May 2013

From Construction to Curveballs: Morgan Burkhart Handles It All

In Richmond, Indiana, a town of about 35,000 people, you’ll find people who remember Morgan Burkhart. From 1995-1998, he took the Richmond Roosters, and the Frontier League by storm. In four seasons of independent baseball, he was a four-time All-Star selection, a triple-crown winner, and a three-time most valuable player. Today, the league’s MVP award is named after him.

“That’s nice that they would do that,” he says. He’s really not enthused when talking about the honor.  That’s not because he doesn’t care, though. That’s just Morgan Burkhart for you—relaxed and ready for anything.

——————–

In 1994, Burkhart, now the hitting coach for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, was wrapping up his time in college. He’d bounced around a few times, starting at Crowder Junior College in Neosho, Missouri, spending a year at Southwest Texas State in San Marcos, Texas, and finishing at the University of Central Missouri, in Warrensburg, Missouri.

Despite a professional career that awaited him, although he didn’t know it at the time, immediately after graduation there was no more baseball to be played.

“I didn’t have any offers. I was average,” says Burkhart, who makes his home in O’Fallon, Missouri.

To many, that was likely the shared opinion. During his playing days, Burkhart measured 5’11” and weighed 225 pounds. The ideal size for a construction worker, but not for a corner outfielder who says, without hesitation, “I wasn’t bad. I just couldn’t run.”

So it was construction that Morgan Burkhart, the future Red Sox and Royals player, took up as his first job out of college. “I remember working that construction job and thinking that was it,” Burkhart says, recalling the summer of 1994 when he worked 40-hour weeks in sweltering heat. Fortunately for him, that didn’t last long.

The first job in baseball for Burkhart, who prefers fishing on a quiet lake when he has the chance, came through a connection.

“I came back to coach at Central Missouri,” he says, “and the other assistant coach they had brought in was from Indiana, and he knew a guy starting up an independent team. Back then no one hardly knew about independent ball. They were kind of explaining it to me.”

And that’s how he ended up in Richmond, the star of a team that has since relocated to Traverse City, Michigan, with many of his records intact.

——————–

When trying to remember how old he was in the spring of 1999, his first year in the minor leagues playing for the Red Sox farm team in the Class-A Florida State League, Burkhart says, “Too old to be in that league.” He was 27.

He finished the ’99 season with Double-A Trenton of the Eastern League, and got the call to the big leagues in 2000 while playing with the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, where his manager was current San Diego Padres roving minor league infield instructor Gary Jones. When Boston’s Trot Nixon went on the disabled list, Morgan Burkhart made his major league debut.

On June 27, 2000, six years after thinking he had no future as a pro ballplayer, Burkhart singled in his first-ever Major League at-bat, hitting the Mike Mussina-pitched ball to right field.

“I wasn’t too bad,” Burkhart said of his MLB debut. “It just happened so fast. That’s why it was cool (Red Sox Manager) Jimy Williams put me in the lineup that night. I didn’t have much time to think about it.” Had he been provided much time to think, he would’ve had to process that he was hitting fifth, one spot behind Boston baseball legend Nomar Garciaparra

“The first game up in Boston I’m DH’ing and and we ran out of players on the bench. So (in the 10th inning) I was on the bases and I come in and Jimy goes, ‘Hey, you’ve got to go to left field.’ And I’m like, ‘What?!’ This is in a tie ballgame in the big leagues. I went out there and they hit a bunch of rockets. They were all either in the gap, down the line or off the wall.”

Burkhart says he wasn’t often recognized in Boston, unless he went out to eat near the park, which seems to be the way he likes it. Low-key. He also played for the Red Sox in 2001, while splitting time with the Triple-A team in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Below, courtesy of the website Diamond Mines, is what scout Leo Labossiere, wrote about Burkhart after watching him play in Triple-A in 2001.

"His best tool is his bat. Has some power, and can hit doeble (sic) digit HR's...Def makes all the routine plays. Nothing fancy."

“His best tool is his bat. Has some power, and can hit doeble (sic) digit HR’s…Def makes all the routine plays. Nothing fancy.”

Burkhart also had a short stint with the Royals in 2003, capping his MLB service time at 42 games.

——————–

For a guy who seems most comfortable in a t-shirt and shorts throwing front-toss to hitters at Parkview Field, Burkhart spent a lot of time in uniform, racking up more than 900 games between independent baseball and the minor leagues. He also played in Mexico and Japan.

“If you go to a convenience store, and this sounds crazy,” Burkhart says of the difficulties of living in Japan, “when you go pick up toothpaste, it could be sour cream or toothpaste and you wouldn’t have the slightest idea what the difference is. It sounds like you’ll be able to figure it out, but how? There are no words or letters, it’s all symbols.”

He still longs for the fresh-cooked seafood of the western coast of Mexico, where he spent his winters while the team in Richmond was out of season. He doesn’t miss the soup he once tried in Japan, which featured a live, baby octopus.

“That’s like a really good dish over there. They’ll stick to your mouth and you’re supposed to chew them up and swallow them. I tried it, but didn’t eat much of it.”

Click here to listen to Morgan Burkhart talk about his favorite foods from around the world

Burkhart thought he would have to call it quits as a player after the 2005 season, knowing that with a broken hand that hadn’t fully healed, and his body only getting older, it was time to head back to Missouri.

——————–

“I went home and I was deer hunting every day. I was up in the woods, no phone service or anything,” Burkhart says. “I went into town to get something to eat, and I was pumping gas, and my phone rings it was a team from Mexico for winter ball.   It was about a month into the season, and they were like, ‘Hey do you wanna play?’ I really didn’t have anything else to do but I wasn’t ready to play, but I said, ‘Yeah, why not?’ I went down there for the winter and played one more winter. I wasn’t very good, but I was lucky I did.”

The hitting coach for that team in Mexico was Mike Bush who was, at the time, the manager of the independent Calgary Vipers of the Northern League. Bush invited Burkhart to be his hitting coach, a position he accepted and held for the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Burkhart became the manager in 2009, and held that through 2011, when the team folded. Last year, Burkhart managed the independent Windy City ThunderBolts of the Frontier League.

One of the quirks of baseball, unlike any other sport, is that the coaching staffs don’t wear formal clothes. They wear what the players wear. But this was an interview, after all.

“I did throw on some slacks and a dress shirt,” Burkhart says with a grin, “But it didn’t matter because I walked in and I changed and they gave me all Padres stuff.”

About a month after his late-fall interview, the Padres offered Burkhart, the veteran of octopus soup, of construction in the summer heat, and of navigating left field at Fenway, a chance to get back into affiliated baseball, nearly ten years after his last game in the major leagues.

——————–

Morgan Burkhart’s day revolves around The Board. He bought it, hammered it to the wall, and writes in dry-erase marker the schedule for the day on the white rectangle. It’s visible to anyone who comes into the TinCaps’ clubhouse, hanging at eye level on the right-hand side in the entryway.

“Early Work, Hitters 2:00,” The Board reads some days. After all, this is developmental baseball. And who better to understand that and teach 18 and 19 year-olds than someone who didn’t think he’d make it, but beat his own prediction, reaching the apex of the game of baseball?

More often than not after a win during the 2013 season, if asked about his success at the plate, a TinCaps hitter will tell you it’s because of the work he’s been doing with Morgan Burkhart. One time, though, a player who was hitting well above .300, in a post-game interview, called him Morgan Burkman. Kangaroo Court does need its fodder, and after all, this is developmental baseball.

Burkhart likes to listen to hard rock, but prefers taking a quiet approach as a hitting coach.

“Ino Guerrero was my first hitting coach in the (Red Sox) organization. I learned a lot from him because he didn’t say a whole lot. You know you’re looking for these guys to get on you all the time, but he’d watch you over and over and then he’d be able to find out when something went a little different.”

——————–

When Burkhart was back home in the winter of 2006, hunting in the suburbs of St. Louis, he didn’t know what his next move would be. It was time to relax after having played baseball for a living the last 13 years. But there’s always got to be something that’s next.

“Every day I think about that” Burkhart says. “There were times when I was playing where I was like, ‘What else am I gonna do?’ You know, you get down on yourself. When I was coming up all those years in the minor leagues before I played winter ball, I was substitute teaching. I was getting a job every day like a regular teacher. You can go in there and do P.E. one day, math the next. You’re not making anything in the minor leagues. You come home for a month at a time, three weeks of those you’re subbing, trying to make a living.”

Little did he know at the time, as he tried to scrape together day-to-day teaching gigs, that his time as Mr. Burkhart would serve him well. He’s still a teacher, he just doesn’t have to wear slacks and a button-down shirt. It’s a good thing he was an attentive student, too, with his old hitting coaches.

“You remember what things they said and how they went about dealing with the hitters every day. That’s the biggest thing to me is getting the kids to be enthusiastic about hitting.”

——————–

Now in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Saltillo, Mexico, and Fukuoka, Japan, and Boston and Kansas City, you’ll find people who remember Morgan Burkhart –the guy who got his chance because he never stopped hitting.

“I was trying to help the team win and hoping to survive,” Burkhart says of his time with the Red Sox and Royals.

Now he’s trying to give that survival instinct—hunt or be hunted—to players in Fort Wayne.

###

Starting Early

When baseball teams play an 11 AM game, each person in the clubhouse has their favorite part about that day. For some people, it’s getting onto the field earlier than they usually do. For others, it’s when the game is over.

Today it turned out the TinCaps fell into the latter camp, as they lost, 4-2, to South Bend in the opener of a four-game series.

Fresh off an off-day, the TinCaps bats were sluggish, as they went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left 11 runners on base. By the ti the third inning was over, the TinCaps had already stranded six runners on base. It just wouldn’t be their day, as they didn’t get production from their big spots like leadoff (Mallex Smith, 0-4) or cleanup (Dane Phillips, 0-5).

This series and the next are vital to Fort Wayne’s playoff hopes here in the first half, as the TinCaps trail both South Bend and Bowling Green, who they play this weekend, in the Eastern Division standings. After today’s loss, Fort Wayne trails the Silver Hawks by 1.5 games, and it’s to be determined as to how far behind theyll be in regard to Bowling Green, which has a doubleheader against last-place Great Lakes later today.

A few notable numbers today for the TinCaps:

-Maxx Tissenbaum drove in both of the team’s runs, and hit his first home run of the year. It was the first homer for Tissenbaum since July 28, 2012, when he was with the Eugene Emeralds.

-Fort Wayne hadn’t lost a game with Max Fried on the hill, but is now 6-1 in his seven starts. Fried had not allowed a home run in his first six starts, but allowed two today.

-The TinCaps are now 0-3 against South Bend this season, after going 9-13 against the Silver Hawks last year.

Tomorrow’s double-header is a big matchup for the TinCaps, in a make-up of a game that was rained-out April 18th at South Bend. First pitch is at 6:05. Hope to have you along on XFINITY 81 and The Fan 1380.

PODCAST

To hear John Nolan’s chat with one of the newest members of the TinCaps bullpen, Matt Chabot, listen to the podcast below:

MUSICAL GUEST

Stone Temple Pilots…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.

MCsig

A Chance to Split

After dropping two straight games to the Lake County Captains, the TinCaps return to Classic Park tonight at 6:30 to wrap up a four-game series. Yesterday’s ballgame indicated a closer game than it really was, as the TinCaps trailed 7-2 heading into the top of the ninth inning, and scored three runs off reliever Felix Sterling, whose ERA actually dropped (10.29 to 10.20) by giving up just one run.

The start to Sunday’s game couldn’t have been much worse for the TinCaps as Lake County did everything it usually doesn’t do particularly well: hit, hit for power, and steal. It’s as if the Captains became 60% of a five-tool player in a four-inning span.

Walker Weickel gave up two home runs, a three-run shot and a two-run blast, and the Captains went a perfect seven-for-seven against Weickel and catcher Dane Phillips. Protecting against the stolen base has long been a weakness of the TinCaps, but yesterday highlighted just how tough a time the catchers have had at catching base stealers.

TinCaps’ catchers Dane Phillips and Rodney Daal rank as the worst tandem in the Midwest League. Combined, the duo has thrown out 13 of 74 base stealers (.149). Beloit is next worst at .212,  while Bowling Green is best at .467 and the league median is .261. Individually, Daal has thrown out nine of 38 (.237), while Phillips has caught four of 49 (.082).

Tonight Joe Ross makes the start for Fort Wayne. The team has performed very well when he’s started–they’re 6-1 in Ross’ games and they average five runs per night when he’s on the mound. Hopefully the TinCaps can earn a split here with the Captains. Fortunately, while the last two nights have brought defeat, the teams ahead of the TinCaps, Bowling Green and South Bend, have not been exceptionally hot. As Bowling Green lost Saturday and won yesterday, and South Bend has dropped four in a row.

The TinCaps have an off day tomorrow, which they’ll use to spend out on the golf course, as Manager Jose Valentin has organized a fun, optional get-together for the team to hit the links together. I imagine that’s where a lot of the players would have been anyway, so it’s nice that they’ll get to build some camaraderie through friendly competition.

John Nolan is with me again tonight as we bring you pre-game coverage of the TinCaps and Captains at 6:10. Our guest tonight will be reliever Matthew Chabot. You can tune in on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com. I hope you’ll join us.

A SWING FOR THE AGES

This is a story from a few weeks ago, but it’s a great one with a nice multimedia component to it. Adam Kilgore, the beat writer who covers the Nationals for The Washington Post, put together an in-depth look at why Bryce Harper’s swing is so good, and how it compares to some great hitters of eras past.

With his father, taking batting practice at local fields or in the garage, Harper programmed himself to hit off-speed pitches and pitches on the outer edge to the opposite field. He was only 7 or 8, but the idea stuck in his head. He did not focus on mechanics to achieve his goal; the proper mechanics arose from his mission, like learning a language through immersion.

Harper blazed past his peers, and then past kids a few years older. When the Nationals signed Harper he was, at 17 years old, a fully matured hitter. The first place they sent him was the Florida Instructional League, where Schu oversaw newly professional hitters.

“Working with Bryce,” Schu said, “was making sure he had bats and pine tar.”

Check it out. You’ll enjoy it.

PODCAST

To hear John Nolan’s Sunday chat with TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin, in which they discuss the team’s success of late, and the club’s upcoming golf outing, listen to the podcast below:

MUSICAL GUEST

Bob Seger…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.

MCsig

Ejection, Conflagration, Misidentification!

It was yet another one-run game for the TinCaps on Saturday night at Classic Park, but this time Fort Wayne was on the losing end of the final score, falling 3-2 to the Captains, and missing out on a chance to go to a season-best 10 games above .500.

Jose Valentin was subject to a rare post-game ejection, after arguing two straight close calls at second base that were decisive in the top of the ninth inning. With Fort Wayne trailing by one, Corey Adamson tried to steal second base, and was called out by base umpire Ryan Starkovich, on a play where Captains second baseman Claudio Bautista had to reach behind him to tag Adamson, and it didn’t look like the tag was made in time. Starkovich called Adamson out. Valentin immediately sprinted over to the base to argue, having to fend off Adamson’s rebukes of the umpire.

Two batters later, Gabriel Quintana drilled a line drive to right-center field, earning a single. He tried to stretch it into a double, but was gunned down by center fielder Logan Vick, once again a close call at second. Valentin had more words for Starkovich, who issued a post-game ejection to Valentin as the two walked down the right field line, exchanging barbs.

Hopefully today, a beautifully sunny afternoon with no clouds here in Eastlake, will offer better fortunes for the TinCaps, and starting pitcher Walker Weickel. He looks for his first win of the season in seven tries. He’s getting used to starting on the road, as this marks his sixth start away from Parkview Field.

I’ll have the call with John Nolan, starting at 1:10 with our pre-game show. John will chat with Jose Valentin about the team’s recent six-game winning streak, and the team’s upcoming golf outing this Tuesday on their off day.

In the meantime, here’s yesterday’s chat with Matthew Shepherd:

JOSE WHO?

The coverage of Midwest League teams varies from city to city. In Fort Wayne, we have a beat reporter from The Journal Gazette, and all three local television stations cover the team on a nightly basis. Here at Lake County, just northeast of Cleveland, it’s a bit harder to get on TV, and understandably so with the Indians, Browns and Cavs to steal the spotlight. So maybe it’s easy to lose some of the minor leaguers in the mix, especially the ones who travel in from out of town. That includes the managers of the opposing teams, even if they’re former big leaguers. Here’s a segment from the game story in The News-Herald:

“TinCaps batter Corey Adamson opened the top of the ninth by coaxing a walk off Lake County reliever Louis Head. Adamson stayed at first base when Jeremy Baltz filed out to shallow left field.

With one out and Gabriel Quintana at the plate, Adamson set sail for second base on an attempted steal. Captains catcher Eric Haase made a strong throw to second baseman Claudio Bautista, who tagged Adamson sliding into the bag.

The bang-bang play went Lake County’s way when base umpire Jason Starkovich called out Adamson.

Fort Wayne manager Fernando Vina made a beeline to the center of the diamond to argue the call, to no avail.”

Fernando Vina?!?

Here is Fernando Vina:

Not Jose Valentin

Not Jose Valentin

Here is Jose Valentin:

Not Fernando Vina. Definitely Jose Valentin.

Not Fernando Vina. Definitely Jose Valentin.

Fernando Vina’s Managerial Career- 1, The fourth estate – 0.

LIFE ON THE ROAD

Last night as the TinCaps bus pulled away from Classic Park in Eastlake, we saw some flashing lights in the distance and heard sirens on our way to the highway. As we got closer to those flashing lights, we saw a lot more light. That’s because there was a giant fire raging in the adjacent town of Willoughby:

Photo courtesy of Twitter user @nhmjoeright

Photo courtesy of Twitter user @nhmjoeright

According to newspaper reports, no one was hurt in the fire, which took place at a vacant industrial site. You just never know what you’ll see in the Midwest League.

MUSICAL GUEST

Since this song was the first I heard over the stadium public address system this morning (10:48 AM)…

R Kelly, 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.

MCsig

One-Run Wins

After a 7-6 loss Thursday, Fort Wayne once again found itself in a one-run game Friday in the series opener at Lake County. Zach Eflin had allowed Lake County to snatch a 2-0 lead in the first inning, but the TinCaps came back to tie the game at the end of three innings.

In the seventh, Stephen Carmon put the TinCaps in front, 4-2, with a two-run triple down the right field line, driving in just his seventh and eighth runs of the season. He’s been one of the hottest hitters on the team as of late, going 11-32 (.344) in his last 10 games, despite hitting out of the ninth spot in the order.

But it wasn’t going to be that easy, because Captains catcher Jeremy Lucas drove home shortstop Dorssys Paulino in the bottom of the eighth, slicing Fort Wayne’s lead to just a run. That was the third and final inning of work for TinCaps reliever Matt Shepherd, who provided a much-needed lift to a bullpen that had seen four different pitchers used the night before. Chris Nunn finished off the game in the ninth, picking up his third save of the year.

Fort Wayne is now 9-5 on one-run games, which is just the sixth-best mark in the league, but it’s still better than they were last year (18-24) in those situations. As Jose Valentin said after Thursday’s one-run loss to the Hot Rods, the TinCaps can’t afford to not win close games, especially when they’ve held a lead. 

“It’s hard to see that happen, especially at home when we’re playing good. I guess we kind of took it easy, and we can’t afford to do that with a team like Bowling Green.”

Nor can they afford to do it with a team like Lake County, against which they’ve won four of five games this season. The Captains don’t hit well (.231-15th out of 16 teams, 12 HR – T-15th) and don’t run well (27 SB – 15th), nor do they pitch particularly well (4.31 ERA – 13th). The TinCaps seem to have an edge just about everywhere against the Captains right now, and hopefully the final results show that.

Tonight we’re on the air at 6:10 with pre-game coverage from Classic Park, and John Nolan will chat with Matthew Shepherd. First pitch is at 6:30 on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com, and we hope you’ll join us.

PODCAST

Listen to John Nolan chat with TinCaps reliever Michael Kelly prior to yesterday’s game. Kelly just re-joined the team on May 14, having been a member of the 2012 TinCaps Opening Day roster before being sent to extended spring training in May last year.

LIFE ON THE ROAD

Here at the Captains’ Classic Park, one of the smaller venues in the league with the foul poles measuring just 320 feet down both lines, there is a wall in right field dedicated for former Lake County players who have seen big league time. One of those is shown below:

My name is Jerad!

My name is Jerad!

While it’s a nice tribute to Mr. Head, it’s also incorrect, as his name is spelled J-e-r-a-d, and not Jared, although it is pronounced like Jared. Consider this my protest to his plaque in right field.

While in the lobby of our hotel this morning, I snagged a copy of the local newspaper, The News-Herald, which featured this piece on the front page:

IMG_20130518_130109_901

This, again, was on the FRONT PAGE. Was the a dearth of things to talk about in the area?

Here are recent headlines from The Onion, the internet’s satirical newspaper, which rival this one above:

-Call From Daycare Can’t Be Good

-Nation Supposes It’s Outraged by White House Scandals

-Woman Sets Google Alert For Kevin Costner

I’m convinced the real headline fits in equally well with all of those.

Lastly, when I went to get lunch today, here’s what I saw in line in front of me at the sandwich shop:

lbj tee

Yup, they still love LeBron in Cleveland.

MUSICAL GUEST

Foo Fighters…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.

MCsig

Rebounding in Ohio

After one of the toughest losses of the season last night, the TinCaps open a four-game series tonight at 6:30 at Lake County. This is a great series for the TinCaps to pick things up on the road, taking on a Lake County team that has just 13 wins, which is the fewest in the Midwest League.

Classic Park - Eastlake, Ohio

Classic Park – Eastlake, Ohio

Last night the TinCaps led 6-0 after three innings, and held that lead through the sixth. Justin Hancock dealt in his six innings on the mound, allowing only three hits, no walks and striking out three. Unfortunately, the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, giving up four runs in the seventh and three in the eighth. The largest blown lead of the year prior to last night had been just three.

Hancock has gone 21 straight innings without giving up a walk, and lowered his ERA to 1.35 with his good night. As with all good things, unfortunately, Roman Madrid’s streak without giving up an earned run came to a close last night, as he had gone 18 straight frames without giving one up.

Tonight Zach Eflin looks for his second straight road win, as the TinCaps go against Luis DeJesus, who they beat back in April 11th in Fort Wayne.

Pre-game coverage starts at 6:10 and first pitch is scheduled for 6:30 on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com. I’ll be with John Nolan for all of the action, and I hope you’ll join us.

A FUNNY STORY

For the first time in my Minor League Baseball career, I was late for the bus this morning. I woke up at 5:00 (our bus was scheduled to leave at 8:00), promptly fell back asleep and woke up at 7:41. I had yet to: brush my teeth, eat anything, shower, or pack for our four-day trip out to Ohio. I also live 20 minutes away from the park. This was a problem. I threw on some clothes, threw some more into my suitcase, and arrived at Parkview Field, a bus full of 30 people waiting for me around, 8:07. Next time, I plan on using an airhorn and hiring the AFLAC duck to wake myself up. Advance apologies to my neighbors.

Speaking of being late for things, here’s another funny story about not being on time for things:

A FLIP AND A HOMER

In yesterday’s college baseball game between LSU and Ole Miss, check out this finish to an inside-the-park home run:

MUSICAL GUEST

Dean Martin (a native of Ohio)…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.

MCsig

Fried Finds Success With Changeup

Max Fried led the TinCaps to a 3-0 win yesterday, marking just the second time that first-place Bowling Green has been held scoreless this season. For his second straight outing, Fried said that he felt his changeup was working really well.

Max Fried throws a changeup (look at his fingers). Photo courtesy of Chad Ryan - The Journal Gazette

Max Fried throws a changeup (look at his fingers). Photo courtesy of Chad Ryan – The Journal Gazette

The lefthander threw six innings, scattering just four hits, one walk and four strikeouts. He says his teammate, Joe Ross, is the one who has indirectly helped him develop:

“I do Joe’s chart before every one of my starts and he really emphasizes throwing the fastball, commanding it early and throwing the changeup off that. Later in the game, after you’ve seen them once or twice, you break out the curveball…I’ve taken things from him, picking things from different pitchers on the team, to really add to my game,” Fried said.

Fried added that he didn’t throw his curve until the fourth inning, which helped him to keep the Bowling Green lineup out of sync.

Tonight Fort Wayne can jump into a tie for first place with a win over Bowling Green. Game time is 7:05, with coverage on XFINITY 81, The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com.

PODCAST

Hear TinCaps pitcher Max Fried talk about how his rising comfort level has contributed to his recent success:

MONEY TO THE DISABLED LIST

Here’s a great nugget, courtesy of Len Berman, a former New York City television sports anchor, who sends out a daily sports newsletter:

“Speaking of big money on the sidelines, check out the newest calculator courtesy of the New York Times. Now you can find out how much your favorite baseball team is paying guys who are laid up. Of course the runaway leader is the New York Yankees at $85.6 million. But in last place, the San Francisco Giants. A paltry $1-million. The fascinating part, both the Yankees and Giants are in first place!”

untitled

MUSICAL GUEST

John Mayer…take it away!

MCsig

Communication Breakdown

COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN

The TinCaps’ six-game winning streak came to an end Tuesday night, as they lost, 3-2, to the first-place Bowling Green Hot Rods at Parkview Field.

Joe Ross had what in any other game against any other team would be a pretty good start–6IP, 5H, 3ER, 2BB, 7K–but this wasn’t any team. Bowling Green is a pesky group that finds way s to get on base and is able to manufacture runs unlike any other team in the Eastern Division. They steal bases seemingly at will (81% of the time they’re successful) and don’t hit many home runs, but they get timely hits.

One of the biggest plays of the game, although it didn’t necessarily seem like it at the time, was a wild pitch that he threw with Tyler Goeddel at the plate in the third inning. Joey Rickard had led off the inning with a single up the middle, and the wild pitch allowed him to go to second base.

Jose Valentin said after the game that it appeared Ross had mistaken a pick-off signal from the dugout for a pitch-out signal, which led to the wild pitch. As it turned out, Goeddel followed with a single to left, and the next batter, Luke Maile, singled to right, scoring Rickard. With a final score of 3-2, that turned out to be the game’s deciding run. Ross finished the inning smoothly after that, striking out Justin O’Conner and inducing a double play off the bat of Tommy Coyle. That miscommunication, however, ended up being costly, as did Fort Wayne’s lack of timely hitting.

“Today the clutch hit never came,”  Valentin said after his team went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

The eighth and ninth innings were especially crucial for Fort Wayne. They had the bases loaded and nobody out with Gabriel Quintana at the plate, where a base hit could have tied the game, with the TinCaps trailing, 3-1. Quintana instead grounded into a double play, bringing home a run, but killing any chance at a big rally. With the tying run on third, Luis Tejada meekly popped out to second, ending the inning. Alberth Martinez came up in the ninth inning with the tying run at second base, but struck out to end the game.

Today it’s a battle of first-rounders on the hill as the TinCaps and Hot Rods square off at 11:05. Max Fried, who went 5 2/3 innings last start without giving up a hit, faces Blake Snell of Bowling Green. Snell, who was a supplemental first-round pick of the Rays in 2011, has allowed a first-inning run in five of six starts this season.  In the first inning, Snell has surrendered eight total runs.  In every other inning outside the first, Snell has surrendered four total runs. (That stat courtesy of the Bowling Green Media Relations Department, also known as the one and only Hank Fuerst.)

Hank Fuerst is not impressed.

Hank Fuerst is not impressed.

From the other side of the tracks, the TinCaps are a perfect 5-0 with Fried on the mound. Who will be the victor?

"For it will be I, Victor Hugo!"

“For it will be I, Victor Hugo!”

We meant of this baseball game, Mr. Hugo, but thanks for the offer.

You’ll have to tune in (or show up) to find out. Join me and Kent Hormann on XFINITY 81 at 11:00 or check out John Nolan and Mike Maahs on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com at 10:45.

TROLLEY TO THE GAME

The TinCaps are offering a new service today, where you can park for free and ride to the game on a trolley. It’ll be just like you’re on an episode of Full House! I know what you’re saying, “Cut. It. Out.”

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But we’re for real. Here are the details of how you can park and ride for free:

Those attending the Fort Wayne TinCaps 11:05am day game on Wednesday, May 15th will have an additional parking option. The team announced that they will be providing free parking located at 2400 West Jefferson Boulevard, adjacent to SweetCars and Westwood Lanes. Once game attendees have parked, they will be transported to Parkview Field by trolley directly to the South Gate of the ballpark.

The lot at 2400 West Jefferson Boulevard will be open for service at 10:00am with trolleys running every 15 minutes. Drop off will take place directly in front of the South Gate at Parkview Field. Trolleys will continue running until 45 minutes after the final out of Wednesday’s TinCaps game.

PODCAST

To hear post-game thoughts from TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin, listen to the podcast below:

MUSICAL GUEST

Justin Timberlake…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.

MCsig

First Place on the Line

Last night featured the type of game that good teams win, or that bad teams lose–it all depends on whose side you take. Facing Dayton in the finale of a three-game series, the TinCaps were down 2-0 after five innings, having been befuddled at the plate all night long by Dragons starter Robert Stephenson. He was dominant, striking out seven batters and not issuing a single walk for his second straight start. Stephenson, a first-round pick in 2011, allowed just one unearned run.

And then either a) the bullpen came in or b) the bats came to life. The Dragons brought in Wandy Peralta, a pitcher who was 0-3 and had an ERA of 5.14. He left the evening with a record of 0-4 and an ERA of 6.14, after giving up four runs (three earned) in just an inning of work. Peralta, it is safe to say, is not the best pitcher in the Dayton bullpen. The Dragons pitching staff has also been the worst in the league ERA-wise, with a staff mark of 4.80. Fort Wayne checks in at 3.67, which is fifth.

Peralta gave up a two-run homer to Brian Adams in the sixth, and two more runs were charged to his tab in the seventh, after he left with runners on base. Even though the TinCaps trailed, 4-1, yesterday, they still made a valiant comeback effort to win the game, 5-4.

They won their sixth consecutive game, and they are still just one game behind first-place South Bend and Bowling Green heading into tonight’s home game with the Hot Rods.

Bowling Green took two out of three from the TinCaps when they squared off last month in Kentucky, and two of the games were blowouts (Bowling Green won 10-5 and 12-6) before the TinCaps eked out a 3-2 win in the series finale. The Hot Rods have the best staff ERA in the league at 2.69 (second place is Burlington at 3.44), and they also have the second-most wins in the league (23). This will be a big series for the TinCaps who can go into first place with a series win, or fall further back if they dont.

PODCAST

In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, I chat with catcher Rodney Daal about his quintlingualism (made that word up, but he speaks five languages) and how Spongebob was one of the first shows he watched from the U.S. when growing up in The Netherlands:

MUSICAL GUEST

Mike Stud…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.

MCsig

Catchers as Catalysts

It’s the final day of the TinCaps’ quick three-day stint here in Dayton, Ohio, and Fort Wayne plays today for a sixth straight win. The TinCaps swept the Great Lakes Loons at Parkview Field last week, and now are looking for a three-game sweep here against the Dragons. Despire their less than stellar 12-23 record, the Dragons have not been swept in a three-game series yet this season.

Some notes for today’s game:

-Fort Wayne’s five-game winning streak is its longest of the season. A six-game winning streak would mark the first one since July 16-22, 2012, which was the team’s longest streak of the year last year.

-Over the first two games of this series, the Fort Wayne catchers have been the catalysts for the offense. Saturday Dane Phillips went 3-for-5 with a home run, and yesterday Rodney Daal went 4-for-4 with two home runs and four runs batted in.

-TinCaps starting pitchers have gone at least five innings in every game (10) this month. The starters’ ERA is 2.51 during that stretch, when the team has gone 10-3.

-Walker Weickel looks for his first Midwest League victory, and just the second win of his professional career tonight. The pitching matchup features two first-round draft selections, in Weickel (#55, 2012) and Dayton’s Robert Stephenson (#27, 2011). Stepehnson, who is from Martinez, California, was taken two sports behind Fort Wayne’s Joe Ross. The Dragons righthander is coming off the best outing of his pro career, having dominated Lansing on Wednesday, throwing six innings, allowing three hits, no runs, no walks, and striking out nine.

Air time is 6:40 on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com. I hope you’ll join me.

LIFE ON THE ROAD

I had lunch today at Jimmie’s Ladder 11, a restaurant near the University of Dayton. It’s built in what was once a firehouse, constructed in 1896. When the firehouse was built, the fire department relied on horses to take them to the location of the fire.

Here’s a cool little piece from the restaurant. This is a railing, that was behind where I was seated, and it’s got Monopoly “Chance” and “Community Chest” pieces in it, surrounded by dominoes. The support for the railing, according to the information listed on the back of the menu, is made from the old radiators that were in the firehouse, and the original brass fire pole in the fire house.

monopoly

FROM THE DUGOUT

TinCaps middle-infielder Maxx Tissenbaum blogs throughout the season, and today put up a new post, writing about the team’s current winning streak. He also included a great anecdote about his first-ever trip here to Fifth Third Field in Dayton:

“Let me flash back to June of 2008.  I was a high school Junior, and had just been selected o play on Team Canada during its spring Dominican Summer League trip. I was beginning to receive letters from both college and pro teams requesting more information on both my playing, and my academic careers.  When I found out I’d be away from home for 10 days I knew I’d be missing out on the excitement of checking the mail to see who wanted me to fill out what forms.  I told my parents that I wanted them to call me every time someone sent me baseball related mail, and told them to open it and read it to me.  I came home from one of our games against the DSL teams and had my daily phone call with my mom and she joked “okay it’s time to commit mail fraud,” a running joke over the course of the week. What she read next floored me.  I had been a relatively obscure player in terms of the prospect rankings, and so I was totally off guard when she told me that the New York Yankees had sent me a huge package.  She read to me that they wanted me to go to a workout in Dayton, where I’d be evaluated by scouting directors, cross-checkers and other pro scouts from across MLB.  I freaked out, I wrote it in my calendar, and put in on my computer I made sure there were reminders everywhere.  When I came home I made sure to rearrange the exam I had scheduled for the morning of the workout.  My parents and I traveled to Dayton, and I walked through the home plate gate of 5th 3rd Field where I met the scout who had invited me.  He handed me a Yankees batting practice jersey and cap, and told me to head to the 3rd base dugout.  I sat there putting on my spikes with about 50 other high school kids in either Yankees, Reds, Diamondbacks or Tigers uniforms.  We were all wide eyed, and I’d assume more nervous than any of us let on.  The workout was a blast, I got to work with all sorts of pro scouts and coaches, got to play with and against some of the top players in my graduating class and to top it all off  I was in a GORGEOUS minor league stadium.  Let’s just say it was one of my best baseball memories.”

PODCAST

To hear my Sunday Conversation with TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin in which we discuss his durable six-man rotation, his dilemma at catcher, and how important his wife, Ilka, is to his family, listen below:

It was Mother’s Day yesterday, and when you do a little Googling, you’ll find this great MLB.com photo from 2005, where Jose discusses how important his wife is:

ohcBHU8F

WISLER ON THE MOVE

Padres farmhand Matt Wisler, who was with the TinCaps last season, spending almost the entire season as a 19-year-old, was promoted to Double-A San Antonio this season after just six starts with Advanced-A Lake Elsinore. That is not a normal rate of progression. In fact, it’s much faster than normal. Corey Brock of MLB.com has a great story on Wisler today, and his rise through the farm system:

“He’s pretty calm out there, but he’s got that bulldog inside of him,” Hedges said. “He’s not the guy who is going to have these crazy antics or start pumping his fists. He just goes out there expecting himself to get every hitter out. When something doesn’t work, he digs even deeper and still finds a way.”

Better still, Wisler doesn’t claim to have all the answers about pitching. He’s been a sponge with his pitching coaches along the way. His coach in Fort Wayne last season, Willie Blair, now bullpen coach for the Padres, helped Wisler sharpen his slider.

“From last year to this year, my confidence is so much better,” Wisler said. “I know I’m going to get guys out. I trust myself more. I feel better from the stretch. I’m learning how to pitch to guys more. I learned a lot last year about facing guys, seeing what they can hit, what they can’t hit.”

MUSICAL GUEST

No Doubt…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.

MCsig

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