August 2012

Win and They’re In

It’s simple today for the TinCaps: Win and they’re in. The 2012 Midwest League Playoffs are just one victory away for Fort Wayne.

Ever since moving into Parkview Field three years ago, the TinCaps have been in the playoffs every season. They’ll hope to follow up on a fantastic performance from last night in which they pounded out 14 hits and scored 10 runs, topping West Michigan, 10-4. The atmosphere at the park the last two nights has been absolutely electric, and tonight should be another great crowd, too. There’s been a special buzz which has been really fun to be a part of. Tonight is the final fireworks show of the season, and if you’re able to get out to the game you definitely should.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, Tyler Stubblfield, who went 3-4 with three doubles last night, talks about his success and the team’s desire to make the playoffs:

THANK YOU

As we come to the final home game of the regular season tonight at Parkview Field and Fan Appreciation Night, I think it is also important for me to say thank you to you, the reader, for checking in and keeping up with what I’ve had to say over the course of the season. I appreciate your readership and feedback, whether through email, Twitter or in person at stadiums across the league.

The reason we follow sports is because it’s an escape, a getaway from everyday life. It’s supposed to be fun. I know that sometimes I delve a little deeper into the games than most people, but I find it fun and hope to make it that way for you, too. This story by Will Leitch, written for the brand new Sports on Earth,  describes what sports journalism is like on the inside:

“The average human being has real-world business to care about — their job (or lack thereof), house payments, their kids’ school, that guy across the street who hasn’t mowed his lawn in weeks, the nagging sense that life is simply nothing but random emptiness with the darkness of death creeping in from all sides — and sees sport as an escape from all that.

When you work in sports, you think sports are far more important than the rest of the planet does. I can write a long story about the Nets, and Jeffrey Toobin can write a long story about the Mets, and the average person — who couldn’t care less about how the Nets built their arena or how Fred Wilpon grew up — is just looking for something to chat about when they’re killing time at a sports bar or, more likely, online. “It’s the Tweet” isn’t a pithy epithet about killing journalism. It’s essentially the way most human beings think on a basic level….The best we can hope for is to try to elevate the discourse when we have the chance. We can just be grateful if someone reads the whole thing.”

Leitch makes that point that for those who work in sports, it can be all-consuming. For you reading this, you’ve got other things going on that don’t involve the TinCaps and who has what ERA or what hitting streak is the latest piece of news. But day after day, I’ll be here with that anyway…and I’m glad you stop in when you do, especially if you read the whole thing.

MUSICAL GUEST

Living Colour…take it away!

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

Wisler by the Numbers, Top Spot, A Lesson from Joey Votto

To interpret James Needy’s nine-inning performance at Parkview Field on Wednesday night solely through a baseball lens of the term “complete game” would not do it justice. He became the first TinCaps pitcher to ever throw all nine innings in a game. The last time it happened, neither the TinCaps nor Parkview Field existed. Stephen Faris of the Fort Wayne Wizards twirled a one-hit, nine-inning shutout against the Clinton LumberKings on July 17, 2007 at Memorial Stadium. So, yes, he completed all nine innings.

But he also gave the team the complete performance that it needed. He gave up just four hits. He allowed the bullpen a day of rest. He impressed not just his manager and his pitching coach, but everyone in attendance last night. It was undoubtedly the best start of the year by a TinCaps pitcher. And with all that–the TinCaps lost, 1-0. I think TinCaps President Mike Nutter said it best last night:

It really did feel like a big league playoff atmosphere. Great crowd, playoff implications, fantastic pitching. It was all there. West Michigan got the game’s only run because of an error committed by TinCaps shortstop Jace Peterson in the second inning. He overthrew Travis Whitmore on a routine ground ball, and the Whitecaps’ Lance Durham came home to score from second base. Needy gave the TinCaps what they needed, but they couldn’t return the favor, picking up just three hits.

Five games remain in the regular season. Fort Wayne leads West Michigan by one game for the wild card spot here in the second half. A loss today brings the TinCaps into a tie with the Whitecaps. A win, and they stave off West Michigan for another day.

Matt Wisler is scheduled to start for the TinCaps tonight. He’s put together one heck of a season. For comparison, here’s what his numbers look like compared to the last two Midwest League Post-Season All-Stars at his position, Kane County’s Greg Billo (2011) and Fort Wayne’s Adys Portillo (2012):

Wisler (19 years old): 5-4 in 23G/22GS, 2.45 ERA, 28BB, 108K, 1.02 WHIP, .212 BAA

Billo (21 years old last year in MWL): 9-5 in 27G/18GS, 135.0IP,  1.93 ERA, 25BB, 119K, 1.02 WHIP, .228 BAA

Portillo (20 years old): 6-6 in 18G/18GS, 91 2/3 IP, 1.87 ERA, 45BB, 81K, 1.08 WHIP, .169 BAA

As the youngest of the three, he compares very favorably. The question tonight for the TinCaps remains: Can they provide Wisler with the run support to pick up a win? The team has averaged four runs per game during his starts this season and he’s given up an average of 1.7. I don’t know much math, but I like those numbers.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, hear thoughts from TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin from last night’s game:

TOP SPOT

Stadium Journey, the website that reviews sporting venues in nearly every league known to man, has ranked Parkview Field as the #1 park in all of Minor League Baseball.

The review, found here, lists many of the great things about coming to see a game: a great family environment, affordable prices, and abundant food options, among other things. But here’s perhaps the best part:

Finally, there’s that intangible that the best parks have. You don’t know what it is that makes you so happy to be at this ballpark. Yes, it is all of the things mentioned above, but there’s something more. You’re a happier and better person somehow after going to a TinCaps game at Parkview Field. That may sound like hyperbole, but it’s not. You will leave wanting to come back again, and really that’s the test of any great sports venue.

Couldn’t agree more.

TAKE A LISTEN

2010 National League MVP Joey Votto recently played with the Dayton Dragons as part of a rehab assignment as he tries to heal an injured knee. He did an interview with the voice of the Dragons, Tom Nichols, and I think there was an interesting point that Votto, who is one of the top players in the game, made that can apply to the players in the Midwest League. He said that he tries to never stop learning.

“I’ve always had the goal of being one of the best, if not the best, player in baseball. You can’t get to that point without making some sacrifices and trying to test your limits. I’ve been lucky I’ve competed against some of the best players I’ve ever seen in my life. Probably the best example is Albert Pujols. I’d be a real fool if I didn’t try and pick his brain. I have in the past and if he’ll let me I will again in the future. I hope that a lot of the other guys that I view as potentially being some of the best players take those steps, too, because I know it helped me quite a bit.”

Here’s Joey Votto, who is if not the best, one of the best first baseman in the league, and he’s speaking in awe of Albert Pujols. It’d be very easy to get to Votto’s level and be perfectly content with where you are. The way he talks about his approach to the game, it’s as if he is constantly trying to gain new information and a new perspective, which is certainly respectable.

It’s a great point for current Midwest League players because they’re still several years from the major leagues. Votto is already established at that level, and this is how he works at his craft. Jose Valentin has preached to his players time and time again this year to constantly be watching how other players go about their business. Hitting coach Jacque Jones has asked players on this team to watch hitters similar to themselves to see how they can get better. It’s a great point by Votto.

Here is the full interview with Votto:

EMPOWERED OR OVERLOADED?

Now that we can get just about any piece of information any time we want (when was the last time something came up in conversation that someone didn’t know the answer to and it wasn’t immediately Googled?), it’s easy to feel like there’s just too much going on around you. Some might say it’s too much, others too little, and some might say it’s just right. Ah, right, the Three Bears….anyway, there was a study done by a professor at Northwestern University (Go Syracuse!) to determine whether people felt overwhelmed with the amount of information available:

Most of the participants said television was their most used form of media, followed closely by websites. When asked how they felt about the amount of information available to them, few mentioned feeling overwhelmed or that they suffered from “information overload.” Here are highlights of the responses: 

  • Participants had near-unanimous enthusiasm about the new media environment
  • Online news was regarded more positively than TV news
  • Cable news was often criticized for its sensationalism and stream of repetitive stories
  • Trivial social media posts and opinionated political pundits are top sources of frustration when seeking information 

The few participants who did feel overwhelmed were often those with low Internet skills, who haven’t yet mastered social media filters and navigating search engine results.

The thing that I couldn’t find, and would be interested to know, is what the age range of this survey was. It certainly sounds like it skewed younger. Either way it’s an interesting result.

MUSICAL GUEST

Styx…take it away!

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

Statistical Oddity, Six To Go, Fortune 500

Here we are with just six days left in the regular season. My, how time has flown. The TinCaps pulled out one of their best wins of the season last night at Lansing, scoring six unanswered runs and overcoming a four-run deficit for the win. Prior to last night’s game, the most the team had trailed by in a game they had come back to win was three runs. The TinCaps also had a season-high 18 hits, all of which were singles. It’s now been 11 games since they’ve hit a home run but, hey, if you can win with 18 singles, you take it.

Statistical note: The odds of having 18 hits and all of them singles in one game is incredibly low. Here’s the math (which I figured out with a little…OK, a lot of help):

This season in the Midwest League there have been 18, 218 hits. 3,722 doubles, 607 triples and 1,355 home runs. Subtract that from the total number of hits and you’ve got 12,534 singles. The total number of singles divided by the 18,218 hits shows that 69% of all hits have been singles this year. So if you multiply .69 (69%) to the 18th power, you get 0.13%. Nearly one tenth of one percent.

Travis Jankowski also comes into today’s action with an 11-game hitting streak. In just 53 games with Fort Wayne Jankowski has had hitting streaks of 10, and now 11 games. Over

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, I talk with Sandy Alomar, Sr., who is working these days as a roving instructor in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. The longer one stays in baseball, the smaller the baseball world gets. As it would happen, Alomar was the third base coach in 2007 when Valentin was playing for the New York Mets:

Valentin credits Alomar with keeping him working hard and staying motivated, even in the final year of his major league career. Here is my conversation with Alomar, who is 68 years old and still throws batting practice with the energy of a 35-year-old:

SIX TO GO

LaMond Pope of The Journal Gazette has a good preview in today’s paper of the TinCaps coming series with West Michigan. He chatted with Travis Jankowski, who’s enjoying the stretch run:

“You can only control how your guys play,” Jankowski said. “And if the other teams win, it’s kind of out of your control. It’s fun, exciting and nerve-racking all at the same time.”

FORTUNE 500 FOOTBALL

Here’s a great story via Grantland, about a university that hired a football coach who had never previously coached a Division 1 team. Joe Moglia, a former TD Ameritrade executive, is now the head coach at Coastal Carolina, which opens its season on September 1st. It’s an interesting move, to say the least, on Coastal Carolina’s part, to take someone who has plenty of leadership experience, but little football coaching experience, and install him as the head coach of a program.

“Stripped of context, Moglia’s hiring seems unorthodox at best, and an outrageous display of cronyism at worst. In this moment, in the midst of a national argument about the role of money in society and the fitness of a CEO to translate his skills into other fields — not to mention the cloud of ethical lapses in both industries Moglia is associated with — here is a story that sweeps everything into a single narrative. It is only natural to raise questions about how this happened, which is why I showed up on campus in early August, and which is why there are people with ties to Coastal Carolina University (and those with ties to David Bennett especially) who have translated Coastal Carolina president David DeCenzo’s unorthodox change of direction into something dark and suspicious. These people have made the presumption that Moglia was hired in order to pay for a new baseball field or a new Astroturf practice field on campus, that he was hiredbecause he is rich and not because of the way he got rich.

This will be an interesting story to follow, not just to see how Moglia does as a head coach, but also to what the reaction will be to his performance in his first season. Generally a coach will be given three to four years, so that he can bring in his own recruits and coach them through to their senior season, but it’s certainly looking like there will be more scrutiny on someone with a Wall Street background.

MUSICAL GUEST

Muse…take it away!

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

Heading Home, All the “Tooles”, Culinary Highlights

It’s time to head home after tonight’s game in Lansing, where the TinCaps will try for a split of their four-game series with the Lugnuts. Yesterday was a 5-1 loss, which followed a 4-0 loss on Sunday afternoon. That means Fort Wayne has scored one run in the last 18 innings.

As the TinCaps have two of three, the playoff race has suddenly become a lot closer than it was just a few days ago. Lake County now leads by one game over Fort Wayne, and West Michigan has continued to win, narrowing its gap behind Fort Wayne to just one game with a week left in the regular season.

The TinCaps have a chance to fend off the Whitecaps in a three-game series at Parkview Field this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, I talk with Padres minor league hitting coordinator Sean Berry. He’s been in town the last few days to talk with TinCaps hitting coach Jacque Jones and to observe the Fort Wayne hitters. He formerly worked as the hitting coach for the Houston Astros, so I asked him what the difference was between working at the major league level and the minor league level, and his answer might surprise you:

ALL THE “TOOLES”

While Fort Wayne’s Tyler Stubblefield has almost played every position this year (center field and catcher still to go), Cleveland Indians minor leaguer Justin Toole recently played every position on the field in one game.

Courtesy of the Carolina Mudcats

Toole said:

“My manager … came up to me at the beginning of the year and asked me where I could play. I told him, ‘Anywhere,’ and he came up to me later and said I’d play all nine positions later this year,” Toole said. “I kind of laughed [at the time], but as the season was winding down, he picked tonight and we ran with it.”

Toole began the game in right field, moving across the outfield over the first three innings. He made his way to the infield in the fourth, starting at first base and reaching third by the seventh. He caught the eighth and finished the night on the mound.”

And to top it off, his team won, 4-2. The TinCaps have only put position players in to pitch once this season, and they lost that game 16-0 against South Bend.

CULINARY HIGHLIGHTS

Today we wrap up a seven-game road trip, during which you easily tally lots of restaurant meals and plenty of dirty laundry. If you ever make a trip up to Lansing, here are two things you’ve got to try:

First up is the chicken salad from Christie’s, the restaurant at the Lexington Lansing Hotel. This is the second-most delicious lunch I’ve had on the road this year. Number one was a pulled pork sandwich from Smokin BBQ in Dayton. But this is a very close second. It’s good chicken salad (not at all watery), with fresh fruit, and the chicken salad sits on top of a sliced pineapple. Healthy and delicious. Come get some.

I’ve eaten this exact same lunch the last four days. It’s become the peanut butter and jelly of my adult life.

Awful exterior, delicious interior (not the building, but the coffee)

The second place you must go is directly across the street from the hotel. As you can tell, I go to extreme lengths to travel far and wide when on the road. HOWEVER, they do have delicious beverages. Yesterday I had an iced honey nut latte. It’s hazelnut flavoring (three pumps…I counted) and real honey, with whatever else is in a latte. Delicious. They have a lot of other flavors, and I definitely plan on returning there soon.

MUSICAL GUEST

Crazy Town…take it away!

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

What Lies Ahead, Needy Gets Noticed, The Rocket Returns

After putting up seven runs in the series opener against Lansing on Saturday night, the TinCaps lost, 4-0, on Sunday afternoon. It was just the fifth time all season Fort Wayne has been held without a run. They were 0-7 with runners in scoring position and picked up just five hits.

I talked with Manager Jose Valentin before the game and the first thing I asked him about was what he thinks has ailed the team lately, with just two wins in the last eight days:

“The success that we’ve had in the second half is because of the running game. We get guys on base, steal some bases, put the ball in play and that’s how we score some runs. But now they’re getting away from that. They’re swinging away too much, trying to get the home runs and that’s something that we haven’t had success with all year. I think we’ve got to forget that and go back to playing the little game and I think that’s how we play best.”

Notably, the TinCaps have not hit a home run in the last nine games. Jace Peterson has gone the same amount of time without a stolen base. He attempted to steal in Sunday’s game, but was thrown out at second base. Despite the team’s recent troubles, they would still qualify as a playoff team with eight games remaining in the regular season. West Michigan, with its win over Dayton on Sunday, now trails Lake County and Fort Wayne by two games.

Valentin also said given the two possible playoff opponents, he’s sure of who he would rather face.

“I think right now we’d like to face Lansing and not Bowling Green. We know that Lansing has got better pitching, but we pretty much have beaten their best three pitchers (Syndergaard, Nicolino, Sanchez). Bowling Green’s pitching staff is not the same as Lansing, but their offense is great. To compare both teams against us, our offense is not good enough and our pitching has kept us in it this season.To beat (Bowling Green), you’ve got to be able to score some runs. I’ll take my chances with Lansing. In a short series like that anything can happen.”

One of the joys of working with a manager like Jose Valentin is his willingness to give a clear outlook on the situation with his team. Never this season has he shied away from criticizing his team after a rough loss, or has he not given praise to a player who was particularly deserving of it. At this point in the season, with a week left, most managers or coaches in any sport tell you that they’re focused on the next day’s game and whatever lies instantly ahead. Well, look, we’re all human and it’s only instinctual to look to the future and wonder what might be next. Jose said his guys are thinking about winning it all.

“I think the guys have started looking and paying attention to the scoreboard and numbers, and I don’t blame them. I think they want to get to the postseason and win the championship. I’ve told them to be able to be a championship team, we’ve got to play team baseball and forget about numbers.”

He’s a manager that wants to win, and his players want to win, too.

To hear our full Sunday conversation, listen to today’s TinCaps Report Podcats:

NEEDY GETS NOTICED

Pitcher James Needy has had a great season for the TinCaps ever since he arrived on May 4. He worked in 28 games out of the bullpen, and just earned a win in his third start of the year since joining Fort Wayne’s rotation. Bill Center of UT-San Diego has put together a nice writeup on Needy:

“The left arm of San Diego native James Needy prominently sports a tattoo of the downtown skyline of his hometown.

All that’s missing is Petco Park.

Perhaps that would be too presumptuous for Needy, who after missing most of his first two professional seasons seems to have his career back on track.

This has been quite a rebound season for the 21-year-old Needy, who missed most of the last two seasons due to knee injury.

On the third day of his first spring training camp, Needy was participating in a pitcher’s fielding drill on a backfield at the Padres Peoria (Ariz.) complex when he slipped on the infield grass.

“At the time, I thought it was a simple strain,” said Needy, who, in fact, had pulled the tendon off the knee. Surgery in June of 2010 included burning off some nerve endings to reduce the pain.

Needy did not play in 2010. He returned after an extended rehab in 2011 to make 13 starts in rookie ball and short-season Single-A.

“I lost a lot of strength from the surgery,” said Needy. “I couldn’t walk for a month. Going into the last off-season, I decided I would work really hard to get into peak shape. And it was the hardest I’ve ever worked.”

If you’d like to hear more about his San Diego tattoo, and about the other one he has as a tribute to his family, you can listen to the clip of our recent interview:

ROCKET RETURNS

Upon scanning a Midwest League roster if you come across a player who is 25 years old, it definitely causes you to raise your eyebrows a bit. The age of players in the league generally ranges from 18 at the youngest (Joe Ross was the 5th youngest MWL player on opening day) to about 21 or 22 at the higher end. There are some 23 and 24-year-olds scattered around, too.

Now at a whopping 50 years old, Roger Clemens just took the mound again for the first time in five years, as he pitched for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters on Saturday night. He’s not coming through the Midwest League, but, hey, 50 is 50 when it comes to sports. That’s old.

Clemens hasn’t committed to more than the one start that he made for the Skeeters, but that hasn’t stopped the stream of speculation that he might be trying to make it back to the major leagues. Here was the take from a Sports Illustrated reporter at the game:

“That was a great deal of fun for me,” he told the reporters crammed into the Texas Embassy Room, upstairs by the luxury suite. Someone asked him if he would be attending tomorrow’s game.

“No,” he said.

“Does your success make you think about returning to the majors?” someone asked.

“No, it doesn’t,” he said, although it was hard to believe him.

Someone asked whether he had achieved his goals for the evening, and he said yes, if he had made even one person smile.

When it was over he walked out of the room and into the adjoining luxury suite, where children held up various objects for him to autograph. He complied graciously. As he crossed the room, flanked by three police officers, fans broke into a spontaneous cheer. Clemens got in the elevator, where he could be seen drinking water from a clear plastic bottle. He waved as the doors slid shut. But it was not goodbye. With Clemens it never is.”

MUSICAL GUEST

The Black Keys…take it away!

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

Nine to Go, College Football Craziness, Boston Farewell

Like opening a nicely wrapped Christmas present and expecting something on your list, only to find a pair of wool socks from your great aunt, the TinCaps found Aaron Sanchez on Saturday night. Hang with me here…

The TinCaps encountered the unexpected in their series opener, facing a starter who was 8-3, but lasted just three innings, taking the loss.

After losing five of six against Dayton and West Michigan, Fort Wayne stormed to a 7-2 win over Lansing in the opener of their four-game series. Seven of the nine members of the starting lineup had a base hit, and the TinCaps piled on six doubles. Only Duanel Jones and Mike Gallic did not hit, with Gallic striking out five times in five at-bats. Gallic is two for his last 39, his average having dropped from .309 to .279 in the last 10 games. On a positive note, Travis Jankowski extended his hitting streak to nine games, and now has a hit in 12 of the last 13 games.

Erik Cabrera was once again impressive, working 5 1/3 innings to earn his first win on U.S. soil. This was just his fourth start since coming over from the Dominican Summer League. Cody Hebner followed with 3 2/3 innings of relief and did not allow a run, although he did permit an inherited runner to score. Hebner earned his first career save. That Hebner, a former starter, was the only man to pitch out of the Fort Wayne bullpen, provides much-needed rest for the other members of the ‘pen. With nine games remaining in the regular season and a trip to the postseason looking more and more probable by the day, any extra rest for those arms is a positive.

Sunday’s game provides perhaps the most intriguing pitching matchup of the series, with each team throwing its front-line starter to the mound, as Frank Garces faces Noah Syndergaard.

Garces, who had never pitched in the U.S. before this season, lost for the first time since June 6th in his last start. He gave up a season-high five earned runs to Dayton on Monday. Despite that, he put together a stellar stretch from June 12 to August 13th, where he went 8-0 and allowed only nine earned runs in 10 games. When he’s on, he has the potential to easily slice through any Midwest League lineup.

Syndergaard, all of 19 years old, has a major league-ready fastball right now. It sits around 95 miles per hour, and has a very sharp late movement on it, according to some of the TinCaps hitters. His other pitches still need refining, but he has struck out at least three batters in 12 straight starts. The native Texan is the real deal.

Lansing may have an edge with starting pitching in this series, but it’s a team that has struggled to produce offense in the second half, with most of its talent having been promoted to Advanced-A Dunedin of the Florida State League.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, I sit down with Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, the voice of the Lansing Lugnuts. We talk about the lack of offensive production from Lansing in the second half, and about a potential playoff matchup between the TinCaps and Lugnuts:

COLLEGE FOOTBALL CRAZINESS

I’ve never been to an SEC football game, but based off of this article describing the fan bases of LSU and Alabama, it sounds like I’m going to have to make my way down there one of these days. Growing up in New York, college sports aren’t all that big with the abundance of pro teams in the area. There are two baseball teams, two football teams, three hockey teams and two NBA teams, leaving college sports on the back burner. Perhaps that’s why this piece from The New York Times gets me to raise my eyebrows:

“In the event that you, dear reader, need any further convincing of just how seriously SEC country takes football, consider this: While I was standing along the brick partition that separates the spectators in the stands from the field inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, casually watching the team practice while eavesdropping on a conversation to my left, a conversation in which a stadium usher optimistically described to a fan how Saban has recently begun to exhibit the characteristics of an amiable human being (“When he first came here, it wasn’t a good idea to speak to him unless you were spoken to, but lately, he’ll look right at you and say, ‘Hi,’ every now and then”)”

Oh, and this:

“Just as I approached a fence on the perimeter of the practice fields and began to lift my phone into the air to take a picture, I was startled by an ill-tempered voice barking at me from behind. I was not sure if, unnoticed by me, a corndog-like odor was emanating from my skin — popular college football myth suggests that all L.S.U. fans smell like corn dogs — strong enough to set off alarm bells inside the facility, but suddenly I felt like a C.I.A. operative who had brazenly strolled into the Kremlin at the height of the cold war. I turned to find a quite displeased-looking Alabama athletic department official. The exchange that followed went something like this:

Hey, what are you doing?

I was going to take a photo of the practice field to send to a friend, I answered.

Well you can’t do that.

Are you serious? Why not?

Because Coach Saban doesn’t like that, came the response.

Surely this man must be kidding, I thought. He was not. I know this because he began berating someone through some sort of walkie-talkie about the absence of a campus police officer — one who was apparently supposed to be stationed nearby to shoo away troublemakers like me. All the while, he was eyeballing the iPhone in my hand like something he would very much like to toss into a caldron of acid.”

Roll Tide, I suppose.

BYE, BYE BOSTON

In the wake of the mega-trade between the Red Sox and Dodgers, it seems the folks in Boston are pretty pleased to have Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett playing baseball in the National League and across the country:

“Desperate to make a dent in the short-attention-span capital of North America, the Dodgers took the remaining six seasons and $127 million of Gonzalez’s deal, the remaining five seasons and $102.5 million of Crawford’s contract, and the remaining two years and $31.5 million of Beckett’s contract. They also agreed to pay a portion of the salaries of all four Sox players’ salaries for this season.

Instead of “Sweet Caroline,” the Sox should now play Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” in the eighth inning. These contracts were thought to be the definition of untradable.”

That’s a pretty strong column there from Christopher L. Gasper of The Boston Globe.

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.

Ten to Go, Rule Book, Tie Your Shoes, Your Questions

Greetings from the lobby of the Lexington Lansing hotel, one of the finer places to rest one’s head in the Midwest League. It’s a bustling Saturday here–a few engaged couples touring the building and trying to see if it’d be the right fit for their wedding reception, the Eastern Kentucky women’s volleyball team trekking by en route to a match with Michigan State, and, of course, the TinCaps.

When you’re walking through a hotel lobby, unless you’re Lady Gaga, you’re not much of anything to anyone. A lobby is a place to pass through on your way in from a night of travel, or to quickly grab a seat before heading out for a long day. And so as the TinCaps walk through the lobby of the hotel today and get on their bus to head to the ballpark, they might catch a few stares–”Who are those tall guys?”, “Do you know what language they’re speaking?”. It’s Spanish, for the record. For the most part, though, they’ll go unnoticed, like a single leaf falling from a tree.

Once they make the 15-minute trip over to Cooley Law School Stadium, they’ll become noticed–the green and grey uniform tends to have that effect. They’ll go from regular guys in jeans and dri-fit shirts to a team fighting for a playoff spot, and perhaps a team with some extra moxie today, after what happened last night.

Matt Wisler pitched maybe the outing of his career–a one-hit, six-inning shutout performance. He didn’t allow a hit until the fifth, and retired the side in order in four of his six innings of work. And then there was the seventh inning.

Fort Wayne was leading,4-0, when the inning began, but when it ended they were losing, 5-4. That was also the game’s final score. Dennis O’Grady faced six batters, walking four of them and providing West Michigan a run. The Whitecaps only had two hits in the inning. With James Jones on the mound there was a stolen base of home, a two-run single and another RBI single that quickly took the wind out of the sails last night.

The TinCaps still control their own destiny, entering today’s play as the wild card in the Eastern Division. There is cause for concern, though:

In the last six games (1-5 record), the TinCaps bullpen has given up 19 runs over the course of 22 1/3 innings (7.66 ERA).  In this six-game window, starting pitching has compiled a 2.43 ERA (8 ER in 29 2/3 IP). Over the last three games,  Fort Wayne has received 17 scoreless innings between Ruben Mejia, James Needy and Matt Wisler.

West Michigan is two games back of Fort Wayne, and with 10 games to play–it’s anyone’s race.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, I talk with San Diego native James Needy, who’s enjoyed the transition from bullpen fixture to starting pitcher:

FINAL 20 DAYS

Here’s an interesting note from the rules of Minor League Baseball. Yesterday the Tincaps made a move to add pitcher Jeremy Gigliotti to their roster, filling the spot vacated by Daniel Cropper’s trip to the disabled list. Gigliotti, who was drafted by the Padres last year, had been on the disabled list at Advanced-A Lake Elsinore since June 30th.

The rules state that over the final 20 days of the season any downward moves (player coming from a higher level to a lower level) must be approved:

“Major League Rule 2, titled “Player Limits”, describes the active player limits (see 2 (c) (2)) for Minor
League clubs.

During the last 20 days of a Minor League season each organization must receive prior approval from the Minor League Baseball office before making a downward assignment. Minor League Baseball administers this policy for the Baseball Office of the Commissioner under the good faith understanding that Major League clubs would not make downward assignments for the purpose of affecting the standings of lower level leagues.”

For the Midwest League, those final 20 days from from August 15 until September 3. So for the move the TinCaps had to their roster yesterday, the Padres had to send a note to the office of Pat O’Conner, the President of Minor League Baseball, to ensure that it was OK. Gigliotti pitched one scoreless inning last night.

APROPOS OF NOTHING

It appears there is a shoe-untying epidemic at West Michigan’s Fifth Third Ballpark. I snapped this right outside their concessions employee gathering area, which also just happens to be next to the TinCaps clubhouse.

Questions for workers include:

1. Are my shoes tied?

2.Are they tied tightly?

3. Are they tied fashionably?

4. Do I have big bunny ears?

5. Or do I just have little knots?

6. Can I throw them over my shoulder? Do your bows, (sic) hang low?

Courtesy of the TinCaps Amateur Photography Department

The lesson remains as pertinent now as it did in pre-school…don’t forget to tie your shoes.

YOUR QUESTIONS

This is a yes and no answer for me. Yes, it is difficult because you do get to know the players over the course of the nearly six months that you spend with them. You meet their families, learn about their backgrounds and get to know them on a very personal level just because of how much time you spend in close quarters like the bus or a hotel lobby. On top of that, you know that their friends and families will be listening each night and whatever you say–positive or negative–will likely be relayed back to them. The emotional part of you doesn’t want to be critical of people whom you know well.

However, there’s also the broadcasting side of things which requires you to be objective and describe things as clearly as you can. I think a good broadcaster will say if a team is playing poorly and have that come across not necessarily in what words he or she chooses, but in the way that he or she says them. Take last night’s seventh inning, for example. The TinCaps were up, 4-0, and looked to be on their way to a second straight win. Instead, there was a bases loaded walk, a steal of home and they trailed, 5-4, when the inning was over. My tone in that inning, as the TinCaps broadcaster, couldn’t be elated. I was a bit down, as I think those listening would be, too. It’s disappointing to see a team that you work with for an entire season, and that has a chance to make the postseason, have a game slip away that quickly. As the broadcaster for a certain team, rather than for a national audience, you’ve got to understand what your audience is feeling, and have that come across in your call of the game. While I won’t be lighting off a sparkler in the booth on a home run, I will get excited. Conversely, when the team struggles, I won’t be cursing mad, but I believe the audience wants you to share in what they’re feeling as the team tries to keep things together.

I realize that’s a very complicated answer to a very complicated question, but it’s something I think about often and talk about with other broadcasters, because it’s a fine line that has to be handled with care.

MUSICAL GUEST

Cake…take it away!

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

Playoff Update, Long Season, Unforgettable First

Last night provided exactly what the TinCaps needed, as they broke a streak of 50 innings in which they had scored just seven runs, taking a 4-1 win against the West Michigan Whitecaps.

Fort Wayne sent nine men to the plate in a four-run eighth inning, breaking a scoreless tie that was the result of great starting pitching from James Needy and Jeff Ferrell. Needy, who made just his third start since joining the TinCaps rotation, has proved to be a great addition to the starting staff. He went six  scoreless innings, although left with the game tied 0-0. Ferrell was equally strong, giving up four hits over his six innings.

There was also the rare occurrence of closer Matt Stites giving up an earned run. He allowed a double down the right field line and then a bloop single to center field, allowing the Whitecaps to make it a 4-1 game. It was only the third earned run he’s allowed in nearly 45 innings, and the first earned run he’s allowed since May 29th. He’s having an exceptional season. His parents, Mark and Rita, were on hand to see him pitch, having made the drive up from Festus, Missouri, his home town. If you’d like to hear from Matt, he’ll be the guest of Tommy Schoegler on Sound Off with the TinCaps this Monday on 21 Alive.

PLAYOFF UPDATE: The TinCaps enter today’s play tied with Lake County in the second half playoff race. Here’s where it gets interesting:

If the season ended today, even though the teams are tied, Lake County would be the second half champion. Why? It all comes down to tie-breakers. The Midwest League uses the season series between the two teams as the first tie breaker, and the second tie breaker is the run differential between the two teams. Well, the season series finished 6-6 and each team scored 41 runs over the 12 games. So what’s the third tie breaker? Whichever team won the final meeting of the season between the clubs…and that was Lake County. The Captains won a 2-1 rain-shortened game on July 3rd at Classic Park. Who would’ve ever thought that a July 3 game could have any type of postseason implications?

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, I talk with hitting coach Jacque Jones, as he dissects the team’s hitting woes of late and gives his prescription for a TinCaps turnaround:

LONG SEASON

The baseball season, just based on how long it is, can take its toll. The players may start to tire as the season goes on– long, hot days that seem to blend into one another in city after city. Heck, a slump can make a day seem even longer than it actually is. Fort Wayne just broke a four-game losing streak last night and over the course of those four days, the bats seemed slower than they were in May and June. The pitches seemed more hittable than they had been in weeks past.

Last night I was reading a feature piece on Charlie Montoyo, who is the manager of the Durham Bulls, the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, and one quotation of his really caught my eye:

“In baseball, success and failure is contagious. If you put yourself in a hole, individually or as a team, it’s difficult to battle out of it. If you are hitting .200 in July, you can get hot for two weeks and you are still hitting only .225. It feels impossible. Then you go 0 for 4 and you are right back in your slump. But the players here are playing hard and that’s all I ask. If they work hard, prepare everyday, and stay positive, that’s all you can do.”

Hopefully yesterday’s win will prove contagious for the TinCaps, as they try to finish the last 11 games of the season on a high note.

SUSPENSIONS

Yesterday afternoon I was around the batting cage as the TinCaps took their pregame cuts, when I saw this come across my Twitter feed:

It was surprising news to say the least.

Here’s the full story via Baseball America:

“Three Rays minor leaguers will miss the conclusion of the season, including the low Class A Midwest League playoffs, following a Major League Baseball announcement that each has tested positive for methamphetamine and an amphetamine. All three Bowling Green players received 50-game suspensions without pay, effective immediately.

Second baseman Ryan Brett, who headed the organization’s depth chart at the position coming into the year, is the most notable name on the list. The 20-year-old batted .285/.348/.390 with six homers and 19 doubles in 410 at-bats for Bowling Green. A 2010 third-rounder out of high school, Brett ranked second in the MWL with 48 stolen bases in 56 attempts.

A pair of Hot Rods relievers also face 50-game suspensions: righthander Charlie Cononie (24th round, 2011, Towson) and lefty Justin Woodall (26th round, 2010, Alabama).”

The Hot Rods are headed to the Midwest League playoffs, having secured their spot as the Wild Card in the first half. They’re also a potential first round opponent for the TinCaps.  If Fort Wayne is the second half champion, they would take on Bowling Green in a best of three series to begin the postseason.

Brett, in particular, had really hurt Fort Wayne. In 11 games against the TinCaps, he hit .375 (18-48), went six-for-six in stolen base attempts and notched a .423 on-base percentage.

UNFORGETTABLE FIRST

If you’d like to read a nice story, here’s one about Yakima Bears (Diamondbacks) outfielder Joe Loftus, who hit his first professional home run on July 14. The fan who caught it mailed it back, so that Loftus could keep it as a memento of his first pro homer.

http://www.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20120822&content_id=37151070&fext=.jsp&vkey=news_milb

MUSICAL GUEST

Wings…take it away!

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

Playoff Picture, Knuckleball, Spaceman, Celebrity

For all but three days of the second half of the 2012 Midwest League season, the TinCaps have either been in first or second place in the Eastern Division. Today, they wake up and find themselves in third place. Only 12 games remain in the regular season, and a four-game losing streak–extended by a 3-2 loss last night–puts Fort Wayne in the passenger seat, rather than the driver’s seat.

Of teams eligible to qualify for the playoffs in the second half, the TinCaps no longer lead the race:

Lake County 0 GB

Fort Wayne 0.5 GB

West Michigan 2.5 GB

South Bend 3.0 GB

It’s now become a four-team competition for the top two spots currently held by Lake County and Fort Wayne. The Captains had trailed Fort Wayne by a few games until a couple days ago, but Lake County has won seven of its last 10 ballgames, finding itself right back in the hunt.

Last night in the series opener at Fifth Third Ballpark, Fort Wayne got out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning and made it 2-0 in the fourth. After five strong innings from Ruben Mejia, who left the game in line for a win, one sixth-inning swing of the bat change the game:

Zach Maggard’s three-run blast off of James Jones provided all of the offense necessary for a West Michigan win. From the fifth through the ninth, Fort Wayne put just three men on base.

Tonight it will be James Needy on the mound, as he’ll make his third start for Fort Wayne. He went five innings in each of his first two outings, striking out a combined nine batters and walking two.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, I talk with Ben Chiswick, the voice of the West Michigan Whitecaps, as we get the latest on Fort Wayne’s current opponent:

KNUCKLEBALL

Check out the trailer for the movie “Knuckleball”, which follows R.A. Dickey and Tim Wakefield, the only two knuckleball pitchers in the majors, during the 2011 season. The movie’s tag line is: “To gain power, you must first give up control.”

THE SPACEMAN

Bill “Spaceman” Lee, who pitched in the major leagues from 1969 to 1982 will pitch for an independent baseball team in California today. Lee is 65 years old.

“Bill “Spaceman” Lee doesn’t have a cell phone.

Who needs a cell phone when you go through life wearing a tinfoil hat?

Doesn’t like chairs. His home in Vermont has a futon and a bunch of big Pilates balls to sit on.

Doesn’t use metal bats. Makes his own bats back in Vermont, milling down huge trees with a 19th century saw.

Retro, or ahead of his time? Take your pick. Back in the day, baseball stars would barnstorm. The Spaceman is a one-man barnstorm.”

He’s scheduled to pitch for the San Rafael Pacifics of the North American League.

“Hair is gray now, but plenty of it. Hasn’t shaved in about a week. Walks bow-legged like an old cowboy. Carries a prosperous paunch now, but says his vital signs are great.

Grandmother played ball until she was 47 and broke her leg sliding, lived to be 99.

“This is what I do,” Spaceman says. “I play every weekend, pitch nine innings in my Vermont league, threw a shutout the other day.”

Plays in a 35-and-over league, also in any other league or ballpark that will have him, and a lot will.”

And perhaps, one of the greatest paragraphs I’ve read in a long while:

“I also play for 25-and-over teams, play on my son’s team, he’s 42, in Spokane. Play for the Russian National team every year. They come to Florida, buy up all the vodka in town and party for 10 days. I was so hammered, I fell and broke these two fingers (middle fingers on left hand) the day before the final playoff game, pitched with two broken fingers and a cut and went nine innings. Greatest game I ever threw. Got beat 2-1. Taking a bag of beer bottles out of the condo, slipped. Blood all over the place. You just take a lot of Advil and couple Celebrex and go get ‘em.”

I interviewed Lee on Martha’s Vineyard back in the summer of 2009, as he caught a game between the Falmouth Commodores and the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Photo by Jaxon White – Martha’s Vineyard Gazette

I wish I could remember more about the content of our on-air conversation, but what I do recall was that here was a guy who had no qualms about what he said. His words weren’t measured or calculated, at least in a way where he was concerned about them coming back to bite him or ending up on the front page of a sports section the next day. It was a refreshing, fun interview to do, especially with a guy who has as much life experience to draw upon as Lee does.

CELEBRITY FOR A DAY

I think I may have posted a video similar to this one earlier this year, but here’s another funny one. It’s a guy who thinks, “Why can’t I be famous?”, and decided to hire a camera crew and some bodyguards to walk with him through Times Square in New York City. What happens next is entirely predictable:

MUSICAL GUEST

Foo Fighters…take it away!

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

Seven Away From Home, Saving a Life, Too Early

Welcome to Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, Michigan, the home of the West Michigan Whitecaps:

There are thirteen games left in the regular season. Fort Wayne is in line to head to the playoffs with a 1/2 game lead over Lake County and a 2.5 game lead over South Bend. However, the last four days narrowed that lead in the standings, as the TinCaps lost three of four to the last place Dayton Dragons:

“We didn’t play good baseball overall all four days,” said TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin. Fort Wayne’s offense has sputtered, scoring just five runs in the last 34 innings.

“I don’t know if they’re tired or it it’s this point in the year when guys start getting tired. If it’s that reason, we picked the wrong time to do it. We’re still in a good place but we can’t lay back. When the season is over, then we can relax and get our time, but otherwise we’ve got to keep playing hard. The way we’re playing lately, I don’t think we’re gonna make it. I’m not throwing anything away, but it’s getting ugly,” Valentin said.

Fort Wayne runs into a West Michigan club that sits just three games back of them in the standings, and picked up a walk-off win last night on a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

“It’s a must-win,” Valentin said. “From now on, every game counts. We can’t afford to lose any more series, because otherwise we’re not going to get what we want and get to the postseason.”

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, hear Valentin’s full comments from last night’s game:

SAVING A LIFE

Major League Baseball umpire Jim Joyce, widely known for the Armando Gallaraga (not) perfect game in 2010, helped to make a very clutch play the other day in Phoenix:

“Joyce administered CPR to a Diamondbacks’ game-day employee named Jayne Powers in a tunnel leading to the umpires’ dressing room minutes on his way into the ballpark Monday, saving her life in a moment nobody who was in the vicinity at Chase Field will soon forget.

Joyce, 56, and the other umpires in his crew — Lance Barrett, Jim Reynolds and James Hoye — had just arrived at Chase Field and were headed to their dressing room when they saw a woman down in the midst of having a seizure. Noting that, Joyce, who learned CPR when he was in high school, made sure that the woman’s head was protected. But shortly afterward, her body relaxed and Joyce knew something was wrong.

“I’ve had to use CPR before,” Joyce said, though not in many years. “This is something everybody should know. Everybody should know what to do in a circumstance like that.

“It’s not a hard thing. You don’t need a degree. It’s very simple, and very easy.”‘

TOO EARLY

As the TinCaps Express stopped for lunch today in Kalamzaoo, Michigan, I first got a haircut–two on the sides, three on top…a great summer trim–and then walked past this storefront:

Courtesy of the TinCaps Amateur Photography Department

Am I the only one who thinks it’s a bit early for this? We have yet to reach the end of August, let alone Labor Day, and we’re already pushing toward a holiday at the end of October? The madness must end. I would like to propose that upcoming holidays may not be marketed or talked about until the prior holiday has passed. For example:

-No Fourth of July talk until Memorial Day has passed

-No Christmas marketing until Thanksgiving has come and gone

-No Valentine’s Day nonsense until Christmas has had it’s turn

Now who’s with me?

MUSICAL GUEST

Triumph…take it away!

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 75 other followers