April 2013

Feature: Fort Wayne’s First Rounders

The following story by John Nolan aired on The FAN 1380 during our Hupe Insurance Services Pregame Show on Saturday, April 20. 

Everyone in the Midwest League has had to battle with the cold so far this April. But possibly no one’s had it worse than Dane Phillips.

“You know, in this cold weather, there’s nothing you can do for your hand,” Phillips says. “You just wear it. You know it’s gonna hurt a little bit. It’s gonna sting a little bit. And you just have to get used to it.”

That’s because Phillips plays catcher for the TinCaps.

“I don’t think I’ve caught a fastball below 91-92 miles an hour,” Phillips says.

Such is the struggle when you’re the backstop for one of the most talented pitching staffs in all of minor league baseball.

“I don’t think I can ever recall seeing four first round guys on one team anywhere,” says Lake County Captains manager Scooter Tucker.

Tucker probably wishes he’d still never seen it after losing to three of them in one series last weekend. But indeed, the TinCaps 2013 pitching staff features four 19-year old starters who were selected in the first or supplemental first round of the 2011 and 2012 Major League Baseball Drafts. No other team in minor league baseball can say the same. (And only the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Giants can boast that in the big leagues.)

Photo by Samuel Hoffman, The Journal Gazette.

From left to right: Joe Ross, Max Fried, Zach Eflin, and Walker Weickel. Photo by Samuel Hoffman, The Journal Gazette.

“I think that’s awesome,” says Zach Eflin, the 33rd overall pick of the Padres in 2012. “Walker Weickel mentioned to me one time when we were back home, we might be the next Glavine, Smoltz, and Maddux.”

It may sound like a bold goal for Eflin, but when you consider the potential he and his fellow draft classmates Max Fried and Walker Weickel have, plus 2011 pick Joe Ross, it’s worth shooting for. Although at this stage, that doesn’t mean Fort Wayne pitching coach Burt Hooton is necessarily impressed.

“Well, I’ve been a big league pitching coach before,” Hooton says. “Those guys were pretty good.”

Yet even the former NLCS MVP and ex-Astros pitching coach has to admit it’s a unique opportunity to handle a staff like this.

“I’m impressed with the poise they have at the age they have and the experience level they have,” says Hooton, who once threw a no-hitter for the Cubs in 1972. “There are a lot of good things there to build upon — just the raw stuff.”

So the way Hooton sees it, it’s his job to enrich that stuff.

“You can pull crude oil out of the ground, but it’s not very useful until you refine it,” Hooton says. “And same thing with a lot of these guys with a lot of talent. Talent doesn’t get people out. It certainly helps, but it needs to be refined and gotten under control so you can use it efficiently, and effectively, and consistently to get hitters out.”

Ross and Weickel say that learning process is expedited by having each other to learn from.

“It’s good because we all are learning at the same pace pretty much, making mistakes and learning from them, and watching each other,” says Ross, who was selected 25th overall in 2011. “I mean besides Fried, we’re all fairly tall righties that throw decently hard with breaking pitches, and change-ups, and things like that.”

“Through our first couple professional starts in the Arizona League, and even into our first spring training, just watching each other bounce back, whether it be from success or adversity — no matter what the occurrence may be — I think that’s a building block for all of us, not just an individual,” Weickel, drafted 55th overall in 2012, says.

It’s a building block for a bunch that’s bonding together. Without any overwhelming ego unhappy with a lack of individual limelight, Fried says there isn’t a feeling of competition as much as there is one of motivation.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Fried says. “Joe, Walker, Zach — they’re all amazing pitchers and to be able to be on the same team as them, and being able to just hang out with them off the field, ’cause they’re all great people, and they’re all great competitors. So for me to see them working hard every day, it just motivates me to get better with them.”

And as far as that off-field dynamic goes, despite Fried and Ross hailing from California, with Eflin and Weickel coming from Florida, their catcher Phillips sees similar traits uniting them together.

“I’d say Ross is more lax. Fried’s a Cali boy. Walker’s kind of a redneck from Florida. Eflin, he’s relaxed too. They’re all great guys,” the Texan says. “And they’re all good, hard workers. I look forward to spending the whole summer with them.”

So while the dream of pitching together in Padres uniforms looms large, Ross and the rest of the TinCaps’ first-round pitchers have another focus for as long as they’re here in Fort Wayne.

Says Ross: “Our main goal, obviously, is to make it to San Diego, but we have business to take care of this season, so hopefully we can win a championship this year.”

Reconsidering the Cold

Somehow, on Saturday evening at Parkview Field, it was colder than the night before when snow flurries pestered pitchers and batters alike. Somehow, though, Fort Wayne scored more runs and tallied more hits on Saturday night, as the TinCaps defeated the Lansing Lugnuts, 17-8.

The 17 runs scored for Fort Wayne were the most in a game for the franchise since June 24, 2003 at Beloit, and fell just one run short of the franchise record of 18. Meanwhile, the TinCaps 21 hits were their most since the 2011 Parkview Field season finale on September 2nd against South Bend, and also fell one shy of a Fort Wayne franchise best.

It was a pretty good night for the TinCaps at the plate, but reliever Ruben Mejia, who struck out no more than five batters in any single appearance last year with Fort Wayne struck out seven Lansing hitters yesterday. Not only that, he struck them all out consecutively.

Ruben Mejia left opposing hitters in the dark on Saturday. (SWIKAR PATEL - THE JOURNAL GAZETTE)

Ruben Mejia left opposing hitters in the dark on Saturday. (SWIKAR PATEL – THE JOURNAL GAZETTE)

“He was really feeling his slider today. I don’t care who was in the box, nobody was touching his slider. He had a great game and a great performance,” catcher Dane Phillips told me after the game.

Phillips had himself a day at the plate, going 4-for-6 and coming within a double of the cycle. It’s only happened once in Fort Wayne history, back on May 27, 1993 when then-Wizard Rene Lopez did it against Beloit.

“I’ve never gotten the cycle before. I’ve gotten close before. The last time I got close, I got a single instead of a double,” Phillips said in the clubhouse after the game. He did that again yesterday, by starting his day with a single, following up with a mammoth home run to right and then hitting a two-run triple to right. He grounded out in the seventh, and singled in the eighth.

After today’s game the TinCaps will head south to Bowling Green, Kentucky, where the high temperatures over the three-day stay are projected to be 72, 72 and 63. Sign me up, right? Not too fast.

“If the cold weather keeps bringing these hits,” Phillips said, “maybe I’ll want it to be cold. We’ll see.”


Hear Manager Jose Valentin’s postgame comments from Saturday’s win:


I encourage you to take a few minutes and familiarize yourself with the great story of Braves catcher Evan Gattis. He expected to begin the year at a level no higher than Double-A, yet now he’s in the majors.

“Gattis, who is from Forney, Tex., was a high school baseball star and expected to be drafted in 2004. He was not, and instead he signed with Texas A&M. That was when the serious self-examination started. The disappointment of not being drafted weighed on him, he said.

“I was afraid to fail,” said Gattis, who is 6 feet 4 inches and 235 pounds. “People would say I was a guy with a lot of talent, but a failure.”

Gattis also said he had some fear of failing a drug test. “That, too,” he said, “but I wouldn’t have been the first kid going to college to have smoked pot.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last February that Gattis entered a drug rehabilitation facility after finishing high school. (He declined to discuss that during an interview.) That fall he started at Seminole State Junior College in Oklahoma, but he injured his knee and left after a year and a half. His baseball career appeared over.

Gattis moved to Colorado and made pizzas and then worked as a ski lift operator. He moved back to Dallas and worked as a janitor with his brother, Chase. Then it was off to New Mexico and California and more odd jobs.

“Just living life,” he said.”

Here is the link to the full article from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/20/sports/baseball/braves-rookie-evan-gattis-went-from-janitor-to-clean-up-hitter.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0


The Head and the Heart…take it away:

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


Let It…Snow?

In addition to battling the Lansing Lugnuts Friday at Parkview Field, the TinCaps also had to handle the elements, as instead of rain, it was snow that made playing the game a bit difficult at times in a 7-3 series-opening win.

This...this is not normal April weather.

This…this is not normal April weather.

What had plagued Fort Wayne in their rain-shortened Tuesday-Wednesday series against South Bend was hitting with runners in scoring position. On Tuesday they went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and Wednesday brought a 2-for-10 mark–a cumulative 3-for-19 (.158). Friday’s game saw the TinCaps go 5-for-23 (.217), which is still under their season average of .223 with runners in scoring position.

While they still weren’t great in that category Friday, they picked up the hits when they needed them as part of a four-run sixth inning.

“It was a good job,” manager Jose Valentin said. “Got 15 more hits today, and most of them were in a clutch situation, which is good always. Today I think was something (where) the offense was on today and the bullpen did a great job.”

One of the biggest plate appearances in that sixth inning didn’t involve a base hit, but rather a walk. Before a two-out, two-run single by Gabriel Quintana, Dane Phillips drew a walk to load the bases. He told me after the game that it was difficult to not swing the bat, knowing how the team had fared with situations where runners were on base, and having dealt with one-run losses in each of the last two games. His patience reaped a great reward for Quintana, who finished the night 3-for-5.

Valentin noted the strong effort by the bullpen, which followed 4 2/3 innings from Joe Ross, who had his first non-immaculate start of the year. I hesitate to call it anything else, because considering the wind chill factor and the snow, it was not the best pitching weather. Ross finished having allowed three hits, two earned runs, four walks and picked up three strikeouts.

“Joe Ross, I don’t think he had his best stuff today,” Valentin said. “I don’t know if it was cold weather for him today, but the first two outings, he was attacking the hitters and getting ahead in the count. Today it was the other way.

“But even with him not having his best stuff, the way we were hitting today … Overall I think the biggest thing was Quintana with two outs. We get two runs and then after that we were able to split the game wide open.”


On a personal note, the only other game I can recall being involved in that involved that much snow was a May 9th, 2010 game when I worked for the Syracuse (N.Y.) Chiefs. It was at Alliance Bank Stadium (now NBT Bank Stadium) against the Gwinnett Braves…and it was postponed due to snow. For some reason, all I remember after being at the ballpark that day was going to the mall to buy a pair of new shoes. If postponements make me a spendthrift, keep me away from inclement weather.


Tonight’s game features two highly-rated pitchers: Max Fried for Fort Wayne and Roberto Osuna for Lansing. Fried is the #2 prospect in the Padres farm system according to Baseball Americawhile Osuna checks in at #6 in the Blue Jays farm system. IF you follow the TinCaps, you know that Fried was drafted seventh overall in the 2012 draft. Osuna, who hails from Los Mochis, Mexico, began his professional career at age 16 in the Mexican League. In 2011, his Mexical League team sold his rights to Toronto for $1.5 million.

We’ll talk to you tonight on XFINITY 81 and on TheFanFortWayne.com.


To hear Manager Jose Valentin’s full post-game comments, listen to the podcast below:


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


Walker Weickel: Home on the Range

“Home, home on the range,

Where the deer and the antelope play;

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word

And the skies are not cloudy all day.”

-“Home on the Range”

TinCaps starting pitcher Walker Weickel is a 19-year-old contradiction.

His interests perhaps paint him as reclusive– someone who gets swept away in literature and movies– but his reality is that he’s dependent on eight other players for his success.

“I’m kind of a dork,” he says. “I like Lord of the Rings.  I’ve read all of the Lord of the Rings books. I’m a big Star Wars guy, too.”

Weickel, who stands at imposing 6’5″ and 215 pounds, doesn’t come off as your stereotypical pocket protector-wearing, textbook-toting dweeb from Saved By The Bell. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. He dressed Thursday in a casual button-down shirt, and many days prefers a sturdy pair of leather boots. His handshake, well…his handshake makes one feel as though they’re shaking hands with Atlas. As the mythical man carried the world on his shoulders, a stranger’s hand proportionally interlocks meekly with Weickel’s prodigious grip.

“I’m pretty simple. I like reading a lot of historical documentary books whether it be wars, or I love reading books on the Navy SEALS, country western books. Louis L’Amour is one of my favorite authors,” Weickel says.

In those country western novels a recurring theme is survival, which intrigues the Orlando, Florida, native.

“I like the simplicity of  the country western lifestyle,” he says. “I’m a big fan of the outdoors and hunting, fishing, living off the land, supporting yourself and making sure you earn everything that you get.”

This is why Weickel, who was drafted 55th overall by the Padres out of Olympia (FL) High School, is somewhat incongruous. He enjoys quiet time–a clubhouse rarity–he says, along with deep thought and introspection.

“I love reading and taking solitude to not only relax but to understand myself better in everything I do,” he says.

On Twitter, he follows an account that tweets quotes from the author C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of books that delves deep into the world of fantasy and mystery. Yet when his turn in the rotation arrives every sixth day, he’s got to be ready to rupture his solitude and face the reality of the baseball diamond, spreading his trust and dividing it by eight.

“Pitching is probably the most selfless thing you can do. Pretty much the entire fate of your career relies on the guys behind you and the one guy that you’re throwing to. You’ve definitely got to learn to balance the two worlds,” Weickel says.

TinCaps pitcher Walker Weickel throws to a Silver Hawks batter during a minor league baseball game on Wednesday, April 17, 2013, at Coveleski Stadium in downtown South Bend.

TinCaps pitcher Walker Weickel throws to a Silver Hawks batter during a minor league baseball game on Wednesday, April 17, 2013, at Coveleski Stadium in downtown South Bend.

And he’s not afraid to fail. Raised by parents who encouraged him to run for class office in middle and high school, he’s been in the public eye before.

“I think it just kind of goes to say that my parents did a pretty decent job exposing me to different situations growing up, making me do public speaking and things that put me in front of crowds at early ages. They got me comfortable with my own composure and my own body in awkward situations and very tense situations. All of these learning experiences that have built up so far have transferred over to my pitching,” he says.

Despite his success on the baseball field, he says he never won a single school election.

“Nobody likes failure,” Weickel says. “But it’s inevitable. It’s just a part of life that you’re never going to be able to defeat. Being able to welcome failure and being able to understand it makes it that much easier to overcome. Knowing that, at some point you’re going to fail in the game, because it is a game of failure, it makes the successes that much sweeter and it makes the successes that much easier to work off of.”

It’s said a good hitter fails 70% of the time. A Hall of Fame hitter fails 60% of the time. But how much does a good pitcher falter, or even a Hall of Fame hurler? Weickel may discover that this year, as Joe Ross did in his first season in a TinCaps uniform in 2012. Weickel may not discover that this year, as Matt Wisler did in his first (and only) season in a TinCaps uniform in 2012.

Before his last start, he turned to cinema and music for a way to lose himself in the great Midwest.

“I watched Legends of the Fall before I went out there and played and listened to some pretty easy country music. It helps me relax and helps me think of nice places, almost like Happy Gilmore, going to my happy place. That’s what I find successful.”

Wherever the happy place may be for Weickel in the world of country westerns and country music, ultimately it’ll be he who has to play the gun-slinging hero on the baseball diamond.


Here was the view from my office on Thursday, as the TinCaps’ bus never even left Parkview Field. I cracked the window in the home radio booth, sat down with my computer, and listened to the sound of the rain bouncing off of the turf and the tarp. This, folks, is the best view in downtown Fort Wayne–hands down.

Rainy PVF

Because the TinCaps and Silver Hawks were rained out Thursday, they will make up the game as part of a doubleheader on May 23rd. The first of two, seven-inning games is scheduled to be played at 6:05 p.m. Gates will open at 5:05 p.m. All of the details can be found by clicking here.


To hear my full conversation with Walker Weickel, listen to the podcast below:


Here’s what’s happening at Parkview Field in this upcoming three-game series against the Lansing Lugnuts, Toronto’s Midwest League outfit:

Game and Broadcast Schedule
• Friday, April 19 – Fort Wayne TinCaps vs. Lansing Lugnuts, 7:05 P.M.
• Saturday, April 20 – Fort Wayne TinCaps vs. Lansing Lugnuts, 5:05 P.M.
• Sunday, April 21 – Fort Wayne TinCaps vs. Lansing Lugnuts, 3:05 P.M.

All games broadcast on The Fan 1380-AM (WKJG) and XFINITY Digital Cable Channel 81, with audio streamed online at TinCaps.com.

Supporting Boston Victims
• The TinCaps will make a donation to the American Red Cross for each fan who comes to Parkview Field this Friday through Sunday sporting attire from a charitable or competitive running race (shirt, sweatshirt, hat, bib, etc.)

For Your Entertainment
Friday, April 19 @ 7:05pm
• Wizard of Oz Theme Night
• Community Organization of the Game: Goodwill

Saturday, April 20 @ 5:05pm
• Beer Tasting in the Ortho NorthEast Treetops (Call for reservations to this event)
• Faith in Motion Dancers Pregame Performance in Amphitheatre
• Community Organization of the Game: The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Sunday, April 21 @ 3:05pm
• Apple Corps Kids Day Poster Giveaway
• Post-Game Autographs
• Community Organization of the Game: Garrison Group / Rescue Mission


Atlas Genius…take it away!

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


Throwback Thursday: LaTroy Hawkins

Editor’s Note: Welcome to another new series on “It’s All Relative.” We’re calling this one “Throwback Thursday.” Each week we’ll either catch up with a former Fort Wayne Wizard/TinCap, or we’ll delve into a chapter of Fort Wayne’s rich baseball history that dates back to 1862.  And sometimes, we may even include a photo from Instagram.

Who better to begin our “Throwback Thursday” series with than the man who had the greatest individual season as a pitcher in Fort Wayne franchise history?  Sure enough, he was on the very first Wizards team in 1993.  And he’s still kicking today in his 19th year in the majors as a reliever for the Mets. Without further ado, “Throwback Thursday” presents a conversation with Fort Wayne great LaTroy Hawkins

John Nolan: Before we reminisce about your time in Fort Wayne, you’re in Colorado right now with the Mets. What has this week been like out there in Denver where you’ve had a couple of games snowed out?

LaTroy Hawkins: This week has definitely been pretty taxing on both teams. But what can you do? Mother Nature decides whether we play or not, and she’s not giving us any good feedback right now. I think we got like 10 inches, they said, they removed from the field that dropped down Monday and they removed it on Tuesday so we could play that doubleheader. It’s been a tough road trip. But hey, it’s part of the game, and we just have to try and find another time to make it up later in the season.

JN: Being from Gary, Indiana, you’re familiar with snow of course, but in your 19 year career in the majors, have you ever experienced anything like this before?

LH: Not in the major leagues. I was thinking about it yesterday, it was funny because when we got to Fort Wayne in ‘93, the stadium wasn’t finished and there was a lot of snow on the ground. And we went on a 10-day road trip so I did see snow my first day in the Midwest League. We went west, I think, and there wasn’t as much snow but we had snow in Fort Wayne when we landed and took the bus to see the new stadium.

JN: Yeah, that was 1993 when you were in the Midwest League with the then-Wizards when you were a Twins prospect. Is that the first thing—the snow—when you hear Fort Wayne mentioned today? Or what else maybe pops up when you hear Fort Wayne?

LH: No, that’s not the first thing that comes up to my mind. I remember being privileged enough to make that team. I just thought of how excited I was, and how excited my family was gonna be, that I was gonna be able to pitch so close to home in my third year in professional baseball. So that was the first thing, I was excited family and friends would get a chance to travel over to Fort Wayne and see me play. The first two years I was in Fort Myers and Elizabethton, Tennessee—family didn’t get much of a chance to see me. So being in Fort Wayne was definitely a sigh of relief for me. And I knew every time we left Fort Wayne, except going to South Bend, we were going through Gary, Indiana, so I liked that part of it also.

Hawkins' Fort Wayne single-game record of 15 strikeouts came in a complete game shutout.

Hawkins’ Fort Wayne single-game record of 15 strikeouts came in a complete game shutout.

JN: In ’93 you won the Midwest League Triple Crown for pitchers with 15 wins, a 2.06 ERA, and 179 strikeouts. To this day actually, you hold the Fort Wayne records for strikeouts in a season, in a single game, most complete games, shutouts, and it was only in 2009 and last year when your marks for wins and ERA were topped. So I guess besides being close to home, you have to have some good memories from playing here in Fort Wayne, right?

LH: I do have some good memories. I do remember I didn’t start off so well. Andy MacPhail came down to watch me pitch. I came in in relief and threw a couple innings. After the game, (manager) Jim Dwyer, myself, and (Rick Tomlin) our pitching coach, he called us in his office and he told them to put me back in the rotation and not to bother me anymore. From that point on, I don’t know, it clicked. It clicked. I definitely made Andy MacPhail look good, and whenever I run into him, we always talk about that moment in the office and how it changed my career.

JN: You mentioned the manager that year, Jim Dwyer, and the pitching coach, Rick Tomlin. Matt Lawton was the only guy from that club who like yourself made a name for himself in the majors. Do you still keep in touch with any coaches from that staff or teammates like Matt?

LH: I haven’t talked to any of the coaches from that staff, but Matt Lawton, we’re still best friends to this day. His daughter’s a sophomore in college. She’s my goddaughter. I speak with his wife, his son Chaston. We’re still good friends.  They come to our house for holidays. My family goes there for holidays in the summer. So we’re definitely still close—very close.

JN:  The organization in Fort Wayne has transformed over the years. For one thing, affiliated now with the Padres instead of the Twins. The name’s changed to the TinCaps, playing in one of the finest facilities in minor league baseball in Parkview Field. But as you alluded to earlier, ’93, that was the first year, the return to professional, affiliated baseball in Fort Wayne. And I guess you didn’t even have a stadium to start with. What was that experience like of being with a fledgling organization?

LH: I think it was pretty exciting for us because we got there, the stadium wasn’t finish. We went on that long road trip and came back and it was like the stadium was built overnight for us. It was a great facility and right across the parking lot you had the hockey team and you had the Fort Wane Fury. It was just a great town. We had a lot of fun there. I think I still have a couple of buddies who were on that team who still live in Fort Wayne. I have another friend, Ben Jones, who’s a Fort Wayne Wizards alum, that met a great young lady. He’s married and still lives there with his wife and his three daughters. Fort Wayne is definitely a great place. A lot of players stayed there after their careers were over with. We just had a blast. I was around a bunch of great ballplayers. Ken Tirpack was on that team. He’s a scout now for the Indians. I’m still in contact with him. Anthony Byrd—he’s living in Atlanta. Still in contact with Anthony. Being there, lifelong friendships that were definitely made, it’ll always be one of the better times of my life.

On Instagram straight pitchin.

On Instagram straight pitchin.

JN: Can you recall if you had a favorite place in Fort Wayne to have a meal or spend one of your few off days?

LH: You know, I didn’t spend many off days in Fort Wayne. I always got in my car and drove home to Gary so it’s hard for me to remember. But my buddy’s wife, Tricia, works at the Cork ‘N Cleaver. That’s definitely a great place to eat. If you go there, ask for Tricia to be your waitress.

JN: Alright, I’ll put that on the to-do list.

LH: We lived over at Canterbury Greens. So back then in A-ball, our favorite restaurant was that McDonald’s there in that shopping area. Yes, that was our favorite spot. That was what we could afford. That, and Wendy’s.

JN: Sounds about right. I guess some things don’t change. And so LaTroy, how about one of the highlights from your time after playing in Fort Wayne: 2004, the Wizards commemorated you with a bobblehead. What’s it like being turned into a bobblehead?

LH: That was pretty cool. I wasn’t there to receive the bobblehead. But I have a fan club in Minneapolis, and I think about six or seven of the fan club members drove from Minneapolis to Fort Wayne and were present to receive the LaTroy Hawkins bobbleheads. And they actually got me one, which was pretty cool. I was pretty excited to have my own bobblehead.

JN: And do you still have that in your house now?

LH: Yes, my daughter has it in her room. We still have our Fort Wayne Wizards bobblehead of myself.

Nothing sells better on eBid than an item photographed on your carpet.

Nothing sells better on eBid than an item photographed on your carpet.

JN: Looking at your career beyond Fort Wayne. You’ve sustained pretty incredible success now in your 19th season, again, currently with the Mets. How have you been able to have such longevity in the majors?

LH: It’s nothing I had to do with. I think it’s all from God. He blessed me with a rubber right arm and definitely blessed me to stay away from injuries. And I think that was the key: I was always able to say healthy my first 16 years in the major leagues. I think that’s the key to my longevity. There are definitely a lot of aspects on the field like getting guys out and throwing strikes but I really can’t take credit for it. Man, I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go with injuries. I was blessed enough to not get injured til 2010. That’s almost 19 years after my career started.

JN: During your 20-plus-year career in baseball, how have you seen the game change?

LH: Everything has changed. When I first came up we didn’t have interleague. All of my career up until this year we’ve had 16 teams in one league and 14 in another. Now we have a balanced 15 and 15 with the Astros going over to the American League West. I’ve seen numerous new stadiums go up. I’ve been around when there wasn’t a wild card, then there was a wild card, and now there’s two wild cards. So the game’s definitely changed a lot. The players are different. They’re bigger, faster, stronger. Last year, every team I played in I saw a guy throw 100 miles an hour. That just completely blew my mind. Back in the late ‘90s, early 2000’s you would’ve never seen that. There were a couple guys, but not one on every team.

JN: What kind of advice do you have for current players in Fort Wayne or even young kids to try to replicate your success?

LH: I like to tell the kids who have a passion to play baseball that baseball doesn’t have a makeup of what you should look like. You can be tall, you can be skinny, you can be short, it doesn’t matter, you can be successful in baseball. You have to find your niche and work your butt off to hone your craft. I’ve always said baseball is my job, so I was gonna work on baseball 365 days a year, not just when baseball season was going on. I think kids have to understand that baseball is definitely not an easy sport. You have to practice. You have to practice. You have to work. Baseball is a true example of you get out what you put in. If you don’t put anything into it, you’re not going to get anything out of it.

JN: I guess you’re proof that those words can prove true. On another note in keeping with current events, I know on Twitter (@LaTroyHawkins32), you’ve been pretty outspoken in your support of the new movie recently released, 42. Why do you recommend it so strongly?

LH: I just went to see it again last night with some of my friends from high school who live out here in Denver. I went with him and his family. It’s just a remarkable story that doesn’t just resonate for African-Americans. It resonates for all nationalities. Because what he did, didn’t just change baseball, he changed the way our country looks at minorities. And for him to do that in the fashion he did, knowing he had the weight of not just African-Americans on his back, but a nation, to carry on the way he did and be so successful is truly incredible.

JN: And finally, LaTroy, any message for the fans of Fort Wayne?

LH: Continue to support your team like you always have in the past. I definitely have fond memories of Fort Wayne. I still have some friends who live there, like I said, Ben and Tricia Jones, and they have three girls. So I still have ties. I’ve been there a couple times. I get in and out of there, not often, but when I do come in to see my buddy’s family and my family comes and we’re in and out. But I’ve still got great memories.

Special thanks to LaTroy for taking some time out of his schedule with the Mets to join us. 

Let us know what you think of “Throwback Thursday” by tweeting @John_G_Nolan or sending an email to nolan@tincaps.com. Thanks for reading. 

Conduit ‘Cat’

I had a great conversation yesterday with a former major league pitcher. He has played alongside some of the greatest pitchers of the last generation: Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine. And he has been a pitching coach in the Red Sox organization, working with big leaguers like Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, and Justin Masterson. Now that former pitcher is helping young Padres prospects to refine their game.

Mike Cather is the minor league pitching coordinator for the San Diego Padres. As he enters his second season traveling around from Fort Wayne to Lake Elsinore, California, to San Antonio, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona, he has to familiarize himself with a bevy of faces and pitches and personalities and languages, all in order to try and help the farm system be as efficient as possible when it comes to pitching.

Cather, who goes simply by ‘Cat’, told me yesterday that his job comes down to one thing as the pitching coordinator:

“Coordinating,” he joked as we sat in the visitors dugout in South Bend.

More seriously, he said, “Making sure that the guys’ workloads are prepared, pitching coaches understand what we’re trying to work with each individual. I visit each of the affiliates, basically one per week, five or six days seeing all the starters and releivers, writing reports back to the front office. I put in suggestions on player movement if we have to fill a spot at another level. The majority of the time it’s just keeping everybody on track trying to maintain the organization’s philosophy and making sure that everybody stays healthy.”

He serves as the conduit, the relay, the pipeline–whichever phrase you’d like to use–between Director of Player Development Randy Smith and the front office, which eventually wants to see its minor leaguers turn in to major leaguers. One of the biggest jumps in the farm system from 2012 to 2013 came for Matt Stites, who dominated Midwest League hitters and was named Baseball America’s Low-A Reliever of the Year. Stites followed in the steps of 2011 TinCaps pitcher Keyvius Sampson, going from Low-A Fort Wayne to Double-A San Antonio.

“Going into the season I think he had 11 walks in 100 innings or something ridiculous. He put himself in that position,” Cather told me. “I think a good comparison between him and (Johnny) Barbato. Barb, obviously, is a little bit younger than him and we felt like a one-step progression is probably a little bit better for him. We’re probably going to stretch him out and see if starting potential is there at the second half of the season. With Stites, the way he’s throwing the ball and he has thrown the ball over his entire pro career, he’s put himself in a situation where he could be moving quickly towards his ultimate goal and we see him as a short, one to two inning guy at the major league level and he might not be far off.”

Cather also mentioned the progression that TinCaps starter Joe Ross has made from last year to this year. With Ross, though, it was more in regard to his demeanor and composure than his pitching (which was already very good, by the way).

“I think the first bullpen that Joe threw in the spring, everybody just looked at each other and said ,’Wow! That is different.’ I think that when these guys go home and get a chance to, I call it “marinate”, you know, marinate on all the information they received. Especially the young guys coming out of high school, having a full season or at least being involved in a full season of experience, these guys get a chance so sit back and take a look at what they’re doing and maybe an approach of how they go about (their work). Maybe it was his brother (Padres pitcher Tyson Ross) coming into the organization, but the maturity level jumped up three years. The way he carries himself has far exceeded anything I expected. You know, high school kids are a little bit different. This kid’s super intelligent, great baseball sense. I feel like he now has a foundation to really build from in the communication that happens between coaches and players. The avenue is wide open and that’s really the biggest thing we can hope for with these guys is that you have a lane to be able to have discussions and work through things. For me, it was him coming back with the maturity of somebody well beyond his years.”

The younger Ross has gotten off to a great start: 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 2H, 0R, 2BB, 12K. He was also named the first Pitcher of the Week in the Midwest League for 2013. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

I, too, noticed what Cather mentioned about Ross’ level of maturity. If I were to meet him today, having no idea who he was, I wouldn’t be able to tell you he’s 19. I would guess somewhere in his 20’s. And that’s not just Ross in this clubhouse either. It’s a very mature group. You have four starting pitchers who are 19 years old, but you wouldn’t guess it from talking to them. That’s something that speaks well to the quality of person the Padres are drafting, let alone that those four teenagers (Ross, Weickel, Fried and Eflin) were all taken within the first 55 picks of the draft.

Cather has the difficult task of tailoring his message in unique ways to players throughout the organization, and in multiple languages, too. To hear him talk about his teaching mechanisms and getting help from translators, take a listen to today’s podcast below.


Hear my full conversation with Padres Minor League Pitching Coordinator Mike Cather:


In the second installment of what will be a multi-part series here on the blog, I will review food items from around the ballparks of the Midwest League. The first was West Michigan’s “Baco”, a taco with a bacon shell. Since I have no credentials for food reviewing (I can ruin grilled chicken on a George Foreman grill. Let’s be serious, folks), all reviews are arbitrary and come without set categories.

Today, I take a look at the “Silver Hawk” burger from South Bend’s Coveleski Stadium. The team has put in a new burger stand behind home plate. As my hunger grew yesterday prior to the 1:05 first pitch, I decided to go all in on a burger.

My first item of note here is with the photo that’s displayed on the menu board.

Never, ever put lettuce on the bottom.

Never, ever put lettuce on the bottom.

I don’t understand people who do the whole “lettuce and tomato on the bottom” thing for burgers or sandwiches. Here is how a sandwich or burger should be constructed, from top to bottom:

Bread/Bun (with or without condiment)




Meat (Cold Cuts or Burger)


That’s it. There is no other way to do it.

Since the advertised picture never tells the true story of what your food will look like, here’s what it comes out as:


This did look pretty good. Here was my major concern, though–the guy that made the burger did it all with his hands. His bare hands. I would’ve preferred that he wear gloves, considering the bacon went from the frying pan, to his hands and then onto the burger. But, I had already paid my $7.50, so I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to eat it.

The flavor was good, although I didn’t taste much in the way of onion straws. The burger was a little hot, but rather too hot than too cold, so I can’t take points away for that.

Overall, I’ll give the burger a 7.5 on the flavor scale, but subtract two points for the guy not wearing gloves while he made it.

Silver Hawk Burger: 5.5/10.


Flux Pavilion…take it away!

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


Walk-Up Wednesday: Stephen Carmon Edition

Editor’s Note: Welcome to a new weekly feature here on “It’s All Relative” that we’re calling “Walk-Up Wednesday.” In the spirit of fun — and alliteration — we’re catching up with TinCaps players to find out what music they’ve selected to be played at Parkview Field when they come to bat or come in to pitch. Hope you enjoy!  

Hi everyone, and thanks for joining us for the inaugural edition of “Walk-Up Wednesday.” In the coming weeks, we’ll profile the wide-ranging musical selections of the 2013 TinCaps — from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Daddy Yankee and everything in between (and clearly there’s a lot in between classic rock and reggaetón).

Fittingly, our first victim guest is the man who wears uniform number 1 for the TinCaps: shortstop Stephen Carmon.

Before we speak now with the 23-year old (not 15 or 22-year old) from Camden, South Carolina, we present — without comment — Stephen’s walk-up song…

John Nolan: Hey Stephen, thanks for being the first to join us on Walk-Up Wednesday. Now our foremost question is, why “I Knew You Were Trouble”?

Stephen Carmon: Last year I had “Call Me Maybe” and the crowd really liked it. Everyone sang it when I came up to bat.  So I just tried to get another song like that to get the crowd into it when I come up to bat. It’s not a bad song. It’s kind of up-beat. It gets me pumped. I was searching for something that the crowd could get into.  It sort of starts off without a beat and then it comes into a beat so that’s why I chose it.

JN: Does this song hold any personal significance to you, like maybe relate to your life at all or a particular love story?

SC: No, not really. I’m a country fan. I like country music. And who doesn’t like Taylor Swift?

All these guys like Taylor Swift. Or did.

JN: I think the answer to that question is only the same people who also dislike the sun, Christmas, and bacon. Mean people. But I digress. Most of your teammates have walk-up songs that are either hip-hop or rock. So your use of Taylor seems like it could make eyes open and put a red target on your back. What have they said to you about going with an artist who’s main fanbase is, well, teenage girls?

SC: Everybody likes it. And if they say they don’t, they secretly do like it. Everybody pretty much likes it.

JN: Truer words may never have been spoken. Your sentiment is the same as mine. But will your use of Taylor’s song as your walk-up music last longer than her relationship with Harry Styles? Or do you plan to change it anytime soon? (Sidenote: Complete Taylor Swift’s Boyfriend Timeline here via Billboard.)

SC: I’ll keep it the whole year. I’m not too superstitious about the walk-up song. It’s more about hitting than the music up there. That’s why, like I said, it’s more for the crowd than it is for me.

JN: Hold on a moment, Stephen. It looks like we’re about to be interrupted…


JN: Thanks for that, Kanye. We’ll get to Corey another week… Sorry Stephen, any final words for the fans of Parkview Field on “I Knew You Were Trouble”?

SC: Feel free to sing it when I come up to bat.

JN: Stephen, we appreciate your fearless approach to walk-up music. Thanks for your time.

For the next six days, “Walk-Up Wednesday” and you are never getting back together. But hopefully we’ll be getting back together next Wednesday. Here’s to”Walk-Up Wednesday” not going the Los del Río route and becoming a one-hit wonder.

What walk-up music would you use if you were a TinCap? Or what are your thoughts on Taylor Swift? On second thought, only answer the first question. Let us know on Twitter @MikeCouzens and @John_G_Nolan or by email at couzens@tincaps.com and nolan@tincaps.com.

Now, we sign off and leave you with the unofficial “I Knew You Were Trouble” remix…

Counting His Blessings

Good Morning (or whenever you’re reading this, I just happen to be writing it in the morning) from South Bend’s Coveleski Stadium, and the visiting radio booth that used to be the home radio booth that used to be the groundskeeper’s office. Or something like that. There have been a lot of renovations here lately. More on the renovations in the visiting clubhouse in a moment. But first, a serious note.

This is the last I hope to write about the events of the Boston Marathon in this space, but I wanted to share with you something that I learned yesterday in my chat with TinCaps infielder Maxx Tissenbaum. Our conversation taught me, as other instances have through my life, that this world is a smaller place than we know.

Maxx, who enjoyed a day off with the team on Monday, has a younger sister named Molly, who is a freshman at Harvard. Like Maxx, Molly is an athlete. She competes on Harvard’s women’s hockey team. And so on Monday afternoon, Maxx told me, Molly decided to go check out the happenings of the day in Boston.

“Her and a bunch of her hockey teammates went to the marathon. They got separated on the subways right before it happened  and they ended up right by the finish line,” Max told me during our chat in the visitor’s dugout in South Bend. “If it wasn’t for two of them saying, ‘You know what, we should probably go back and try and meet people,’ they would’ve stayed there and been right where it happened.  (Monday) night was a little uneasy for me with everything still being so fresh, but I’m glad the decision they made obviously, and you come out today and it’s great to play ball, but you’ve got to  definitely keep the people in mind that have lost people and have had all those injuries.”

There are few feelings in life where one feels more helpless than in a situation where nothing can be done to help. You’re hundreds of miles away, but feel like the distance is light years. According to Maxx, Molly almost ended up playing hockey at Syracuse University. She also had the option to play softball at his alma mater, Stony Brook University. If she goes to either of those schools, Maxx never has that surge of panic on Monday.

“She had texted me (earlier that day) saying that her and a bunch of her friends were going to the marathon. Then I heard about (the explosions) and was scrolling through my phone, and I immediately sent her a text saying, “Are you OK? Are you there or are you somewhere else along the road?” She got back to me really quickly which was nice and reassuring to know that she wasn’t right there,” Maxx said.

Like baseball players are always one injury away from their career being altered, we’re all only one moment away from our lives being changed. Enjoy what you’ve got while you’ve got it.


Here is my full conversation with Maxx Tissenbaum:


During this past off-season, the South Bend Silver Hawks decided to take a page out of the Hayden Fry book of locker room decorating and turn their visiting locker room pink. Fry, a former football coach at the University of Iowa, implemented the locker room decor in an attempt to play mind games with opposing teams. Fry once wrote, “When I talk to an opposing coach before a game and he mentions the pink walls, I know I’ve got him. I can’t recall a coach who has stirred up a fuss about the color and then beat us.”

Here’s what Silver Hawks President Joe Hart told Ben’s Biz Blog:

“The idea came from our owner, Andrew Berlin,” Hart went on to write. “[It]  just came from wanting to be a little different and give people something fun to talk about. I know the University of Iowa did it years ago to the visiting locker room for football and we had just never heard of it being done for baseball.”

Well, here it is, folks:


Pink 3Pink 2Pink 1

Yes, even the ticket list on the tackboard is pink.

Walking into the clubhouse with the players yesterday, none of them seemed to be all to fazed by it. It got more of a curiously-raised eyebrow look than anything else from most guys.

Hope you’ll join me and Mike Maahs for the radio broadcast today. We’ll be on the air at 12:45, with first pitch at 1:05. I’ll chat pre-game with Padres pitching coordinator Mike Cather. You can listen at TheFanFortWayne.com.


Audioslave…take it away!

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


Reflection, Sounding Off, Robinson in the Summit City

Yesterday, quite obviously, was different than any day we’ve all had in quite some time. We woke up, showered, made coffee, went to work, caught up on emails and days were relatively normal until 2:50 p.m. At that point, in Boston, Massachusetts, bombs went off, killing three people and injuring many more at the Boston Marathon. Since then, it’s been almost all I’ve been able to think about.

Why did it happen?

Who did it?

How will this change things going forward?

Those are the big picture questions that everyone will deal with.

For me, though, I also had the question of where my job fits in with all of this. Primarily, I’m here to bring you information about the TinCaps. I also look to entertain those people who stop in and listen to the games, because that’s what sports are–a form of entertainment to get away from the rest of the things that we deal with on a daily basis. But at what point do sports lose even that meaning? At what point do they become insignificant in comparison to what’s happening in the rest of the world? In Boston, the scheduled game between the Celtics and Pacers for tonight has been cancelled, which is an NBA first. The Boston Bruins also cancelled their scheduled game against the Ottawa Senators. It would have been ignorant to have those games go on as planned.

Sports have different meanings for different people. I love them because I grew up playing them and am still entertained each day as I go into the “office”. For others, sporting events after tragedies are said to be cathartic. The home run Mike Piazza hit at Shea Stadium in 2001 is said to be one of those moments:

While sporting events might provide a temporary moment of relief after a tragic event, I think we might give them too much weight as to their “healing effects”. In the grand scheme of things, what does a baseball game really mean? Will a home run by a Hall of Fame catcher really turn the emotional tide of a city? No. While games might provide three hours of ‘normalcy’, they can’t turn back the clock.

There is nothing that can change what happened on September 11, 2001 , in Manhattan or on April 15, 2013, in Boston. No lives can be replaced. No memories erased. Sometimes tragic events take place and there is no antidote. We want to look for ways to heal, but sometimes there is no answer. I feel like that was the case yesterday for me.

I have no personal ties to anyone injured or affected by the explosions that took place in Boston, but as an individual deeply struck by the images I saw yesterday, I thought about the significance of sports. They can be a great distraction and provide great entertainment, but let’s never let them become all-consuming. How silly do we feel arguing about balls and strikes or a close call at first base, when parents have to deal with the loss of their eight-year-old child?

But if sports, or baseball in particular are your getaway, please don’t let that change. Like a good book or a piece of poetry, sports mean different things to different people.

So today when I come on the air, I will do my best to entertain you and to bring you the stories of the TinCaps and Silver Hawks. I won’t let my emotions across on the air, but know that I will call the game with yesterday’s events in the back of my mind, my heart a bit heavier than it was the day before.


With another baseball season underway, we also venture into year two of Sound Off With The TinCaps, the weekly show bringing you behind the scenes with the team. It’s hosted by 21 Alive Sports Director Tommy Schoegler and Kent Hormann, my broadcast partner for TinCaps TV games at Parkview Field. Below you’ll find a link to the entire first episode which features:

-An in-studio interview with Manager Jose Valentin

-A profile of outfielder Corey Adamson

-The “Bat Boy Breakdown” where six-year-old Preston asks the TinCaps some hard-hitting questions

-And an interview with TinCaps VP of Marketing, Michael Limmer

Here’s the link:



As much as I would like to say that this is the only TinCaps blog you should read, I would be lying if I told you that. The TinCaps’ own Maxx Tissenbaum is chronicling his season in blog form too, over at Maxx54Padres.wordpress.com. In his latest entry, he writes about the excitement of Opening Day at Parkview Field, the difficulties of grocery shopping for four professional athletes, and about the frustration of not coming through in a bases-loaded situation:

“We were one swing from a HUGE comeback win, one that could really put us on a roll.  “Now batting, second baseman, Maxx Tissenbaum,” the announcer boomed over the stadium speakers as I walked to the plate, not hoping to win the game, expecting to.  I dug in, as my walk up song played and I was ready. I knew the kid on the mound didn’t have great feel for his secondary stuff, and that I’d get a fastball to hit.  He fell behind 3-1 and I knew it was time to turn the game around.  The 3-1 pitch was a fat fastball, probably one that I should have hit into the gap or if I got it up in the wind maybe out, to win the damn game.  Instead I rolled it over to the second baseman to end the game.  Talk about a crushing blow to the confidence. That at bat hurt, I knew I blew our teams opportunity to win, and I knew that I SHOULD have done something with that pitch, especially in that kind of hitters count.  I sat in the dugout staring at the ground trying to find an answer to why I suddenly couldn’t hit when I was ahead in the count. “

Good stuff from Maxx, and I look forward to more of his posts throughout the season.


Did you know Jackie Robinson visited Fort Wayne on three separate occasions? With yesterday being Jackie Robinson day across Major League Baseball, John Nolan put together a solid post on Robinson’s visits to the Summit City. Give it a read here: http://tincaps.mlblogs.com/2013/04/15/fort-waynes-jackie-robinson-connection/


John Lennon…take it away.

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


Fort Wayne’s Jackie Robinson Connection

In case you aren’t aware, today is Jackie Robinson Day. And no, it’s not just because the major motion picture, 42, was released to theaters Friday and topped the weekend box office as it brought in about $27.3 million.

Every year since 2004, Major League Baseball has celebrated Jackie Robinson Day on April, 15 to commemorate the anniversary of when Robinson broke the league’s color barrier in 1947. As part of the celebration on this day, every player in the majors wears uniform number 42 instead of his regular number (except for the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, who is the final remaining player wearing 42 after Major League Baseball retired the number in 1997).

Robinson, who made the jump from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League in 1945 to Triple-A’s Montreal Royals in 1946 to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, never played in Fort Wayne. But, did you know that Robinson visited the Summit City on at least three occasions?

Credit: Chad Grambling’s great book from 2007, “Baseball in Fort Wayne.”

Imagine what it must have been like to be a high school kid and have a national hero walk past your locker as you make your way to algebra class? And keep in mind, at this point in 1955, Robinson was still a Dodger. He retired after the 1956 season.

Robinson’s visit to Central Catholic in 1955 wasn’t his last trip to the Summit City, though.

Credit: News-Sentinel Photo by courtesy of Wildcat Baseball.

Credit: News-Sentinel Photo by courtesy of Wildcat Baseball.

Here’s a photo from 1962 of Robinson with former Dodger Carl Erskine, Dale McMillen aka “Mr. Mac,” longtime Indian and Hall of Famer Bob Feller, and Red Sox great and Hall of Famer Ted Williams. They’re sitting on a bench at Fort Wayne’s McMillen Park on Progress Day for the Wildcat Baseball League, which McMillen founded.  It was Robinson’s second time visiting Fort Wayne for the Wildcat Baseball League’s Progress Day, according to The Journal Gazette.

You can watch video of Robinson speaking to the crowd of kids at McMillen Park, thanks to the News-Sentinel. Below is a transcript of what the famed number 42 said:

“Thank you very much, Mr. Mac. First of all, let me say how much I enjoy coming out here. I have a very important picnic that we have to get to tomorrow in New York, but upon hearing about this particular program, I felt that it would be to my advantage to come out and participate. I know that anything that Carl Erskine would be associated with would have to be a very fine thing.

But I just want to say to all of you youngsters that I think you’re very fortunate to have a man who’s as interested in you as Mr. McMillen is. I can’t think of anything that could be more important than teaching you the values of people being interested in you and in your welfare.  And I certainly want to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. McMillen and above all,  congratulate you fellas, for your determination. As we watch you on the ball field, we recognize that perhaps you didn’t have the best ability as ballplayers, but I think you have something that’s a lot more than just being a ballplayer. Your determination and your desire to succeed is very, very important.

You have the start, the rest is up to you, and I hope Mr. McMillen has the strength and energy and the complete desire to see this wonderful opportunity completely through. Because as I said earlier, you are our future leaders and the kind of encouragement we give you today is going to be very important later on in life. So good luck to you, and continued success as a member of the Wildcat League.”  


In sticking with the Jackie Robinson theme here, Woodrow Buddy Johnson and Count Basie… take it away!

Fort Wayne’s connection with Jackie Robinson is another small piece of the city’s rich baseball history. Were you or anyone you know lucky enough to meet Jackie at Central Catholic or McMillen Park? If so, we’d love to hear the story.  Likewise, if you saw 42 and have a review,  feel free to share. You can reach me at nolan@tincaps.com or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan.