July 2012

Crucial Set, Fetter Feature, Timing is Everything

The TinCaps play an early one today at South Bend, getting underway at 1:05 this afternoon at Coveleski Stadium. It’s the start of a four-game series, and if history serves as any indicator, it will be a battle. Fort Wayne has only won 7 of their 18  games against South Bend, going 1-5 vs. the Silver Hawks here in the second half. Last visit to South Bend, the TinCaps were swept in a three-game series.

Fortunately, the TinCaps are hot right now having just swept Great Lakes in a three-game set at Parkview Field. It’s the first three-game sweep for Fort Wayne at Parkview Field since the opening series of last year, April 7-9, 2011…against South Bend.

With a record of 53-53, Fort Wayne is at .500 for the first time since April 6th, the second day of the season. A win today would bring the TinCaps’ overall record to one game above .500 for the first time since April 17, 2011, when the team was 6-5 under Manager Shawn Wooten. Here’s to a victory with Frank Garces on the hill; they haven’t lost a game he’s started since June 6th.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, a special feature. Tom Felice brings us the story of pitcher Chris Fetter, a member of the 2009 Fort Wayne championship squad, making a post-surgery comeback with the TinCaps:

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Who doesn’t love a good proposal at a ballgame? There’s the nervous excitement, the huge crowd and hopefully a girlfriend turned fiance when it’s all said and done. These things require meticulous planning, and they can go off very well when executed to perfection.

But what about when they’re not timed well?

Take a look at the video from this Cubs game, where a gentleman asks his girlfriend to marry him through a message on the video board at Wrigley Field, but she’s taken that exact moment to go to the bathroom…

Click here for the video.

MUSICAL GUEST

The Clash…take it away!

If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

Nearly a Cycle, Award Winner, Learn Something New

The TinCaps look for a sweep tonight against Great Lakes at Parkview Field. The last time Fort Wayne swept a three-game series at Parkview Field?

April 7-9, 2011, against South Bend.

A win tonight would also give Fort Wayne a three-game winning streak, too.

Yeison Asencio had quite the ballgame yesterday, coming within a triple of the cycle. He had two singles, two doubles and a solo home run. His 10 total bases were the most for any TinCaps player this season, and he’s the fifth Fort Wayne player to have five hits in a game in 2012.

Jace Peterson played one of his better games, too, going 2-4 with a three-run homer. His last, and only other, home run this season came on April 12th, at Dow Diamond, the home of the Great Lakes Loons. He told me in our postgame interview that he doesn’t go up to the plate looking for a home run, but he just happened to get a good pitch from Great Lakes’ Miguel Sulbaran.

Both Asencio and Peterson hit their home runs against Sulbaran, who was a making his first Midwest League start. The lefty, who’s only 18-years-0ld, gave up six earned runs in just two innings.

Today Cody Hebner tries to pick up his first victory since June 11. In the six starts since his last win, he’s gone 0-3 with an 8.63 ERA.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, Jace Peterson tells us about his big day at the plate:

TWO IN A ROW

The Midwest League announced today that Kyle Gaedele has been named the player of the week for July 22-29. 

Kyle Gaedele

In six games this past week, Gaedele hit .353 (6-17) with two doubles, three home runs, and six runs batted in. He also drew six walks, scored four runs, and stole a base. Gaedele has hit .342 in 73 at bats in the month of July.

Since the All-Star break, Gaedele is hitting .337 (35-104), boosting his batting average from .200 to .247. In 31 second-half games, the Arlington Heights, Illinois, native has already bested his first half totals for doubles, home runs and runs batted in.

LEARN SOMETHING NEW

On yesterday’s TV broadcast, Kent Hormann and I were joined by Mark Stubblefield, whose official title is Medical Coordinator, Professional Baseball Umpire Corp. That means that he’s responsible for the medical care of umpires throughout minor league baseball. It’s a tough task considering each team has a trainer dedicated to at least 25 players, and Stubblefield is responsible for hundreds of umpires.

He joined us in the third inning yesterday afternoon to talk about his background, how his position came to be and what he does in an educational role with the umpires to help prevent injury.

We talked about one umpire in particular, Ron Teague, who was injured in a game between Fort Wayne and Lansing earlier this year. The game was at Cooley Law School Stadium in Lansing, and the Lugnuts’ Kevin Patterson took a big swing at a pitch, clipping Teague’s shin with his backswing. The swing, as I’ve been told, broke Teague’s shinguard and left him on the ground in pain for several minutes. Keep in mind there are no backup umpires.

Stubblefield was familiar with the incident, and said that if Teague could not have continued, that the game would have gone on with just one umpire. Teague did finish the game, but was out of commission for about a week as Stubblefield helped him recover from his injury. Since then, Teague has been promoted to Advanced-A.

Stubblefield said since his hiring in October of last year, that his role has been to look at the umpires as baseball’s “31st team”, and to help them stay in the best shape possible. They’re the people on the field who are seen the most, yet seen the least. Umpires, even on hot days, are on the field the entire time, but they never get to go to the bathroom or even sit down.

Talking with Mark gave good insight into something we really hear about. Thanks, Mark.

MUSICAL GUEST

Billy Joel…take it away!

If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

Roll the Dice, Toughest Job, Painted Pestano

Here’s how to best describe the 5-4 TinCaps win at Parkview Field Saturday night:

Having performed as Arvide Abernathy in Guys and Dolls at White Plains Middle School in sixth grade, let’s just say I’m the definitive expert on Guys and Dolls. Or not.

However one verse does stand out that really fits yesterday’s game:

“Lets keep this party polite
Never get out of my sight”

The first line: In the ten games the TinCaps and Loons had played prior to last night, half of them had been decided by extra innings. Just one blowout, a 10-0 TinCaps win on June 28, in the entire series. However, close games can bring strong emotions, with both teams constantly feeling like they can win. In the last series between Fort Wayne and Great Lakes, which took place at Dow Diamond in Midland, Michigan, TinCaps’ pitcher Luis De La Cruz, along with Loons players Angelo Songco, Jose Dominguez and Manager John Shoemaker (twice) were ejected from ballgames. Not polite. Songo has since been moved up to Advanced-A, and De La Cruz didn’t pitch last night. It was a clean ballgame.

The second line: There were multiple lead changes in Saturdays’ game.

The TinCaps went in front 1-0.

The Loons leapfrogged Fort Wayne 2-1.

Fort Wayne tied the game at 3 in the fifth inning.

Great Lakes took a 4-3 lead in the top of the sixth.

The TinCaps tied it at 4 in the bottom of the sixth.

Finally, Fort Wayne won, on a three-base throwing error by Loons catcher Pratt Maynard in the bottom of the eighth.

Never was the game out of sight for either team.

Tomorrow on the blog: How the lyrics to Rent’s “Seasons of Love” is really just about bullpen pitchers passing time during games in which they don’t pitch.

Here’s the game story from last night, and the video highlights, too.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, Mike Gallic recounts how he scored the eventual game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday night:

BASEBALL’S TOUGHEST JOB

As part of a fantastic series being done by The New York Times on the job of the catcher in baseball, David Waldstein chats with Yankees catcher Russell Martin in a piece called, “A Catcher Masters the Mind Games Within the Game.” After watching the TinCaps’ Austin Hedges get run down yesterday in a big collision at home plate, the job seems difficult enough. When it comes to having to deliver signs to the pitcher, it doesn’t get any easier:

“Sometimes, I’ll put a sign down and the pitcher doesn’t see it,” Martin said, “and I’ll put every sign down possible and then it’s like: ‘O.K., I just put every sign down. Time out. Let’s talk this over.’ “

And still pitchers and catchers can cross signals. When David Cone pitched for the Mets, he once threw a fastball to catcher Rick Cerone, who thought he had called for a breaking ball. Cerone was unprepared for the velocity of the pitch, and it rammed him in the chest, knocking the wind out of him.

When Girardi was catching for the Yankees, Pettitte once confused him in the bullpen, where the pitcher calls the pitches. Pettitte signaled he was about to throw a curveball, then started talking to the pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. When he did fire the pitch, it was a fastball, and it hit Girardi in the shoulder.

At times, confusion has caused a pitcher to throw a fastball down the middle while his catcher is standing, expecting a pitchout.

For the more sophisticated pitchers, there is the A.B.E. code, for Ahead, Behind and Even. When the pitcher is ahead in the count, the desired pitch is the first sign the catcher flashes. When he’s behind in the count, it is the second sign. When it is even, like 1-1, it is the third sign of the sequence.

Got it?”

PAINTED PESTANO

I promise, no more than two consecutive days of Bob Ross-themed items here on the blog, but I just happened to come across the Twitter account of Cleveland Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano, who uses this photo as his avatar:

Well done, sir.

An additional note on Ross, by the way–he taped his show right here in Indiana at WIPB, the PBS affiliate located on the campus of Ball State.

“From 1983-1994, WIPB produced the international sensation, THE JOY OF PAINTING, with host Bob Ross. The soft-spoken Ross taught viewers to transform a blank canvas into a beautiful landscape scene, often including “happy trees,” in less than 30 minutes. WIPB is proud to present this popular program in syndication.”

Thanks to Brian Schackow for the info.

MUSICAL GUEST

Steve Miller Band…take it away!

If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

Aggression, He Gone, Happiest of Trees

Plays of aggression were what defined the TinCaps’ 5-4 loss to South Bend Friday night. Two in particular, which both happened late in the game, seem to stand out.

In the seventh inning, Fort Wayne reliever Johnny Barbato allowed a leadoff single. At the time, the TinCaps were leading 4-2. The next batter up hit a ground ball to second base, which Tyler Stubblefield mishandled. He was charged with an error, and the inning continued for South Bend, as the Silver Hawks scored three, unearned runs against Barbato.  At the seventh-inning stretch, South Bend led 5-4.

In the bottom of the eighth, the bases were loaded and Jace Peterson was at the plate. On the previous eight pitches, both Kyle Gaedele and Travis Jankowski had drawn walks. One swing of the bat could have given the TinCaps the lead; instead, one swing sent them back to the dugout. Peterson chased the first pitch he saw from reliever Kaleb Fleck, and Fort Wayne left the bases loaded.

Opportunity knocked again in the ninth. Tyler Stubblefield had a chance for redemption as he stood at the plate with runners at second and third and two down. South Bend’s Jake Barrett had a 2-2 count working, and had to decide whether it would be a fastball or a breaking ball to Stubblefield. Earlier in the inning, Barrett had bounced a breaking ball to the plate, sending it soaring into the sky and allowing both Yeison Asencio and Travis Whitmore, who had legged out infield singles, to advance to third and second, respectively.

Barrett went with a fastball and Stubblefield poked it down the right field line, only to see Chris Ellison make a game-saving, diving catch that began in fair territory and ended in the TinCaps bullpen. The game was over.

“I’m not happy because we lost but I’ll take my chances with the way we’re playing baseball,” said Manager Jose Valentin. “When you play the game aggressive, sometimes you’re going to make mistakes, but I can live with that. I’m glad to see the guys go out there and play hard rather than just be lazy and be afraid to make mistakes.”

The TinCaps had won their last three series, not dropping a set since losing two out of three to Beloit earlier in the month.  Today brings a new opponent, as Great Lakes comes to town. The Loons are 16-17 in the second half and have lost three of their last four ballgames.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, hear from Manager Jose Valentin after last night’s one-run defeat:

HE GONE!

The manager who became widely known in 2006 for this incident:

is at it again.

Joe Mikulik, the manager of the Asheville Tourists, a Rockies affiliate in the South Atlantic League, was ejected from last night’s game against Charleston. Danny Wild of MiLB.com has the details:

“On Friday, things got interesting when RiverDogs leadoff man Cito Culver hit a ground-rule double and tried to steal third.

A pickoff attempt caught Culver in a rundown, but the Yankees’ 2010 first-round Draft pick advanced after managing to avoid the tag of lunging third baseman Samuel Mende.

Mikulik appeared to dispute whether Culver should have been called out for running out of the baseline while evading the tag. Culver was thrown out at the plate two batters later, so no damage was done.

Mikulik had a brief but heated argument with infield umpire Mike Patterson, who tossed him after the skipper drew the baseline in the dirt with his foot. He then rifled his cap into the outfield, re-enacted Culver’s baserunning tactics, pulled out third base and handed it to a fan in the front row near the third-base dugout.

Mikulik and Patterson traded words again before Milulik retrieved his cap, waved to the crowd and took a bow before entering the dugout.”

The link to the article also includes video from last night’s ejection.

HAPPIEST TREES EVER

I don’t think I ever really watched a full episode of “The Joy of Painting”, the Bob Ross-hosted show on PBS that brought us great phrases like “happy little clouds” and “happy trees.” It’s one of those shows that you happened to stumble upon when flipping from the broadcast networks and were going up to try and find the TV Guide, and you think, “Well, what in the world is this guy doing?”

And then you got sucked in a for a few minutes, laughed a little, and kept going in search of the Kardashians.

Even though the show went off the air in 1994, its legacy lives on in popular culture and in this great remix of Bob Ross, who has now been autotuned:

MUSICAL GUEST

Soundgarden…take it away!

If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

A TinCaps First, Five is the Number, Christmas in July

After Thursday’s 10-6 loss, let’s start with the positives:

Mike Gallic went five-for-five at the plate, becoming the first ever TinCaps player to do so. The last time a Fort Wayne player went five-for five was at Memorial Stadium. Then-Wizards outfielder Cedric Hunter accomplished the feat in a wild game against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers:

29 runs and 32 hits? Yikes. Yesterday’s game had 16 runs and 27 hits. I supposed it’s got to be one of those games where a player goes five-for-five. Congratulations to Mike Gallic.

On the not so good side of things was the five errors committed by Fort Wayne, which was a season-high. TinCaps pitching didn’t have a 1-2-3 inning against the Silver Hawks yesterday, allowing South Bend to score in six of the nine innings. Fortunately, it’s just one game out of 140 and not the end of the world.

Overall the TinCaps are 50-52, and missed a chance yesterday to reach the .500 mark for the first time since April 6th, when they were 1-1.

“Every time we’re knocking at the door, people don’t want to open the door for us, ” said Manager Jose Valentin. “We’re trying too hard to get there. We’re looking at the scoreboard too early instead of just going out there and making it happen. “

To hear Valentin’s full post-game comments, listen to today’s TinCaps Report Podcast:

CHRISTMAS IN JULY

Tonight, as one of the TinCaps’ many Friday theme nights, we celebrate Christmas in July at Parkview Field. If you’re up for singing Christmas carols, you’re in for a treat. If you want to drink some hot chocolate, well…good luck because it’s summer, so that might be tough.

Here’s a peek at what tonight’s special uniforms look like:

Tonight’s starter Colin Rea will not be wearing a white beard on the mound.

We didn’t forget the small details:

Hope to see you out at the park tonight.

MUSICAL GUEST

Today’s musical guest comes your way courtesy of whatever radio station it was that played this song while I was driving in to work the other day. Yes, I was definitely jamming out to it–that’s a given. But I also had a good laugh at this line:

“Ya gotta learn to hold ya own/They get jealous when they see ya with ya mobile phone.”

And don’t forget to silence your pager, please.

Tupac…take it away!

If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

Two Shots, Across the Atlantic, History Repeating Itself

An off day seems to cure all ills in minor league baseball, and the day of rest on Tuesday sure seemed to help the Fort Wayne nine, as they defeated the South Bend Silver Hawks Wednesday night at Parkview Field.

Kyle Gaedele stole the show as he hit two home runs–one in the fourth and another in the second–doubling his total for the season. It was the third two-homer game of the year for a member of the TinCaps, as Gaedele joined current teammate Yeison Asencio and former teammate Casey McElroy in the club. McElroy is now at Advanced-A Lake Elsinore.

31 games in to the second half, it’s not too early to start thinking about a potential playoff berth for the TinCaps in the second half. They are in first place, leading West Michigan by two games and Great Lakes and South Bend by three games.  The rest of the way Fort Wayne plays only Eastern Division opponents, meaning every game can give a boost to the standings. The TinCaps 19-12 record is matched by Bowling Green and Lansing, the two first half playoff qualifiers. Having those two teams playing well is great news for Fort Wayne, so long as the TinCaps don’t have to play the Hot Rods or Lugnuts. If Bowling Green and Lansing can beat up on other opponents and Fort Wayne continues to win, that only means better news in the standings each day.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, hear from Kyle Gaedele who talks about his first ever two-homer game as a pro:

BEHIND THE SCENES, ACROSS THE ATLANTIC

In the coming days and weeks as you kick up your feet at the end of a long work day and prepare to watch a gymnast from Russia or a basketball player from Canada in the Olympics, take a moment to think about just how that broadcast is reaching you. Seems like it’d take a lot of cables and wires, right? Right.

 Brian Stelter of The New York Times peeks inside the operation that works hard to carry the broadcasts of the Olympic games:

“The volume of video — roughly 325 hours’ worth a day — must be carried to the United States on a complex series of circuits that are diagramed on a wall in NBC’s work space. “We call this the subway map,” Mazza said proudly.

What a difference a decade makes. In Sydney, Australia, for the 2000 Summer Olympics, NBC sent three video feeds, technically called circuits, to the United States. Now it sends 92. They show up as small lines of strings on the diagram, each with a different color name (turquoise, scarlet, taupe, maroon, azure; colors translate well around the world) and a different purpose.

Some key video feeds are named for the British royals: Will is carried across the Atlantic on a separate path from Kate, in case one path is interrupted for any reason. There are backups for the backups, too, including a few satellite paths “in case everything else dies,” Mazza said.

“It all depends on the level of risk,” he said. “If it’s the prime-time show, we could get on the air about six different ways. If it’s the stream of table tennis, there might be a single thread.”

Sending so much video to the United States, a step also taken for the Beijing Games, also allows for more work to be done there, saving money for NBC. Five control rooms in New York are dedicated to the Games’ coverage, as are dozens of editors and producers. It is almost as if the engineers have erased the Atlantic Ocean off the map — but there is still a 3.5-second delay for the video to and fro.”

I really hope you enjoy this article, because it was the last free one I’ll get to read from The New York Times this month. Oh look! August is almost here!

HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF?

In 1984, the New York Mets featured a young star pitcher and a stud outfielder, with Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. Two years later, the Mets won the world series.

Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal says there might be a parallel between those Mets and the Nationals of 2012. The star pitcher? Stephen Strasburg. The outfielder? Well, surely you’ve heard of Bryce Harper.

“And if that doesn’t convince you, consider this almost unfathomable link between the two teams, which existed nearly three decades apart: They have the same manager, Davey Johnson.

“There are a lot of similarities, especially with all the young arms,” Johnson said.

The resemblance doesn’t stop with just Strasburg and Harper. Both teams relied on a pitching staff made up of young, mostly home-grown pitchers.

While Strasburg clearly mirrors Gooden, Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann seems to match up with Ron Darling. The Mets traded for Darling less than a year into his professional career and developed him through their minor league system. The Nationals drafted Zimmermann themselves. Meanwhile, Gio Gonzalez plays the role of Sid Fernandez—the left-handed pitcher acquired in a trade relatively early in his major-league career.

Offensively, the Mets made a key deal with the Cardinals in 1983 to acquire Keith Hernandez, who became one of the most beloved and successful Mets of all time. The Nationals signed Jayson Werth before last year for the same reason: to add a veteran presence to the lineup.”

MUSICAL GUEST

Boston…take it away!

If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

Pitching to Victory, Behind the Flyover, Words to Live By

Tonight is the first time since July 16th that the TinCaps will play at Parkview Field. Last they were home, they finished off a series with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, and then had a day off following that series finale. Since the team has been out of town, they went on a 5-1 road trip through the Western Division, sweeping Cedar Rapids and taking two of three from Quad Cities.

Over the last seven games, the TinCaps have scored no fewer than six runs in any one game. Here’s a bit of a roller coaster statistic for you:

Going into the game on July 16, only one time in the past eight days had a TinCaps starter pitched more than 4 1/3 innings. In that time, the starters had a 9.22 ERA.

Entering today’s game, Fort Wayne pitchers have worked to a 1.21 ERA over the last six games. In four of the six games on the road trip, the starter went either five or six innings, and one of the starts was from Chris Fetter, who is limited to three or four innings in his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

Quite simply, good pitching will win ballgames. Now it doesn’t hurt to score six, seven or eight runs a game, either, but the pitching has been phenomenal lately. With the loss of Adys Portillo, things will be a little different for Fort Wayne, but the rotation is still very good with the likes of Frank Garces and Matt Wisler pitching as well as they are.

Speaking of Portillo, he made his first Double-A start last night:

Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Missions

It wasn’t the smoothest start for Port, who went 2 1/3 innings and gave up four earned runs while walking three and striking out two. Nobody, including Padres Director of Player Development Randy Smith or Fort Wayne pitching coach Willie Blair, said they thought Portillo would dominate Double-A. They think it’ll be his next challenge, and that he’s up to the task. Last week I asked Blair if he thought Portillo was past the level of competition the Midwest League has to offer:

“I’m kind of torn on that. After seeing him struggle the way he struggled last year, I would’ve liked to have seen him finish out the season here and enjoy the success that he’s had,” Blair said. ” On the other hand, I don’t want to hold the kid back either. He probably would’ve ended up having unbelievable numbers here, which is not a bad thing but at the same time he probably needs to be challenged a little bit and I think he will definitely be challenged at Double-A.”

———-

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, hear my conversation with the reigning Midwest League Player of the Week, Tyler Stubblefield. He’ll tell us about the team’s winning road trip, and about the adjustment he made over the offseason to better his swing:

HOW DO THEY DO IT?

On June 12 this year, the TinCaps had a flyover from two A-10 Thunderbolts from the 122nd Fighter Wing Air National Guard. I wondered that day, “How do they time their flight path so that they cross over the stadium right at the end of the national anthem? Now I know:

“Well, the answer might lie partially in that one word: military. 

“We do similar things a lot in all of military aviation, where you have to be at a site at a particular time,” says Marine Capt. Emily Miller, a helicopter pilot who has flown missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and recently led a two-chopper flyover at Petco Park in San Diego. “It’s really not a lot different.” 

At 1,000 feet — the minimum altitude — planes can feel very close to spectators in stadiums.

For a pilot to get to his or her TOT — time on target, in military speak — is just another day in the airborne office. 

Because sports events involve detailed pregame scripting, a team or league can provide pilots with a specific time they want the flyover to occur (say, for instance, 12:58 p.m. for a 1:05 p.m. baseball game). 

Combine that specific time with (1) backed-out calculations for takeoff, distance and air speed; (2) a pre-specified holding area where aircraft can circle or hover to kill time if necessary; and (3) a forward air controller inside the stadium for last-minute guidance, and presto, you’ve got aircraft zooming overhead while fans are still standing with their hands over their hearts. 

“We like it to happen right at the last note. Right as it ends,” says Mike Berentson, a former Marine major and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who now serves as the director of military affairs for the San Diego Padres. 

The biggest challenge? 

“Paperwork and weather,” he says. “

Read the full article on ESPN.com.

WORDS TO LIVE BY

Saw this great tweet last night from Tyler Kepner, who is the national baseball writer for The New York Times, and I really wanted to share it:

Here’s the quote:

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

–John Lennon

While that would be a rather erudite thing for a schoolchild to say, it’s still a quote that makes you stop and think, “Yeah. He’s right.”

MUSICAL GUEST

Ray Charles…take it away!

If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

Road Trip Notes, League Honors, Irrelevant Questions

A few things on tap today for the TinCaps as they try and win their seventh straight:

Season High: Fort Wayne is currently on a six-game winning streak, it’s longest string of consecutive victories this season. During the winning streak, the TinCaps have outscored the opposition 43-18, scoring no fewer than six runs in any of the five games, and they’ve hit .287 (58-202). The last six-game winning streak for Fort Wayne came last season, from July 15-21. The last time a TinCaps team won at least seven games in a row was during a stretch of eight straight victories from August 2-9, 2010.

Sterling Starters: Over the course of the TinCaps’ current six-game road trip, none of the five starting pitchers to take the hill have given up more than one earned run. In the 26 innings starters have thrown, they’ve surrendered a total of two earned runs, working to a 0.69 ERA.

Just One Away: Just once this season has the TinCaps overall record been at .500, and that was after the second game of the season when Fort Wayne defeated the Lake County Captains. A win today would put the TinCaps back at .500 and give them a shot to move above that mark on Wednesday against South Bend.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, you can hear my Sunday chat with Jose Valentin, where he tells us about his team’s patience, which he thinks has been the key to the current six-game winning streak:

TINCAPS HONORED BY MWL

Congratulations to infielder Tyler Stubblefield and reliever Johnny Barbato, who were honored by the Midwest League today as the player and pitcher of the week, respectively. Adys Portillo is the only other TinCaps player to have won a weekly award this season.

Image courtesy of Tony Desplaines, TinCaps Creative Director.

Stubblefield hit .450 (11-24) in six games, notching four doubles, one home run and knocking in six runs last week. He scored seven runs and stole three bases. Stubblefield is now hitting .276, with four home runs and 19 runs batted in. Since the second half began, Stubblefield has hit .298 in 84 at-bats.

Barbato holds a 5-0 record with a 2.17 ERA. From July 16-22, the righthander appeared in three games and tossed 5 2/3 scoreless, no-hit innings, issuing one walk and striking out seven batters. The Miami, Florida, native has allowed 12 earned runs in 49 2/3 innings on the season.

APROPOS OF NOTHING

This segment of the blog seems to pop up when I’m on the road more often than not, but this one was a head-scratcher today. So I’m sitting in the lobby of the team hotel waiting to catch the bus, and I’m trying to access the internet to send out a press release. It’s the standard at most hotels that you’ve got to accept some terms and conditions (Anyone ever read those? I thought so.) or put in a password to get on. This was a first:

What?

“How many fried foods do you eat per day?” What? How is that relevant to me getting on the internet at the Clarion in Davenport, Iowa?

That’d be like me trying to board a plan and the gate agent asking, “Do you sleep on your back, side or stomach?”

What if I walked into a department store and an employee asked me, “When you do laundry, do you wash the whites or the colors first?”

That’s a tough one.

HISTORICAL CHAIRS

From 2004-2007 the team here in Davenport was known as the “Swing of the Quad Cities.” Some of the chairs here in the press box still have the old, saxophony logo:

The name was picked in a competition to give the team a new name back in the early 2000’s, but it seems like the Jazz of the NBA being in Utah–a little odd.

MUSICAL GUEST

Audioslave…take it away!

If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

Lucky Rabbits, 100, The Candidate

LUCKY RABBITS

Let’s get it out of the way–there was nothing normal about Saturday night’s game between the TinCaps and the River Bandits. First, there was no batting practice because of a scheduled vintage baseball game on the field here at Modern Woodmen Park:

A game of base ball. (It’s how they would want me to spell it, I assume.)

Interesting rules for this game, among a few I learned yesterday

-If you catch a ball on one hop, it’s an out.

-There’s no such thing as tagging up; you can just run on a fly ball and not worry if it’s caught.

-There are no called balls or strikes.

-The outfielders must line up straight away and the infielders can be no more than one step off of their respective base.

So, that happened.

Then the game…

Fort Wayne torched Quad Cities starter Dail Villanueva for five runs in the second inning, knocking him out after 1 2/3, his shortest outing of the year. Good start for the TinCaps, right?

The lead became 6-0 in the top of the sixth, after Ruben Mejia had departed with his best start of the year behind him: 5IP, 2H, 0R, 2BB, 1K. A sure win it seemed at the time. In the bottom of the, sixth, Dennis O’Grady allowed four runs and retired one batter, allowing the River Bandits to pull to within 6-4.

Fort Wayne made it 7-4 in the ninth, but Daniel Cropper gave up one run in the bottom of the ninth, making it 7-5. He recorded two outs, meaning Fort Wayne was just an out away from a win, before Matt Stites came in to try and get the final out. Runners were on first and second, and the runner on first stole second, putting two runners in scoring position.

Nick Martini, a former summer ball teammate of Stites when the two played together for the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2010, was at the plate. Martini flared a ball into shallow center, and Travis Jankowski came sprinting in to try and get it…and missed. Two runs scored and the game went to extra innings.

By the way, not once, not twice or even three times was the game delayed. It was on four separate occasions, beginning in the sixth inning, that a rabbit made its way on to the field and held up play. The rabbit would emerge from a gate beyond the home bullpen down the left field line, and bounce around the outfield, skillfully eluding the Quad Cities grounds crew in remarkable fashion. Clearly, they were not going to catch the rabbit and their only chance was to try and guide it back from where it came.

Did someone say baseball?

Although it may have been mildly annoying to those on the field, it was thoroughly entertaining to me, if for no other reason than that I might never see a rabbit on a baseball field four times in one game ever again. Also, watching groundskeepers futilely chase after a rabbit does have a certain comedic value.

So, Jace Peterson had an RBI double to score Tyler Stubblefield in the top of the 10th, and Matt Stites, who was charged with a blown save in the ninth, pitched a perfect 10th for his second win of the season.

The TinCaps have now won five games in a row for the first time all season. They’re hitting .290 on the winning streak and haven’t scored fewer than six runs in any of the five games.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, I talk with Pitching Coach Willie Blair, who gives thoughts on Ruben Mejia, Chris Fetter, Adys Portillo and roles in the bullpen:

100

This picture comes courtesy of Cody Hebner, who snapped it while down in the TinCaps clubhouse after last night’s game. Matt Stites’ final pitch of the night, a called third strike on Jeremy Patton, registered at 100 MPH on the team’s radar gun that was being used by the pitchers who were tracking the game in the stands. Matt’s parents, Mark and Rita, had driven up that morning from his hometown of Festus, Missouri, to see him throw. That’s getting your money’s worth right there.

THE CANDIDATE

Speaking of closers like Stites, Bill Center of U-T San Diego offers a good look at some of the potential Padres closers of the futures who are currently in the minor leagues:

“Right-hander Kevin Quackenbush, 23, is 3-1 after 38 games with high Single-A Lake Elsinore. The Padres’ eighth-round pick in 2011 has a 0.63 earned run average, 19 saves in 21 attempts and 50 strikeouts in 43 innings. He was a member of the California League All-Star team.

Matthew Stities, the 17th-round pick in 2011, is 1-0 with a 0.61 ERA and eight saves in 26 relief appearances with low Single-A Fort Wayne. The 22-year-old right-hander has 36 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings and eight saves in 10 attempts.

And right-hander Ramon Madrid, the seventh-round pick in this June’s draft, is 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA and nine saves in 10 attempts for short-season Single-A Eugene.

All three were college closers when they were drafted by the Padres.”

If you haven’t yet taken the chance to listen to today’s podcast, I asked Willie Blair what he thought of assigning roles to pitchers this early in their careers, and whether he thought it was good to label a player who is a few years away from the major leagues as a closer. He offers some good insight into the pros and cons of having pitchers work in designated roles.

MUSICAL GUEST

Eric Clapton…take it away!

If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

Cedar Rapids Sweep, Keeping Talent Fresh, Who’s the Best?

Veterans Memorial Stadium was the place to be in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Friday night, if you’re a Fort Wayne TinCaps fan, that is. Cascade, Iowa, native Colin Rea started and got the win for Fort Wayne in front of “a few hundred” friends and family, as his mom told me after the game. The TinCaps completed a three-game sweep of the Cedar Rapids Kernels with a 6-3 victory.

Colin Rea signs autographs after the win Friday night in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Cascade is just about an hour away from Cedar Rapids, so Friday presented a great opportunity for the Colin Rea fan club to come and see their hometown star. Travis Whitmore, who drove in a run, hails from Burlington, Iowa, and said he had about 50 people on hand last night, too.

The win marked the fourth win in a row for the TinCaps, which ties them for their longest winning streak of the season. It was also the first time Fort Wayne swept an opponent this season, and the first time that has happened since August of last year, when Fort Wayne swept Lansing on the road.

I went on Talkin’ Sports with Jim Shovlin this morning on 1380 ESPN and 106.7 The Fan to talk about the team, and he asked me what I thought was helping the team play so much better in the second half, compared to the first half. I’ll point to a few things:

1. Hitting: In the first half, Fort Wayne hit .234, the worst team average in the league. In 27 second half games, they’re hitting .256.

2. Bullpen: At the All-Star break, which the team entered on a season-worst five-game losing streak, the bullpen ERA was 4.53. After this most recent three-game series in which the bullpen didn’t allow an earned run, the ERA is now down to 3.75.

3. Awakenings: Kyle Gaedele and Duanel Jones have played much better baseball in the second half. In the first half of the season, Gaedele hit .200 in the first half and is now hitting .333 in the second half, raising his overall average 38 points. Jones was a .214 hitter in the first half and is up to .266 here in the second half. A few slots in the offense, with Jones usually hitting fifth and Gaedele ninth, that can make a big impact.

Tonight Fort Wayne opens a three-game series against the Quad Cities River Bandits, the league’s St. Louis Cardinals affialite. Quad Cities, like Cedar Rapids, has a long tradition of baseball, which leads me to my favorite former team name for a Quad Cities club, the Knickerbockers. Here’s a link to their roster, which featured a ballplayer by the name of Davey Crockett (no, not the King of the Wild Frontier). This was back in 1906, so there were some great old-timey baseball names like Roxey Walters. I am a big fan of old-timey baseball names.

But back to news you can use–Quad Cities is 15-12 in the second half and just took two of three against Lake County. Fort Wayne will have to activate Ruben Mejia from the disabled list to make tonight’s start, which will be his first since July 9th.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, I chat with the newest member of the Double-A San Antonio Missions, Adys Portillo, about his promotion to the Texas League:

In case you’d like a little more info on Portillo, click here to see his segment on this past week’s edition of Sound Off with the TinCaps.

APROPOS OF NOTHING

Here is a picture of a fairy cleaning the bases with an oversized toothbrush in Cedar Rapids:

Courtesy of the TinCaps Amateur Photography Department

I like to think she just does it for fun, but I’m told it’s part of a promotion.

KEEPING YOUNG TALENT FRESH

Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated brings a timely piece to the table, as he takes a look at how organizations around baseball are handling their young, superstar pitchers.

Fort Wayne starters are limited to between 120-130 innings, per Padres Director of Player Development Randy Smith. Here’s an example from within the farm system of how the Padres take those innings limits very seriously:

One of the more telling examples of this proactive approach occurred recently with Padres prospect Donn Roach, a 22-year-old righthander in Double A. Immediately after Roach was named Texas League Pitcher of the Week, and with a 1.88 ERA over 105 1/3 innings this year and with his arm feeling great, the Padres told him he was done for the year. They shut him down for precautionary reasons.

Why? Roach threw 70 1/3 innings last year as a reliever in the Angels’ system. Roach, a third-round pick, was one of nine players drafted in 2010 from the College of Southern Nevada. (You may have heard of one of them: Bryce Harper.) Los Angeles converted Roach to a starter this year, then traded him and infielder Alexi Amarista to the Padres on May 3 to get reliever Ernesto Frieri. Though the trade was quickly portrayed as a heist by the Angels — Frieri did not allow a run until after the All-Star break — San Diego turned a setup reliever into a starting second baseman with an .804 OPS and a got a potential major league starting pitcher who went 11-2 with a 1.025 WHIP this year to go along with that 1.88 ERA.

Roach threw in only 18 games this year, 16 of them starts. But with Roach already piling up a 35-inning jump at age 22, San Diego saw no sense in pushing him further.

Remember, too, that no team has watched more pitchers go down this year than the Padres. Robbie Erlin, 21 (elbow), Juan Oramas, 22 (Tommy John surgery), Joe Wieland, 22 (Tommy John surgery), Casey Kelly, 22 (elbow), Anthony Bass, 24 (shoulder inflammation), Andrew Cashner, 25 (shoulder strain), Cory Luebke, 27 (Tommy John surgery) and Tim Stauffer, 30 (elbow strain) all have been sidelined because of arm injuries.”

The minor leagues exist for a reason–to develop future major league talent. Although the majority of the injuries for the Padres have occurred at the major league level, as evidenced with the long list above, those things can happen over time. By shutting players down early, the Padres are protecting an investment not only now, but for the future, too.

MIRROR, MIRROR

With the start of the Olympic games right around the corner, TIME sought out to find which type of Olympic athlete might be the most fit. Well, as it turns out, there’s not one exact answer to the question:

“Are the Kenyans and Ethiopians the fittest people in the world? Or is it the tall, toned rowers ripping through the water toward the finish line? The wiry triathletes can certainly compete for the title, not to mention those relatively small — compared with rowers — leg-and-lung machines known as cyclists. Last year’s Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans, weighs 141 lb. (64 kg), perhaps the perfect weight for pedaling up an Alp.

All the athletes who qualify for the U.S. Olympic team are fit. Boxers, taekwondoers, wrestlers, gymnasts, swimmers, sprinters, cyclists, fencers, archers and trampolinists do not get a ticket to London because they’re just in pretty good shape. And the winner of the decathlon claims the honorary title of “world’s greatest athlete.” But fitness at the Olympic level takes on a different meaning. “Everybody’s looking for an edge, and the edge comes from making sure you are competing at all aspects of performance: biomechanics, the mental, nutritional aspects,” says Chris Carmichael, who has trained dozens of Olympians, including George Hincapie and Ed Moses. “At the Olympic level, they are looking at performance vs. just being fit.” The fittest athletes don’t always get the medals. But they will always have a critical advantage.”

Olympians can come in all shapes and sizes, but no matter how big or how small, all of them work hard:

“Reaching Olympian fitness requires a training regimen that’s not available to part-time athletes. Want to row on the U.S. women’s team? Better be ready to stick an oar in the water at 7 a.m. for two hours on a daily 10,000-m to 12,000-m endurance row. Then you can have breakfast. At 11 a.m. there’s an hour of weight lifting. Then more food and rest. At 5 p.m. you’re back in the boat for a two-hour, 8,000-m row, working on technique and power. You will need to consume 5,000 calories a day. You will sleep well. At the USOC’s Chula Vista, Calif., training center, Lofgren, 27, says track athletes — no slouches themselves — were teasing the rowers over their insane workouts. “They were telling us that we chose the wrong sport,” she says.

That’s definitely not true of Lofgren. Genes matter. They determine ultimately how fast or strong you can be. Everyone is born with a mix of fast-twitch, slow-twitch and intermediate-twitch muscles. If you don’t have the right combination of fast-twitch and intermediate-twitch muscles in your legs, you won’t ever be fit enough to be a sprinter. Slow-twitch muscles can’t be trained to become fast-twitch muscles, although the converse is true. Lofgren’s parents were both elite rowers, meaning she was more likely to have more of the slow-twitch muscles conducive to rowing.”

On second thought, my hotel bed has never seemed more inviting. And when’s the continental breakfast?

MUSICAL GUEST

I do this just for the solo: Lynyrd Skynyrd…take it away!

If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

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