the Brevard County Manatees, who were then the Advanced-A affiliate of the Marlins in the Florida State League. (The Manatees are currently affiliated with the Brewers.) Meanwhile, Livan had just turned 21 and was preparing for his first season in the United States.

When Livan arrived in Brevard County, Mike helped him move into his apartment. Although Livan only knew a couple words of English at the time — more on that in a moment — Mike was fluent in Spanish. From that point on they were friendly.

And so following a lengthy session with the press after Livan’s U.S. debut in an exhibition against the University of Miami (mini recap here), it was Mike who took him out to eat. Livan didn’t ask Mike to go eat as much as he rubbed his stomach and pointed to his mouth. Just like two young 20-year-olds would do almost 20 years later, they went to Wendy’s. Naturally.

In Spanish, Livan told Mike he wanted the biggest burger on the menu. Livan likely said something to the tune of, “Quiero una hamburguesa grande.” But then, for the first time in Mike’s company, Livan spoke English. He altered his order.

“No pickle.”

This burger with pickles would not have been to the liking of Livan. (Source: Wendy’s)

Later that spring training, Mike and Livan had another outing together as the Marlins wanted Livan to get his driver’s license. This is one of those tasks that sounds simple enough to any of us, but when you add in language and cultural barriers, it becomes considerably more challenging. Not to mention, Livan didn’t have his own car (although considering the Marlins signed him for four years, $4.5 million, he probably could’ve afforded one, as well as a better meal than Wendy’s, but we digress).

Mike let Livan use his red Honda CRX for the driving test.

An idea of what Mike’s old car looked like.

As you can see, that CRX didn’t have a backseat. So you’ve got Livan up front along with a driving instructor, and Mike — there to translate — laying in the back/trunk. (For the record, couldn’t find any Google images depicting that scene.)

On Livan’s first crack at his driving test, he didn’t pass. A few weeks later, Mike brought Livan back for a second try. First, though, Livan had to go through a three-hour defensive driving course — in English. Again, it was Mike’s job to translate. And then, at last, Livan passed.

He soon spent the majority of 1996 with Double-A Portland and Triple-A Charlotte. He made one appearance with the Marlins that year at the end of September. A year later, Livan would end up the youngest ever World Series MVP.

There you have it — classic tales from working in Minor League Baseball. And by now, Mike has enough of them to fill a book.

***

Do you have any good stories to share about encounters with stars before they were stars? Or ever find yourself laying in the back of a red Honda CRX to translate during a driver’s test? Eat Wendy’s? Whatever the case, be in touch on Twitter, @John_G_Nolan, in the comments below, or by email. Thanks for reading.

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