September 2012

The Off(ice) Season

As Mr. Magoo once sang in “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol”, “It’s great to be back!”

If you’ve never seen the movie, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you need a copy, the Couzens family has one that was taped on VHS approximately 75 years ago.

After the end to a great season of TinCaps baseball, it was time to take a little bit of time to exhale, relax, and reflect on the season that was. This past weekend I did a bit of traveling and took in a Virginia Tech football game in Blacksburg, Virginia:

Lane Stadium is HUGE.

I also stopped by the Virginia Tech-Team Ontario fall scrimmage.

So that was fun. Now for some numbers on the TinCaps season that was:

408, 044: A new franchise record for attendance.

149: Number of games the TinCaps played this season (Nine playoff games)

.323: Yeison Asencio’s batting average. Asencio won the Midwest League batting title, marking the first time that’s ever happened in the 20-year history of the franchise.

0.74 ERA: Matt Stites’ regular-season ERA. Stites is headed to the Arizona Fall League as one of two players on the Peoria Javelinas who played at Low-A this year. The team is comprised of prospects from the Padres, Mariners, Reds, Twins and Phillies farm systems. Of players who have gone to the AFL, 60% have gone on to the major leagues.

I answered a few questions for the blog MadFriars, which covers the Padres farm system. Here are some of those as they’ll appear on the site:

Yeison Ascencio led the Midwest League in hitting and not a whole lot is known about him.  What did you see this year?

Mike Couzens: First and foremost, we saw the first-ever Midwest League batting champion in the 20-year history of the franchise. That’s no small accomplishment, considering Sean Burroughs hit .359 in 1999 and still didn’t win the award. Asencio won the title with the 14th lowest average in the 65 years that the league has handed out the award.

If I had to draw an estimate off the top of my head of the percentage of first pitches that Asencio swung at, it would probably be around 60%. He is very aggressive. And you know what? It works. There are a lot of other hitters in this league who will swing at first pitches but not have the same results that he did. From talking to hitting coach Jacque Jones and some of Asencio’s teammates, they all remark at a) his hand-eye coordination and b) the raw power that he naturally has. Remember—he didn’t even go to spring training because of a visa issue, and didn’t get to the U.S. this season until May. He essentially jumped right into the game and started to dominate. That said, his approach did prove detrimental at times when he would’ve been better served taking a few pitches, especially with runners on base, to see if the pitcher might work himself into a little bit of trouble and then need a fastball, which Asencio feasted on.

When he arrived in Fort Wayne he had a lot of trouble defensively, and would leap to catch routine line drives in right field because he would get there late. That was quickly rectified, and it was something that the coaching staff liked to see.

When I was in Fort Wayne I was very impressed with Jace Peterson but though his defensive instincts were still developing. What improvement did you see from him?

Mike Couzens: Of shortstops I saw in the Midwest League this year, I would rank Peterson in the second tier of players behind Eugenio Suarez from West Michigan and Francisco Lindor from Lake County. Peterson’s defense was at times a liability, but it was never anything that was concerning as something that you thought would linger throughout the entire season, because it didn’t. Duanel Jones led the team in errors and Peterson was second, but most of their mishaps happened within the first 70 games. Remember that Peterson was not just a baseball player before this year, having also played football at McNeese State. It’s his first full year of pro baseball, so you expect there to be a certain number of mistakes. A lot of the errors he had were on balls that needed to be charged, and the ball might skip off the heel of his glove, or mishandling a throw to second base when trying to turn a double play.

The one thing that Peterson has that not many players will is an innate ability to sacrifice his body to make a play. On May 10 he dove for an infield pop-up, collided with Colin Rea, and had to be carted off the field with what looked to be a neck injury. He was fine. But his football background has instilled in him something that leaves him fearless when it comes to diving for a ball, no matter how deep in the hole it might be.

Matt Wisler had a great season.  What made him so effective?

Mike Couzens: I got to know Matt Wisler’s father, Bob, over the course of the season, and from talking to him I understand why Wisler is the great pitcher and excellent person that he is. From a very young age, Bob said that he tracked Matt’s pitch counts and planned his workouts to help him be as successful as possible. When Matt decided to pass up a scholarship to Ohio State, where his girlfriend and many high school friends now attend, Bob told him that he would have to move to Arizona to begin his pro training immediately. It was Matt’s choice whether to attend OSU, but he knew if he didn’t that he wouldn’t be laying around at home until spring training. He is the epitome of a hard worker. When Matt moved, Bob came out to check on him and helped him set his diet straight since, as a caring dad, he felt Matt was eating too much fast food. I don’t say this to make it seem like it’s a parent who is controlling, because Matt is 19 years old—and let’s be serious, how many of us would handle a transition to being a professional baseball player on our own?—but rather to illustrate that Matt was on a track for success from a young age and continues to work hard toward a likely prosperous career.

Matt is a very level-headed pitcher who works extremely hard at his craft. What sets him apart from other pitchers, not just at his age, but in this league, is his ability to command them for strikes. Even during his roughest outing of the year, an August 30th game where he gave up a season-high 11 hits in four innings, he did something no other pitcher on the staff might have been able to do. With the bases loaded in the second inning, he had a 2-2 count on the batter and zipped a fastball to the outside corner for a called third strike. Most pitchers would try to land a breaking ball in there for a strike, but he knew he could land his fastball with pinpoint precision.

He also has an interest in learning more about the game. I read RA Dickey’s autobiography during the all-star break, and when I told Matt that I’d read it, he asked to borrow it and read it himself. Matt is a great pitcher who comes from a very good background, and looks like he has a lot of success in his future.

It’s a pretty remarkable feat to make it to the championship series, especially considering that the Midwest League has 16 teams. The odds are slim, and yet Fort Wayne has been to the finals twice in four years. Wisconsin, the TinCaps’ opponent and eventual league champion, hadn’t made the finals since 2005.

Since we last talked, the TinCaps announced that they’ve extended their player development contract (PDC) with the San Diego Padres for two more seasons. That’s great news for both sides. The TinCaps will continue to receive the high-caliber players that they have since 1999 when the two teams locked arms. The Padres will be at gorgeous Parkview Field for two more seasons, which means a great facility for their players. It’s a win-win for all involved.

Since the season is over and I won’t be on the air every night now, I’ve got to say thank you to everyone who read the blog this season, listened to or watched the games, or who stopped to say hello at one point or another throughout the season. It was a great first baseball season here in Fort Wayne for me personally, and I’m already looking forward to TinCaps Opening Day 2013.

SO WHAT’S NEXT?

One question I’ve been asked repeatedly over the last week or two has been, “Well, what are you going to do now that the season’s over?”

I’m so glad you asked!

I’m going to be doing something that the team has never done before, at least in a formal sense. Starting next month, I’ll be going out and giving talks as a part of the TinCaps Speakers Bureau. Any group (civic, service, church, business) of any size can request to have me come speak, absolutely free of charge, about the TinCaps, the business of minor league baseball or the history of baseball in Fort Wayne. Since I’m the only member of the TinCaps staff that gets to travel with the team for all 140 games, I learn a lot about the players and what life is like for them throughout their journey of a season, and I’m happy to share what all of that is like, too.

If you’d like to get in touch with me, please either email me (Couzens@TinCaps.com) or call me 260-482-6400 and I’ll be happy to help set something up.

Also, I will be back in broadcast mode this weekend. As you may know, the annual Fort4Fitness event takes place this Saturday, and all of the races finish at Parkview Field’s home plate. I’ll be carrying live coverage of the events from 7AM to 11AM on Saturday on XFINITY Digital Cable Channel 81, the same channel that carries TinCaps games during the course of the season. I’m looking forward to being a part of a big event in downtown Fort Wayne and to learning a lot about not just running, but also the folks who are participating, some of whom will be on the air with me at the conclusion of their respective races.

Keep an eye out for an off-season podcast, too. It’s going to be hosted by me and TinCaps Vice President of Marketing /Promotions Michael Limmer. I don’t want to give away too many details just yet, but I will offer this–we are going to be implementing what I’m calling the Odd Food Challenge. Each participant works within a $10 budget at the grocery store, and has to try and find the most obscure item for the other person to eat. This will take place while tape is rolling. From what I’ve heard, powdered goat milk is delicious…

Stay tuned.

As for the blog, I will not be writing every day like I did throughout the season. I will continue to post throughout the off-season, perhaps twice per month, to keep you updated on the latest happenings from around Parkview Field. As always, if you’ve got questions please get in touch.

Email: Couzens@TinCaps.com

Twitter: @MikeCouzens

MUSICAL GUEST

Passion Pit…take it away!

Championship Series Game Four or There May Not Be a Tomorrow

For the second time this postseason, the TinCaps’ fate boils down to a simple message: win or go home. After giving up a 3-1 lead to the Timber Rattlers last night, Fort Wayne couldn’t make a comeback and lost, 10-8, in game three of the best-of-five championship series. (Click here to watch my video recap, with highlights) If Wisconsin wins, Fort Wayne will have to watch the Rattlers celebrate a Midwest League title at Parkview Field. But if the TinCaps win, they’ll live to see another day and force a decisive game five.

Fort Wayne will try and hold the door open and force game five at Parkview Field Monday night.

It was six days ago at Lake County when Fort Wayne had its back up against the wall. The Eastern Division championship series against the Captains was tied, 1-1, and starter James Needy was knocked out of the game before the end of the third inning, the game tied at four. Finger nails were chomped upon, perspiration trickled down foreheads, but the TinCaps made a comeback and won, 13-6. Needy starts again this evening, taking the hill for the third time this postseason. Fort Wayne will look for him to deliver the type of performance that he did to open the playoffs: five innings, two earned runs and a win against the Lansing Lugnuts.

Quick note on James Needy (h/t Tom Felice) from the 2009 Baseball America Prospect Guide. Check out the company with which he was listed:

2009 Baseball America Top 100 High Schoolers

#2 Donavan Tate (Fort Wayne ’10,’11)

#24 Keyvius Sampson (Fort Wayne ’11)

#68 James Needy (pitches tonight)

#80 Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels CF)

#97 Billy Hamilton (Led MiLB with 155 stolen bases this season)

It’s an intriguing exercise to look back and see how things turn out. Needy was sidelined with a left knee injury in 2010,and split 2011 between the Arizona League and Eugene. Meanwhile, Mike Trout….

finds himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Hey, by the way, great job by the fans last night at Parkview Field to pack the house and give the TinCaps the largest attendance of any Minor League Baseball game last night:

Trenton (Double-A):        2,724
Lancaster (High-A):         2,810
Frisco (Double-A):            3,364
Omaha (Triple-A):             4,081
Fort Wayne (Low-A):       4,939

It should be noted that at all four of those other sites, a championship was decided. Akron won the Eastern League on the road at Trenton, Lancaster won the California League at home, Frisco lost the Texas League to Springfield at home, and Omaha won the Pacific Coast League crown over the Reno Aces…and Fort Wayne still outdid them all. Well done, fans.

The TinCaps bullpen allowed five runs last night (as did starter Frank Garces), equaling the total number of runs they’d allowed in the prior seven playoff games combined. Rough night. Also of note–Mike Gallic, who started in place of the injured Travis Jankowski, tweaked his hamstring yesterday late in the game, which brought Jeremy Baltz in as a late replacement. Baltz will be starting in left field tonight and hitting seventh.

First pitch is at 5:05. I’ll have the broadcast on XFINITY Digital Cable Channel 81 with Kent Hormann starting at 5:00. If you’re out of the area, you can tune into the radio broadcast with Mike Maahs and Tom Felice, starting at 4:45, on ESPNFortWayne.com.

MUSICAL GUEST

Mumford and Sons…take it away!

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

Championship Series Game Three or The Boys are Back in Town

Strap in for the ride that lies ahead, because the Midwest League championship series has boiled down to a best-of-three set, and the last team standing will be crowned champion at Parkview Field either Sunday or Monday. After two games at Wisconsin’s Fox Cities Stadium, the TinCaps and Timber Rattlers return to Fort Wayne with the series tied, 1-1.

The first two games provided several nail-biting moments, whether it was a wild pitch that allowed the Timber Rattlers to walk away a winner in game one, despite having collected just four hits. The TinCaps had a few late opportunities to lay down a sacrifice bunt in game one, but couldn’t seize the opportunity. In one instance Austin Hedges had to swing away after missing on a few bunt attempts, and nearly grounded into a triple play.

In game two of the series, Colin Rea kept each fan in attendance on the edge of his or her seat, as he threw a career-high seven innings and allowed two hits. Johnny Barbato and Matt Stites each pitched one inning, helping the TinCaps hang on for a 5-1 win, bolstered by home runs from Lee Orr and Duanel Jones. Even in that game, until the ninth when Jones’ home run made it 5-1, there was a lingering sense that something might happen, and that the game might turn. Perhaps that’s the nervous side of me, that is always keeping an eye out for something else to happen. The internal worry, maybe. Growing up a Mets fan and watching Armando Benitez blow save after save has apparently engrained that outlook on me.

Watching Matt Stites has done a good deal to relieve that worry, however. He’s been a perfect three-for-three in save opportunities this postseason, and he even worked a 1-2-3 ninth on Thursday, despite it not being a save situation with the TinCaps leading by four. On Friday, he was honored by Baseball America for his stellar season, being named the Low-A All-Star relief pitcher of the year:

“We looked beyond the saves total in selecting Stites as our low Class A reliever of the year,” said Matt Eddy, Associate Editor at Baseball America. “His 60-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 0.58 WHIP speak volumes about his proficiency in close games.”

There has been no one better in the league this year when a game is on the line. This just puts it into award form for Stites, who is headed to the Arizona Fall League once the Midwest League season is finished. Baseball America also honored Fort Wayne’s first-year manager, Jose Valentin, as the Low-A Manager of the Year:

“We honored Valentin as the Low Class A manager of the year because he guided the TinCaps to the playoffs and ultimately the Midwest League finals with one of the youngest pitching staffs in the league. But, more importantly, from our perspective he did so with a team chock full of prospects, such as Austin Hedges, Jace Peterson and Joe Ross,” Eddy added.

Not to mention, he oversaw the first-ever batting champion (Yeison Asencio, .323) in the 20-year history of the franchise and his team had four representatives at the All-Star game in June, plus another two on the post-season All-Star team.

That’s the good news. Now for the not so good news…

During the first inning of Thursday’s game at Wisconsin, TinCaps CF Travis Jankowski suffered a fractured rib when he was hit by a pitch leading off the game. He stayed in to run the bases through the top of the first, but came out in the bottom of the inning and was replaced by Mike Gallic. When Jankowski was at second base, having advanced on a wild pitch, Valentin walked about ten feet past third base as if he wanted to check in on Jankowski, but the outfielder waved away his skipper, trying to play through the pain. Jankowski was placed on the disabled list today, and has been replaced by infielder Connor Powers, who had been on the disabled list since late August.

This comes as a blow to the TinCaps who now will have to work with a reconfigured lineup. Ever since Jankowski joined the team at the end of June, he had hit leadoff nearly every game. We’ll likely see Jace Peterson return to the top of the lineup, and perhaps Tyler Stubblefield will hit second. The three,four and five spots will be interesting to see. Travis Whitmore or Yeison Asencio could hit third, with whoever ends up not hitting third, hitting fourth. Lee Orr could hit cleanup or in the number five spot. Asencio has been hitting third lately in an attempt by Jose Valentin to score a run within the first three batters coming to the plate. The theory is that if either Jankowski or Peterson were to reach base and steal second, Asencio could drive them home. While Asencio has not hit much in the playoffs, Orr has hitting four home runs in seven games.

A final note on Jankowski is about his 23-game hitting streak. It will come to an end now that his season is over, but it will be in the TinCaps record books as the longest in the history of the team. Since 2009, no TinCaps player has hit in more than 18 consecutive games. 2011 Midwest League MVP Rymer Liriano did it last year, and Blake Tekotte, a member of the 2009 Midwest League Championship team, also hit in 18 straight games. While Jankowski’s streak will officially end at 17 games (the Midwest League does not count streaks that carry into the postseason), we will continue to see it as a 23-game streak.

Tonight’s game will get underway at 7:05 at Parkview Field, and the city is buzzing with civic pride:

Fort Wayne’s Martin Luther King bridge is illuminated in green and red to support the TinCaps.

Needless to say, folks are excited. Frank Garces, making his second postseason start, gets the ball for Fort Wayne. He pitched in game one of the series against Lake County, getting a no-decision in a 4-3 Fort Wayne win. Wisconsin will go with David Goforth, who threw a complete-game shutout in his lone playoff appearance to-date.

The series has not featured much offense so far, especially on Wisconsin’s side with the Timber Rattlers collecting just six hits in two games. Fort Wayne’s Jace Peterson and Yeison Asencio are a combined 1-15. Will pitching continue to reign supreme, or will the offenses come to life? The only way to know is to either be at the game or tune in if you’re out of town.

MUSICAL GUEST

Jimi Hendrix…take it away!

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

Championship Series Game Two or Wild, Wild West

Game one of the Midwest League championship series was a tough one. Fort Wayne lost, 3-2, and two of the Wisconsin runs scored on wild pitches. As Jose Valentin has said throughout the playoffs–it’s about execution. Last night the TinCaps did not execute. There were two occasions where they could not lay down a sacrifice bunt (one which almost turned into a triple play), and they went 1-7 with runners in scoring position.

The first run of the game scored on a wild pitch in the first inning. Wisconsin’s Brandon Macias was at second base, and Joe Ross spiked a pitch that bounced over catcher Austin Hedges and went to the backstop, allowing Macias to score from second base. The final run scored in the bottom of the 10th when the Rattlers had the bases loaded. Luis De La Cruz shot a fastball past Hedges, which set up Rafael Neda’s game-winning run.

The task of winning a championship gets no easier now, as they’re still on the road and it’s a quick turnaround for a 12:05 (local time) game this afternoon. The starting pitcher today for the Rattlers, Chad Pierce, takes the hill after firing a complete-game shutout in the first round of the playoffs. The Timber Rattlers starting pitchers now have an ERA of 0.69 in their six playoff games. The team ERA in the playoffs is just 1.00.

Colin Rea makes his first postseason start today. He took the hill on the last day of the regular season, was not on the active roster against Lansing, and pitched three scoreless innings against Lake County in the series-clinching win on Monday.

Two bats that could really help the TinCaps are Jace Peterson and Yeison Asencio. Those two, hitting second and third, respectively, last night, went a combined 0-9. The top three in the lineup, counting Travis Jankowski, were 1-14. That’s where a lot of this team’s runs came from during the regular season.

I’ll have the call on 1380 ESPN and ESPNFortWayne.com. You’re also welcome to stop by Parkview Field and catch the game on the video board for free.

Here are some shots from Fox Cities Stadium that I took yesterday during batting practice.

Fox Cities Stadium

Kyle Gaedele, Travis Jankowski and Mike Gallic watch batting practice at Fox Cities Stadium.

From the outfield boardwalk, you can look over the TinCaps bullpen, which has a view into the outfield.

There’s a beach area beyond the left field wall.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, have a listen to my pregame conversation with Pitching Coach Willie Blair. We talked before

MUSICAL GUEST

Before we get to the song…I’m walking down the concourse to get to the TinCaps clubhouse to get my pregame interview (Jose Valentin, if you’re wondering) and what song is playing on the little radio in the concession stand to my right?

That’s right…Two Tickets to Appleton (or Paradise, if you prefer to get it right). That was yesterday’s musical guest. It’s fate, folks.

Nirvana…take it away!

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

Championship Series: Game One or Two Tickets to Appleton

Welcome to Grand Chute, Wisconsin, and Fox Cities Stadium, the home of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers:

Tonight is game one of the Midwest League championship series. The TinCaps are in search of the second title in four years (and the second in the 20-year franchise history), while the Timber Rattlers are in search of their first title under their current name. The Appleton-based franchise, which has been around since 1962, has been known as the Timber Rattlers since 1995. The last team here to win a Midwest League title was the Appleton Foxes, who did it in 1984 under manager Sal Rende.

Here’s a mix of calls and sound bites that I’ve put together to recap the season up to this point. I hope you enjoy it:

Both teams used five games to get to this round, with Fort Wayne defeating Lansing, 2 games to 0, and then taking down Lake County, 2 games to 1. Wisconsin went to a third game in its first series, toppling Burlington 2 games to 1, and then swept Clinton, 2 games to 0, to earn its first berth in the championship series since 2005.

There are a lot of numbers you can look at for this series (Chris Mehring, the broadcaster for the Timber Rattlers, has looked at nearly all of them on his blog), but one that stands out to me is how strong the pitching has been for Wisconsin in the postseason. In the five games the Rattlers have played in the playoffs, they’ve allowed only five earned runs, and seven in total. That’s pretty strong pitching. Their starter today, though, Jacob Barnes, gave up three of those earned runs in his lone playoff pitching performance, which was the Timber Rattlers first playoff game. So Fort Wayne has that going for it, which is nice.

There is, of course, a wild card of sorts for the TinCaps: the return of Joe Ross. The first-round pick of the Padres in the 2011 draft takes the hill for Fort Wayne for the first time since May 4th. He was scheduled to start on May 10th against South Bend at Parkview Field and was in the bullpen before the game taking his warmup tosses, when he felt some shoulder soreness and was placed on the disabled list the next day. Colin Rea made the start in his place, and remained in the rotation for the rest of the regular season.

Ross finished the season (July 25-August 28) with the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League, where he made eight starts to the tune of an 0-2 record with a 2.03 ERA. So how will he fare tonight? Only time will tell. He does face a powerful Timber Rattlers lineup, which hit 107 home runs during the regular season. That was second most to Quad Cities’ 109, and it made Wisconsin one of five teams of the 16 in the Midwest League to hit more than 100. The TinCaps hit 64 during the regular season.

Despite what any numbers may say, good or bad, TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin says he and his guys are looking forward to this series:

“We’ve got a lot of confidence. Guys are happy to be here. We want to get the big prize, which is a championship. We’re going to face a team in Wisconsin that has been pretty good all year round. We faced them three times this year, so we’ll try to find as much information on them as we can because it’s been a long time.”

The TinCaps went 2-1 against Wisconsin during their three-game series at Parkview Field during the regular season.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, you can hear from Valentin as he previews the series:

Here’s what the pitching rotation looks like for the rest of the series:

Thursday, September 13 at Wisconsin – 1:05 PM – RHP Colin Rea vs. RHP Chad Pierce

Friday, September 14 OFF (Travel day)

Saturday, September 15 at Parkview Field – 7:05 PM – LHP Frank Garces vs. David Goforth (Postgame fireworks)

(if necessary) Sunday, September 16 at Parkview Field – 5:05 PM – RHP James Needy vs. RHP Chad Thompson

(if necessary) Monday, September 17 at Parkview Field – 7:05 PM – RHP Matt Wisler vs. RHP Mark Williams

I hope you can join me tonight on 1380 ESPN and ESPNFortWayne.com. If you’d like you can head over to Parkview Field, where the gates will open at 7:00, for a viewing party where the game will be shown on the video board and the radio call played on the speakers. First pitch is set for 7:35.

MUSICAL GUEST

You’ve got to give me a little creative license here…Over the last 36 hours or so, I’ve created a new song in my head. It really only goes with the chorus of the song because “paradise” has the same number of syllables as “Appleton”. That said, Eddie Money, take it away with, “Two Tickets to Appleton”:

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

“We Want a Ring”

That’s what second baseman Tyler Stubblefield told me before the game today.

Today’s game will determine who from the Eastern Division will go on to battle the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in the Midwest League championship series, which will begin Wednesday in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Yesterday Fort Wayne lost, 7-4, to Lake County, in part because of a five-run second inning put on by the Captains. It was an error from Stubblefield that opened the door for three unearned runs to score in that inning.

“When they scored three runs, I was a little disappointed,” Stubblefield said. ” It’s a play that I make a lot and it just so happens yesterday in a crucial situation. It happens. Errors are errors, they’re gonna happen and the only thing I can do is go out there tonight and hopefully have the same ball hit to me.”

It’s the second time in four years that the TinCaps have gone to game three of the Eastern Division championship series. In 2009, when Fort Wayne won the title, Robert Lara hit a walk-off home run against Great Lakes at Parkview Field, propelling the TinCaps into the finals and an eventual sweep of the Burlington Bees. This year marks the fourth time in the 20-year franchise history that the team has made the Division Championship series, with the ’97 and ’98 Wizards getting swept both times.

James Needy makes his second postseason start for the TinCaps tonight. He went in game one last round against Lansing, hurling five innings in a Fort Wayne win. They’ll certainly hope he can bring them to a win tonight, too. Whichever team loses will not play again until April, so there’s a lot on the line.

I hope you can join me on the radio tonight, starting at 6:45, on 1380 ESPN and ESPNFortWayne.com.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, we hear from both Jose Valentin, who I talked with before yesterday’s game, and Tyler Stubblfield, who will be my pregame guest tonight:

VALENTIN

STUBBLEFIELD

NO HOLDS BARRED

I broke a personal rule of mine today. I’m not happy to admit it, but I did. I patronized an establishment that uses a “z” where a simple “s” will suffice. At the team hotel here at Lake County, while there are many food options around, there are not a ton that have coffee. Sheetz happens to be two doors down from the hotel, so I figured it’d be a safe choice. There is a McDonald’s across the street, but the crosswalk is a ways down the street, and I can’t be risking my life for some caffeine.

For coffee, it’s ok to bend the rules.

So I wanted coffee, I got coffee and had to look at “coffeez” every time I took a sip. I simultaneously shuddered in grammatical discontent as I swallowed each ounce of the wonderful hazelnut flavor. I apologize profusely to all of you for abandoning my principles in the name of coffee. Never again.

MUSICAL GUEST

Hot Hot Heat…take it away!

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

Bullpen Holds Things Together as TinCaps Roll On

Welcome to Eastlake, Ohio, where amidst Cleveland Browns madness, the TinCaps and Captains will do battle tonight.

Classic Park, the home of tonight’s game.

Last night was a hard-fought win for the TinCaps at Parkview Field, 4-3, over the Captains in game one of the Eastern Division championship series. Here was the TinCaps dugout after Matt Stites recorded the final out:

The #22 right there is Manager Jose Valentin, with his fist raised in the air in celebration. Stites had just struck out the side, earning his third save in as many playoff games, and helping Fort Wayne move to within one game of the Midwest League championship series.

“He’s not afraid to throw strikes, he works ahead in the count and he’s one of those guys that knows how to get people out.  He pretty much has been gold for us. When he gets the ball and we’re ahead in the ninth, pretty much the game is over,” said Valentin about his closer.

The bullpen’s overall effort in the postseason has been one of the biggest reasons Fort Wayne has won all three playoff games so far.  It has worked 12 1/3 innings, allowing nine hits, one run, striking out 36 and walking seven (0.73 ERA). Valentin called Leo native Brandon Alger the lefty the team had been missing all season. Alger has pitched two innings and struck out four, being used as the lefty specialist.

As for heading on the road to Lake County? Valentin’s not worried.

“We’ve gotta go up there and start right away, be aggressive right away and score some runs early for Cabrera. We’ve got a kid who hasn’t pitched in the postseason so hopefully he doesn’t get too anxious or nervous.   The key it to try and put some runs on the board early for him to make him just go up on the mound, get some outs and keep him away from the pressure,” Valentin said.

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

MOVIE WATCH

It only took us 143 games, but we finally watched one of my favorite movies, Old School, on the bus today.

You’re my boy, Blue.

MUSICAL GUEST

Ryan Adams…take it away!

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

The TinCaptains or Game One of the MWL Eastern Division Championship Series

It’s going to be a big night at Parkview Field this evening as the TinCaps open the Eastern Division Championship series against the Lake County Captains, the Midwest League affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. Both teams swept their opening-round series, as Lake County downed Bowling Green and Fort Wayne toppled Lansing. For a quick recap of the TinCaps’ Thursday night game at Lansing, here you go:

The TinCaps were down, 6-0, at the end of four innings and came back to pick up a 9-6 win, marking their biggest comeback of the season. The biggest deficit they had overcome this year was four runs, also against Lansing. A lot of credit has to go to the bullpen, which turned in 5 1/3 scoreless innings after 3 2/3 from Matt Wisler in his first playoff start.

Both teams were at Parkview Field for light practices on Friday afternoon, and I caught up with both David Wallace, the first-year manager of the Captains, and TinCaps manager Jose Valentin. Here are some of their thoughts on the series:

Wallace on how his team has changed since July 3rd, the last time the Fort Wayne and Lake County met:

“Since the playoffs started we picked up Joey Windall and Tyler Naquin both who have stepped in to a pretty tough situation coming out of short season and both have been impressive not only in games but both how they go about their business.”

Wallace on what it took to defeat first-half wild-card Bowling Green in the opening round of the playoffs:

“Both were close games. We made some plays defensively when we needed to. Our guys have pitched and made pitches when they needed to. We haven’t necessarily done a great job of keeping guys off the bases. Offensively, we’ve been swinging it pretty well lately–getting down sac bunts, moving guys over and putting up tough at bats.”

What Wallace fears about the TinCaps:

“I really don’t like (Jace) Peterson. I say I don’t like him which means I really do like him. He’s fun to watch, he ‘s a dynamic player and he’s always a threat. Up and down (the Fort Wayne) lineup there’s just bats that can do damage. There’s nobody in the lineup that you’d say ‘Let’s just get to this guy and that’s an out.”’ I like Hedges behind the plate and then (the TinCaps) have had nice arms all year. It’s going to be a real big challenge to stick in there, put up big at-bats and just try to produce some runs any way we can.”

Valentin on his team’s approach as they journey on through the playoffs:

“It’s a way different team and I think it’s because they realize where they are. Now we’re playing for one thing, and that’s to win a championship. To be able to win a championship team you’ve got to have that mentality to go out there, play hard and try everything you can.”

Valentin on what kind of a challenge Lake County presents:

“We’re not going to change. For us it was a lot easier to beat Lake County than it was to beat Bowling Green and Lansing. The best two teams in our division all year round are out, so that’s a statement about postseason baseball—it’s different. Lake County is real aggressive. It’s the same type of baseball that we play. Pitching wise, we’re pretty much the same type of team. They beat one of the best teams of the league in Bowling Green and they finished the season strong. You can’t take anything for granted.”

For the full comments from each manager, click on the audio below.

Valentin

Wallace

During the regular season, not only did the two teams split the 12 games between them, they also scored 41 runs against one another. Here’s what the pitching matchup looks like for game one:

LHP Frank Garces (FW) — 9-6, 2.81 ERA in 25GS, 121.2 IP, 51R, 38ER, 112K, 37BB, .233 BAA

vs. Lake County — 1-0, 0.82 ERA, 2GS, 11IP, 9H, 2R, 1ER, 12K, 3BB

LHP Shawn Morimando (LC) — 7-6, 3.59 ERA in 22GS, 110.1 IP, 51R, 44ER, 69K, 52BB, .239 BAA

vs. Fort Wayne — 0-1, 6.00 ERA, 1GS, 6IP, 5H, 4R, 4ER, 3BB, 3K

I’ll have the call on XFINITY Digital Cable Channel 81 starting at 7:00 with Kent Hormann. You can hear the game on the radio (1380 ESPN) or online (ESPNFortWayne.com) with Mike Maahs and Tom Felice.

PHOTOS FROM FRIDAY’S WORKOUT

Pitchers do some light jogging before their workout.

Thursday night’s hero, Lee Orr, takes some cuts in the batting cage.

Padres 2012 second-round pick Jeremy Baltz hones his swing as hitting coach Jacque Jones throws batting practice.

Dennis O’Grady throws from the bullpen mound during Fort Wayne’s Friday evening workout at Parkview Field.

MUSICAL GUEST

Because it’s been stuck in my head for the past 24 hours…

Keith Urban, take it away!

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

Previewing Game 2 vs. Lansing

Fort Wayne is one game away from making its way to the Midwest League Eastern Division championship game for the second straight season. Here’s the view from the press box as the TinCaps take batting practice:

It was an exciting victory last night at Parkview Field in front of an excited crowd, and we’re hoping for another TinCaps win tonight. Coming up on the broadcast tonight, you’ll hear from Jeremy Baltz, the second-round pick of the Padres who is hitting in the cleanup spot this evening, Tyler Stubblefield, who hit a home run last night, and from Jose Valentin, the first-year manager who is trying to lead his team to the second title in franchise history. I’ll be on with Mike Maahs at6:45 from Cooley Law School Stadium in Lansing on 1380 ESPN in Fort Wayne and ESPNFortWayne.com everywhere else.

Interesting note for tonight: The Lugnuts lineup will feature MLB rehabber Brett Lawrie (yes, that one from the Blue Jays) hitting leadoff tonight. So, when Matt Wisler takes the mound in the bottom of the first, he’ll be facing a major league hitter. Welcome to playoff baseball. Lawrie hit some pretty strong drives during batting practice this afternoon. He was also easily identifiable as the only player who did not tuck in his jersey. Lawrie had hit .282 with nine home runs and 40 runs batted in this season with Toronto before suffering a strained oblique on August 3rd at Oakland. I’d gotten a few questions on Twitter about whether a move like this was legal…and it is. The rules state that any downward moves after August 15th must be either done via special permission from the president of Minor League Baseball OR be a rehab assignment, and this falls into the latter category.

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, hear from Manager Jose Valentin following last night’s 5-2 win over the Lugnuts at Parkview Field:

Talk to you on the radio!

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.

Playoff History, TinCaps Practice, Valentin & Alger

It’s playoff time! For the fourth consecutive year, the TinCaps are in the playoffs. 

Here’s a look at the postseason history of the Fort Wayne Franchise, dating back to the first playoff appearance in 1995:

The team worked out at Parkview Field yesterday, and here are some photos I snapped while they were hard at work:

Jacque Jones throwing batting practice.

Jose Valentin speaks with the media.

With the audio below, you can hear from some of the TinCaps as they talk about their postseason journey:

Jose Valentin

Brandon Alger, a native of Leo, Indiana, (14.8 miles away according to Google Maps) became the first Allen County native to put on a Fort Wayne uniform when he was officially added to the roster today. He talks about what it’s like to get to pitch for his hometown team:

Tonight’s game will feature James Needy for the Tincaps, who worked the first Fort Wayne nine-inning complete game since 2007 in his last outing, and Noah Syndergaard, whom the TinCaps have not scored against in 16 innings this season, for the Lugnuts.

First pitch is at 7:05 and airtime is 6:45 on 1380 ESPN and ESPNFortWayne.com with Mike Maahs and Tom Felice. I’ll have the TV broadcast at 7:00 with Kent Hormann on XFINITY Digital Cable Channel 81.

MUSICAL GUEST

No Doubt…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