July 2012

Three Down, Rock Out, Continued Success

After Sunday’s loss, the TinCaps have now dropped three straight ballgames. Friday and Saturday were one-run losses, and Sunday was a 3-1 loss, where Fort Wayne collected just four hits, two of which came in the ninth inning.

Tomorrow they’ll look to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Silver Hawks, and pick up a win before an off day on Tuesday.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, I chat with Silver Hawks eighth-year skipper Mark Haley, who tells me about his team’s progression in the second half, and what he looks for in evaluating a player:

ROCK OUT

One of my Facebook friends posted this video, and it’s too good not to share. I present to you, through a musician far more talented than I: A history of Rock and Roll in 100 Guitar Riffs.

CONTINUED SUCCESS

Matt Wisler allowed just one hit in his start on Saturday, which caught the attention of MiLB.com:

TinCaps’ Wisler flirts with no-hitter

“After the fourth or fifth, I knew what was going on pretty much,” Wisler said. “But after we got two runs [in the top of the seventh], I started thinking that a no-hitter was really possible. Then I got a little too excited and let the adrenaline get the best of me a little bit.”

To begin the bottom of the seventh against South Bend — with that adrenaline flowing — the 19-year-old right-hander walked Tom Belza. He struck out Matt Helm but gave up an infield hit to Marc Bourgeois, who just beat third baseman Duanel Jones’ throw to first.

Wisler exited following the Silver Hawks’ first hit, and reliever James Needy surrendered an RBI single to Ryan Court. Fort Wayne ended up dropping a 3-2, 11-inning decision to South Bend.

But it was Bourgeois’ single that Wisler found most disheartening after the game.

“I thought I made a pretty good pitch,” he said. “But he got a piece of it for a weak infield single. I thought [Jones] made a nice play on it, too, and it was pretty close at first, but they called him safe. … It’s kinda disappointing, but it was a tough play and a tough call.”

As frustrating as the lone hit might have been, the Ohio native called Saturday’s outing “definitely” the best of his first full season in pro ball after being selected in the seventh round of the 2011 Draft. In fact, it’s only the latest in a string of solid starts by Wisler, who was charged with one run on one hit and two walks with six strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings.”

MUSICAL GUEST

The Black Crowes…take it away!

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

Five-for-Five, Perseverance, Voices of Summer

It wasn’t that the TinCaps lacked the opportunities to score on Friday night, it’s just that they didn’t convert them. They hit a paltry 3-16 with runners in scoring position in a 4-3 loss to the Bowling Green Hot Rods. The game represented a chance for a three-game sweep at Parkview Field, something Fort Wayne hadn’t done since the opening series of the 2011 season against the South Bend Silver Hawks. Twice Friday the bases were left loaded, and in a moment reminiscent of many first-half games, Jace Peterson was left on the bases in a key situation. In the bottom of the ninth with Peterson in scoring position, Mike Gallic and Yeison Asencio went down, unable to bring him in.

Let there be no gloom, though, because the TinCaps hold a two-game lead in the Eastern Division, and have won all five series they’ve played in the second half.

Tonight they venture to South Bend for the start of a three-game set as Matt Wisler will try for the first back-to-back wins of his career. His three wins this season have all come in Ohio (one in Dayton and two at Lake County).

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, hear from Manager Jose Valentin as he addressed the media after last night’s game:

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Some Like it Hot, Questions, Baseball to Biology and Back

SOME LIKE IT HOT

No, the TinCaps haven’t been watching Marilyn Monroe films on their bus rides, but they have played exceptionally well in temperatures north of 100 degrees the last two nights. July 4th yielded an 8-1 victory, and last night Fort Wayne exploded for eight more runs in an 8-3 defeat of the Bowling Green Hot Rods.

The start of the game was delayed about an hour as pop-up storms (no relation to pop-up video) swept through the area and brought some wind and rain to the ballpark. That didn’t seem to bother the TinCaps very much.

“After a long rain delay, they never hesitated. They went up there and threw the first punch,” said Manager Jose Valentin.

Starter Adys Portillo earned his sixth win of the year, throwing five innings of one-hit baseball. His Midwest League-leading ERA dropped to 1.65 from 1.76. It was also a monumental game in respect to his win total. Entering this season, he had picked up six victories in 46 starts. This year he has matched that win total in just 16 starts.

“It’s scary, but he didn’t have his best stuff, which is incredible,” said catcher Matt Colantonio. His fastball was a little up, and towards the end of his outing he started to look a little out of sync, but it was a great outing.”

The TinCaps provided four first-inning runs for Portillo, after they had given Frank Garces seven runs of support in the fourth inning on Wednesday.

“When you know that your offense is in the game and it doesn’t matter how many runs you give up, you can keep your confidence and make the pitches when you need them,” Valentin added.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, hear postgame comments from first baseman Zach Kometani, who drove in two runs in his first start for Fort Wayne since April 28th:

SAYS IT ALL

It may be hot here in Fort Wayne, but it’s not the only place experiencing brutally uncomfortable heat:

Caliente, to say the least.

YOUR QUESTIONS

Hmmm…Well, I don’t really think there’s a prank player in this locker room–at least not that I’ve seen or heard about. I will say that whenever I head down to the clubhouse, it’s probable that I may run into someone–particularly Cody Hebner, in an impromptu dance.

If you ever hear “Teach Me How to Dougie” playing on the Parkview Field sound system, turn your eyes to the video board in a hurry. You just might see a video clip of him showing off his dance skills…

If you’ve got any questions you’d like answered on the blog, please send them in–Couzens@TinCaps.com or @MikeCouzens on Twitter.

FROM BASEBALL TO BIOLOGY AND BACK

If you’re able to make it out to the ballpark, you might’ve noticed that I write a feature piece for each edition of our Game Day magazine. I’d like to share with you the latest, which features former Fort Wayne Wizard and current TinCaps Strength and Conditioning Coach Cliff Bartosh. Here’s the full text:

How a former Fort Wayne Wizard made his way back to the Summit City

It took two weeks for the phone to ring. Nearly 14 days had gone by before Cliff Bartosh found out he had been selected in the 29th round of the 1998 Major League Baseball draft by the San Diego Padres. Bartosh had aspirations of playing professional baseball, but wasn’t sure he’d be headed down that road. A phone call from late Padres scout Jim Dreyer changed Bartosh’s plans. He was scheduled to head to Texas Tech on a baseball scholarship, but instead chose to follow his dream and report to the Padres training complex in Peoria, Arizona.

“I started out as a first baseman and pitched a little bit (in high school). My junior year I might’ve thrown 12 or 13 innings for our varsity team. My senior year, maybe about 20 innings,” Bartosh said one afternoon while sitting in the home dugout at Parkview Field. “(Dreyer) said he never saw me pitch in high school, he only saw me take infield. So he only saw me throw the ball from first base, and he drafted me off of that. I didn’t know when the draft was.”

Cliff Bartosh’s life in baseball has revolved around other people dictating his path.

He made his way through the minor leagues with the Padres, and played at Memorial Stadium with the Fort Wayne Wizards in both 1999 and 2000. Although he was in the organization from 1998 until 2003, he didn’t make the big leagues with the Padres.

“After the ’03 season, (the Padres) sent me to the Arizona Fall League. I probably had the worst Arizona Fall League that anybody’s ever had in the history of that league. I just did absolutely terrible. (The Padres) end up with maybe a week left in the Arizona Fall League, and they take me off the 40-man roster and I’m picked up by Detroit. I go into the off season a Detroit Tiger. About December, I get a call from the Cleveland Indians saying, ‘We just claimed you off of waivers.’ I didn’t even know I had been placed on waivers,” Bartosh vividly recalls.

Cleveland, under then-General Manager Mark Shapiro, called Bartosh up from Triple-A Buffalo to make his major league debut on May 15, 2004, against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In March of 2005, Bartosh was traded to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Ronald “Bear” Bay, who currently pitches for the Padres Triple-A affiliate in Tucson, Arizona. Once again, Bartosh’s destiny fluttered in the wind.

Bartosh pitched in the big leagues for the Cubs in 2005, but eventually underwent surgery for a torn labrum and rotator cuff, and by August of 2006 he hadn’t thrown a baseball in a year.

“I went home to Texas and my wife got a job teaching. I had no college at that point, and started going to school,” Bartosh says. “It’s weird because to that point, I had done (the baseball routine) for eight to nine seasons. It was the only quote-unquote job I had to that point. I had a wife and a son at that time, and I felt like I can’t just sit and wait for my arm to get better.”

While staying at home to be with his son, Bartosh took online classes at Dallas (Texas) County Community College. He studied government and history, and later transferred in 2008 to the University of Texas at Arlington, enrolling in the exercise science program.

“I got that degree when I was 30, and most guys (in school) were 18 to 22,” Bartosh says. “I got that degree and then decided, ‘Maybe I don’t want to be a strength coach.’ I got an alternative teaching certification. I took some tests to get a science endorsement, an ESL endorsement and a health endorsement.”

He became Mr. Bartosh, teaching at a middle school in his hometown of Duncanville, Texas.

“I taught a class called ‘Skills for Success’. I really don’t know what it was about. I had a set curriculum that I was supposed to teach and I did. My wife made fun of it because there was a chapter in the book that was on how to use a microwave. I didn’t have to teach that one; I didn’t feel it was necessary,” he remarks with a grin.

It was after that stint, and some time spent as an 8th grade science instructor, Bartosh decided to pack up his house, his belongings and his life, and head in a different direction.

“I’m sitting there teaching, and I’m feeling like I’m not really making an impact on these kids. I have a house and I’m living very comfortably. The more I read the gospels, the more I realized we’re maybe not supposed to be that comfortable. In the book of Mark, there’s the parable of the rich, young ruler. Christ says, ‘Sell everything, give to the poor and follow me.’”

“I’ve got a good house, a great job that pays the bills and all that, and we decided that we’re gonna sell our house and I started reaching out to people in baseball and I was fortunate that the big league strength coach here in San Diego, Jim Malone, was a minor league coordinator in Cleveland. I sent them my resume and they were crazy enough to hire me,” he says, mesmerized.

In his first year as the strength and conditioning coach with the TinCaps, Bartosh has a connection with the players that not many do—he’s one of their kind. He knows what it’s like to give up the game-tying home run, or to feel like your pitches just don’t work. He’s been there time and time again, but on someone else’s calendar. He’s now deciding his own fate, and making a difference on his time. No longer Mr. Bartosh, he’s just Cliff.

“It was very refreshing to get rid of everything that ties you down to an area. So now that I have no ties anywhere, really. Someone asked me where I was going to live in the off-season. I have no idea. I really don’t know where I’ll end up. I’m enjoying this. This is great. You get to develop relationships with players, with coaches, with other staff and hopefully that leads to lifelong friendships.”

MUSICAL GUEST

James Taylor…take it away!

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

The Hit Wagon, Festivity Photos, Voyage

“EVERYBODY HOPPED ON THE HIT WAGON”

That stupendous quote comes from TinCaps second baseman Tyler Stubblefield, as he described a seven-run fourth inning that Fort Wayne unloaded on Bowling Green at Parkview Field on Wednesday night.

He had one of the biggest at bats of the game, and it came in that fourth inning. With runners at second and third, the Hot Rods, with lefty Travis Whitmore at the plate, decided to issue an intentional walk to try and face Stubblefield, a right-handed hitter. While some batters might take that as a slight to their abilities, Stubblefield shrugged it off as part of the game and decided he was going to win the at-bat.

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Back at Home, What You Don’t See, Smart Phone Nation

Happy Independence Day. The TinCaps are in first place, and return home to take on the Bowling Green Hot Rods. Appropriate, since today when I drove into work it was 99 degrees outside.

Wherever you may be today, I hope you enjoy your day and that you celebrate responsibly.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, I talk with closer Matt Stites about his stellar season, and we find out his top 3 ballparks (other than Parkview Field, of course the #1 choice) in the Midwest League:

WHAT YOU DON’T GET TO SEE

LaMond Pope of The Journal Gazette takes an inside look at the job of the official scorer at Parkview Field. We have a three-man rotation, that has the difficult task of deciding things like wild pitch or passed ball, stolen base or no stolen base, error or no error and many other difficult decisions.

SMART PHONE NATION

Is it OK to text at the dinner table? Should you Instagram at a wedding? How much is too much?

The Wall Street Journal delves into the nitty gritty of a debate that is sure to rage on for years to come:

“For their upcoming wedding this October in Sydney, Australia, Jacqui Stewart, 28, and Andrew Turner, 27, who both work in the technology industry, are banning the use of smartphones. “Be Nice, Turn Off that Device … We want you to be able to really enjoy our wedding day, feeling truly present and in the moment with us,” their wedding website says.

Ms. Stewart says when she walks down the aisle she doesn’t want to face 60 camera phone-wielding guests. “It’s a private event and I want to share it with my friends and family and not the rest of the world,” she says.”

A reasonable approach for certain. But what about those who like to share?

“Some brides want to share the love. Before Caroline Waxler, an Internet marketing strategist, married attorney Michael Levitt in front of 350 guests in New York City last month, she alerted them via email and Twitter that all social media posts and photos should include the hashtag “#waxlevittwedding.”

The night of the wedding, more than 100 photographs appeared on Instagram with the hashtag—including shots of the bride posted before she walked down the aisle and real-time pictures taken inside the synagogue during the ceremony. “I did tweet on the way to the temple but then put my iPad down because the wedding planner yelled at me,” says Ms. Waxler, 41.”

A bit much…but hey, to each his or her own, I suppose. Now let me go check in at Parkview Field on FourSquare…

I’ve become a fan of this idea:

Everyone at the dinner table has to leave their phone out in the open, and nobody is allowed to check their phone until dinner is over. It’s back to the days of the family dinner, where everyone would sit around and catch up on one another’s lives. As much as I might be addicted to my smart phone, I’m more intrigued by actual human interaction, than I am by an Instagram of your Fourth of July cupcake.

MUSICAL GUEST

Gavin DeGraw…take it away!

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

The Avenger, Hambone, News Quiz

Monday night’s game didn’t have the same irregularities of extreme weather like Sunday’s game did, but it still featured a good amount of excitement. Duanel Jones connected on his second home run of the second half, and the TinCaps bullpen stole the show, as Fort Wayne rolled to its third consecutive win, and fourth straight series victory.

Cody Hebner went just three innings, his shortest outing of the year, but Dennis O’Grady had no trouble picking up the slack and he earned the win with three scoreless innings of relief.

A story that I found to be of particular intrigue was the appearance of Matt Stites out of the bullpen. It marked his fourth outing of the second half, and his first save opportunity since a June 4th game at Lake County. On that night, Stites faced MLB rehabber Carlos Santana, who hit a game-tying home run to right field, and the Captains went on to win 4-3 in 13 innings.

Monday night was a chance for Stites to avenge that June evening–and he did just that, earning his first save since June 1st. It was a 1-2-3 ninth for the righty, who’s  one of the best relief pitchers in the Midwest League. He has a 0.73 ERA in 21 games, with 24 2/3 innings of work under his belt. He’s given up only two earned runs, walked two and has struck out 29 batters.

Fort Wayne is now 8-3, alone atop the standings in the Midwest League’s Eastern Division. The TinCaps have either been the only team in first or tied for first for seven straight days. They’ve now secured four straight series victories in a row to open the second half. The last time Fort Wayne won four consecutive series was last August. If the TinCaps can keep this up, they’ll find themselves contenders down the stretch of the second half.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, hear from Matt Wisler as he tells us what book he’s reading, and how it’s helped him forge his approach on the mound:

HAMBONE

You’ve got to read this story on Josh Hamilton. No, really–you must. It includes anecdotes from his childhood, like this one:

“Eventually Josh had to be moved from shortstop to the outfield because his first baseman so feared catching Josh’s bullet throws that he began ducking out of harm’s way. Whenever Josh pitched, batters backed out of the box before he even began his windup and whenever Josh came to bat, all of the infielders retreated into the outfield, until finally complaints from opposing players’ parents prompted Josh’s promotion to a league of older kids. Josh and Landon played on a team sponsored by Mitchell’s Hair Styling and wore purple jerseys. They won three state championships in a row.

In one of those state tournaments, Josh pitched a total of 24 innings and never allowed a hit. The next season Josh won a Home Run Derby against a bunch of boys nearly twice his size. At that time, Josh was still scrawny, but he was so athletic and coordinated that he could run backward faster than the other kids could run forward.

Powell has never forgotten a conversation he had with Bob Sanderford, the father of one of Josh’s teammates. “Bob was a former college basketball player who knew youth sports really well and knew sports at a high level,” Powell says. “One day after a game when Josh had done something only Josh could do, Bob leaned over to me and he said, ‘That kid’s going to be the first player picked in the major league draft when he’s a senior in high school.’”

Josh was 10.”

ARE YOU UP TO DATE?

If you’ve been keeping up with current events, you’ll do well on this 12-question current events quiz from The New Yorker. If you haven’t been paying attention, well, you’ll score poorly.

Hint: The Supreme Court had a big week.

I got eight questions right.

Good luck.

MUSICAL GUEST

Led Zeppelin…take it away!

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

Bizarre Day,Baseball Wedding, Sunday Chat

A BIZARRE DAY

An overnight trip from Midland, Michigan, saw the TinCaps arrive to Ohio at about 4 AM on Sunday. In two of his last three outings, Matt Wisler has been the starting pitcher after a long bus trip. On June 15th, it was a start after an eight-hour bus ride down to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and yesterday it was a pre-dawn arrival to take on Lake County.

Maybe he should have an unusual travel experience before every one of his starts from now on. Against Bowling Green on that hot, sticky day, he worked six scoreless innings, gave up three hits, and struck out six. Yesterday, he improved on that number, having nearly the exact same line, except he only gave up two hits. He’s also still only 19 years old, and is having one heck of a season.

Wisler got his third win on Sunday, making all three of his professional wins in his home state of Ohio. He’s been victorious once at Dayton and now twice at Lake County. In 17 innings of work in the Buckeye State this year, he hasn’t allowed a run.

The TinCaps gave him a 4-0 lead, and by the time the sixth inning was over, so was the game.  Torrential rain and wind blew through Eastlake, Ohio and it took every member of the grounds crew to keep the tarp from blowing off the field. An umbrella flew out of the picnic area into the seats (they were unoccupied) and there was thunder and lightning, too.

My view from the visiting radio booth.

There were puddles all around the field and the warning track by the time the TinCaps left. It couldn’t have been more than 30 minutes worth of rain, but it must have brought a few inches, at least.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, you can hear my weekly chat with Manager Jose Valentin, where he talks about the renewed energy and sense of urgency his team has played with in the second half, and about the addition of Travis Jankowski to the ballclub:

A CLASSIC PARK FIRST

In what was billed as first ever wedding in the history of Classic Park, two baseball fans celebrated their nuptials at home plate at about 6:45 on Sunday evening.

Mascots and all…and then they stayed for the game. If rain on your wedding day is good luck, does a monsoon mean really good luck?

MUSICAL GUEST

Daughtry…take it away!

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

A Close Contest, A Padre Makes History, YouTube Famous

It wasn’t an easy game Saturday night for the TinCaps, but the end result was exactly what they were looking for, as they edged out a 4-3 win over the Loons and earned a series victory.

Colin Rea had perhaps the most interesting night of all, as the righthander, who turns 22 today–so happy birthday, Colin–left the ballgame after six innings as the pitcher of record on the losing end. He didn’t have a poor outing, it’s just that things didn’t necessarily go his way.

He allowed a second-inning solo home run to Pratt Maynard, the catcher’s first homer of the year, putting the TinCaps in a 1-0 hole. Fort Wayne tied it up in the top of the third, but Great Lakes came back with another run in the third. Jeff Hunt hit a comebacker to the mound and was credited with a single, but Rea’s throw to first sailed down the right field line and Hunt got to third and later scored. In the sixth, Rea gave up another solo home run and left with Great Lakes on top 3-1.

So he leaves looking like he’ll be the losing pitcher until…

the top of the seventh inning rolls around. Travis Jankowski clubbed a two-run triple and was later singled home by Travis Whitmore, making it a three-run inning for the TinCaps.

Daniel Cropper’s ninth-inning was a little gut-wrenching as the first two runners reached base, but he reared back to retire three in a row and secure his seventh save of the year.

The TinCaps have now won three series in a row and sit in first place in the Eastern Division. Albeit very early in the half–just nine games in–this team has played a markedly different brand of baseball from the first 70 games.

Part of the reason the team has been so successful in the first half has been the pitching of Adys Portillo. His struggles in 2011 are well chronicled, a 3-11 record and a 7.11 ERA. This year, his 1.76 ERA is the best in the entire league. I chatted with him before Saturday’s game to talk about his great season. Among the highlights:

On playing winter ball in Venezuela:

“There are a lot of big league players there. I remember I faced Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilson Ramos, a lot of big leaguers. When I came this year to spring training and I saw the hitters, I felt really good about (my situation). Last year I tried to strike out everybody. This year I try to get a spot and hit that spot. This year I am a pitcher. Last year I just tried to throw the ball. Now I’m a pitcher.”

On confidence:

“When you’re a pitcher and you go to the mound and you have a confidence in your fastball and your breaking pitch, you just go out there and hit the spots. I say, ‘Ok, I’m gonna throw my fastball now and he doesn’t have a chance. He’s not gonna hit me. I’m gonna throw my breaking pitch and he’s gonna hit a ground ball.’ (Pitching Coach) Willie (Blair) told me to just think about when you’re going to throw the fastball, what’s going to happen after you throw the fastball.”

On pitching in the All-Star game and potential advancement:

“I remember I called my mom and said “Wow, Mom, I can’t believe it after I had a bad year last year and now I’m in the All-Star game, I got the ball for the first pitch, I started and I won.’ My goal is to finish at another level (this year) if that cannot happen, then I’m going to keep working hard here and see what happens next year. When I look at the numbers this year, I say ‘wow’, finally I’ve got some results because I’ve worked hard. Now I feel really good, I feel happy and I enjoy every time when I go to the mound.”

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, you can hear my full conversation with Adys Portillo:

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