May 2013

Throwback Thursday: Recalling the Only Overall No. 1 Pick to Play for Fort Wayne

Here’s a Friday version of Throwback Thursday. So if you’re really into alliteration, feel free to call it Flashback Friday…

With the NFL Draft dominating the headlines of the sports world the last week, it got us thinking about top draft picks who’ve played in Fort Wayne.  (By the way, the 2013 MLB Draft is just around the corner June 6-8. The Padres have pick No. 13.)

Of course, this year’s TinCaps team has four first-round or supplemental first-round picks on it in pitchers Joe Ross, Max Fried, Zach Eflin, and Walker Weickel. In case you missed it, here’s our feature on them. But who was the last No. 1 overall pick to play for Fort Wayne?

The last was also the first — the only one — in the franchise’s 21-year history: Matt Bush.

The Padres selected Matt Bush with the first pick of the 2004 MLB Draft.

A San Diego native drafted by his hometown team No. 1 overall? If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it was.

In December 2012, Bush, at the age of 27, was sentenced to four years and three months in prison for a drunken-driving hit-and-run crash.

Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan chronicled the long, maddening fall for former No. 1 Matt Bush last March. It’s a sad, but well-told story.

We won’t delved into Bush’s full saga here, but we turned to our veteran broadcast partner Mike Maahs for his memories of Bush as a player from his limited time in Fort Wayne. After spending the rookie year of his professional baseball career in the Arizona League and Eugene, Bush arrived to Fort Wayne for the first time in 2005. In 126 games, Bush hit .221 with 2 HR and 32 RBI.

Bush was back in 2006 for 21 games when he hit .268 with 0 HR and 7 RBI. He returned again in 2007. This time, however, Bush had been converted to pitcher. Sadly though, in the first inning of his Fort Wayne pitching debut, Bush snapped the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. That was the last time Bush wore a Fort Wayne uniform.

Here’s what Mike remembers of Bush’s years in the Summit City:

“He had a howitzer for an arm. But it became apparent very quickly that it was going to be all arm and no bat. The thing that stood out is the fact that he was bombarded in the first half of the season in 2005. Everyone wanted to talk to him. He basically had no time to himself.

He may not have played for the Wizards in 2006, but on the last day of Spring Training, he was with Lake Elsinore, going for a foul popup and somehow he smacked his ankle against the base of the wall and broke his ankle. That’s why he came back to Fort Wayne in the second half of the season.

It was the best slider I had ever seen, in Burlington, IA, Community Field — second game of a double-header. It was the eighth pitch he had thrown in the at-bat. The pitch itself was just crazy. As he released the ball he quickly threw down his glove before the ball even reached the batter and clutched his right arm at the elbow and walked at a 90-degree angle toward the first-base dugout.”

Bush certainly isn’t the first No. 1 pick in baseball to ever fall short of expectations, but hopefully future prospects can learn from the mistakes he made away from the game.

Blustery Baseball in Burlington

Tied at five headed into the ninth inning Wednesday evening in Burlington, the TinCaps and Bees looked like they might be headed for extra innings.  It had been a long day for both teams, with the TinCaps having a 6 a.m. EDT bus to Burlington, about a seven-hour trip, and the Bees having driven through the night after a win against the Dayton Dragons in Ohio, about a seven-hour ride, too. Burlington elected to not even take batting practice on the field yesterday, executing what’s known in baseball as the “show and go”–meaning you show up to the field in time to get dressed, get treatment, stretch and play ball.

Jeremy Baltz, pinch-hitting for Mallex Smith, led off the ninth with a pop-out to right field, which brought up Alberth Martinez. But before getting to Alberth’s at bat–first, a note about the weather. At first pitch last night, the temperature was 80 degrees, the skies were a beautiful light coral blue, and there was hardly a breeze to speak of. In the seventh inning, a wind, which came out of nowhere, started fiercely blowing from left to right across the diamond, and it would drastically alter the game.

When Martinez came to the plate in the ninth, he hit a high pop-up toward shallow left field. Wendell Soto, Burlington’s shortstop, went out to try and make a play on it. I didn’t watch Soto as he went to try and catch it, but rather I kept my eye on the ball. Isn’t that what we’re taught to do in Little League, anyway? This ball, which started hovering above shallow left, was carried back toward the infield by the wind, and Martinez jogged into second with a Mother Nature-aided double.

Maxx Tissenbaum came up next, and his at-bat was the turning point of the game. He hit a slow roller to third, which got under the glove of Michael Bolaski, the third baseman. That only happened, though, because as Bolaski tried to look Martinez back to second, that’s exactly when he should’ve been looking at his glove? Lack of sleep? Difficult bounce? Who knows, but the TinCaps will take it. The ball was backed up by Soto, who then threw wide of third and Martinez came in to score the game’s winning run.

By the way, Martinez also homered in the fourth inning, giving him a jack in three straight games. Stay hot, Alberth.

Today’s game is at 12:30 EDT, with our pre-game show at 12:10 on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com. Hope you’ll disobey your company policy and listen to the radio at a more than reasonable volume during hours other than 9 to 11.

COMMUNITY FIELD

Here are some photos of Community Field, the home of the Burlington Bees. It’s not quite Parkview Field, huh?

Game action, as seen from the radio booth.

Game action, as seen from the radio booth.

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The view from the top step of the TinCaps dugout.

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The bench inside the TinCaps dugout.

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Sitting on the bench, looking out at the field.

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Standing behind home plate, looking back at the stands and the press box.

MIKE MAAHS

Long-time TinCaps radio broadcaster Mike Maahs had the call for Alberth Martinez’s grand slam Tuesday, and he was a guest on Fort Wayne’s Morning News on WOWO Radio to talk about his call Wednesday morning. You can listen at the link below:

http://khavens.podomatic.com/entry/2013-05-01T07_17_52-07_00

PODCAST

To hear my pre-game chat with Maxx Tissenbaum from Wednesday, listen to the podcast below:

MUSICAL GUEST

The Fray…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

John Hussey: Third Time’s a Charm

Imagine working through your youth to get to your dream job. Now imagine quitting that dream job. That’s what John Hussey did.

Why did he quit? That’s simple. He didn’t enjoy it anymore.

The thing is, he quit doing something that 99% of the world’s population will never do: play a professional sport. And that’s how he ended up on the restricted list. More on that later.

In contractual terms, Hussey didn’t report to fulfill the duties of his job as a professional baseball player. But within, the job of a professional baseball player didn’t fulfill him.

—————–

In order to enter the world of pro baseball, Hussey had to make a choice at age 17. Go to play baseball on scholarship at the University of Hawaii, which the Australian native had never visited, or sign with the San Diego Padres after being scouted by, among others, Randy Smith, who is now Vice President Player Development/International Scouting for San Diego.

“(The Padres) saw me pitch a few times at various national championships, underage championships, and a few times at world championships when I was younger and I pitched well at the right time and got a chance to come (to the United States) which was a dream come true for me at the time,” Hussey said.

He’d visited Japan, China, Taiwan, Palau and Guam, but had never been to the U.S.  “It wasn’t too much of an adjustment,” he said. “You guys speak English, we speak English.”

In 2005, when Hussey was 18, he played in his first professional game as a member of the Padres Arizona League team. It was in 2007 when he made his debut with the Fort Wayne Wizards, and he was the losing pitcher in his first five starts.

How does he remember that year?

“Not too good at all in Fort Wayne,” Hussey said. “I had just come off a good year in Arizona. Being so young, I started having control issues. I started trying to throw strikes, rather than just leaning back and throwing the ball. I didn’t deal too well with the failure that came with it. I got hit all right, but my biggest killer was walks. I just walked a lot of people. I got then demoted down to Eugene and my control issues were still there.”

John Hussey first played for the Fort Wayne Wizards in 2007. (Brad Hand)

John Hussey first played for the Fort Wayne Wizards in 2007. (Brad Hand)

He had Tommy John surgery in 2008, which kept him off the field for the entire season. It wasn’t until 2010 when he returned to Fort Wayne. New arm, new team, new stadium. But after 12 games, the passion that he first had as a 17-year-old wasn’t there anymore.

“I wasn’t enjoying baseball at the time. I fell out of love with the game. I really wanted to go to school, as well. I felt like I had nothing to fall back on after baseball. I know not everyone’s like that, but that was playing in the back of my mind a lot. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do after baseball. It was a bit of a task for me to come to the ballpark every day. When you’re like that, it‘s not good for yourself, your teammates, or the organization. As soon as those doubts start running in your head, you’ve got no shot.”

 “I had played baseball or been professional since I was 17. I had never really had a job,” Hussey said. “I didn’t realize what a real job was like and how lucky baseballers are to come out here and do it every day. Even days when you’re grinding and you think ‘Oh, this ain’t great being at the ballpark’, as baseball can get sometimes because it’s such a long season, you have to stop and think that this is pretty fun compared to most jobs out there.”

Hussey exercised a luxury that so many will never get—the opportunity to walk away. When dimples turn to wrinkles and college classrooms turn to boardrooms, bills accumulate, there are mouths to feed and mortgages to pay. A job is a necessity. That wasn’t the case for 23-year-old John Hussey, who decided he was going back to college to study exercise science.

This came as a surprise to the Padres, especially to Smith, who had helped bring Hussey into the organization.

“We were a little disappointed when Huss left,” Smith said. “When he went home, the game wasn’t right for him at that particular time. He was a guy that we liked.”

Other than the occasional beer league baseball game, Hussey says he didn’t think much about the sport for two years. He gained an appreciation for the strength and conditioning coaches who had worked with him during his time in Peoria, Arizona, and Eugene, Oregon, and Fort Wayne. But as the doubts regarding his success had crept into his head at age 23, further doubts about his decision entered his mind at age 25.

“I was thinking ‘Did you make the right decision?’ I would’ve hated for that to be in the back of my mind 20-30 years down the track. I didn’t think about it too much until I started playing again at a competitive level and having some success and then I thought, ‘Did I make the right decision?’”

Perhaps struck by the words of Henry David Thoreau, who said, “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way,” Hussey got back in the game.

Photo by Brad Hand

Photo by Brad Hand

In the winter of 2012 he played with the Melbourne Aces of the Australian Baseball League, finding that he enjoyed pitching once again. The fire had returned. Hussey drew interest from scouts, but they soon realized they couldn’t sign him.

“One guy who scouts down there told me, ‘Hey, you know San Diego still has you on a restricted list. We can’t do anything about it.’ It was two-and-a-half years later, so it was a little weird that I was still on the restricted list,” Hussey said.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, the restricted list is, “A compendium of players who are out of organized baseball but are not free agents. A team can request that a player be placed on the restricted list if that player has left the team without a valid reason, or has announced his intention to retire but is still of an age or level of skill that could allow him to return to professional baseball in the future.”

Strangely enough, out of all the questions Hussey asked himself, the ones that reverberated around his head, he never asked San Diego why it hadn’t just let him loose.

“I have absolutely no idea…It’s strange that they did. I’m happy they did,” Hussey said. “I really wouldn’t have wanted to play for anyone else. San Diego (has) been so good to me throughout my career. I’m extremely happy that I do have the chance to come back and play for that organization.”

Smith said restricted list decision was simple–the team kept Hussey there in the hope that he would at some point return to baseball.

“We wanted to make sure that if he ever decided to give it another go, that we would be the team he would do it with.”

Now the decision was Hussey’s—jump back into baseball, knowing that it might not work out, or live with that regret—the one that could be there 20 or 30 years later—living in the back of his mind.

“I just called up a guy within San Diego,” Hussey said, “asked about my restricted status, and they said, ‘Well, you wouldn’t be calling if you weren’t interested in coming back. Are you interested in coming back?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m keen.’ They said, ‘Do you want to come to spring training?’ I said, ‘I’ll have to chat with my folks and have a chat with them.’ And they said, ‘What’s there to think about? They’ll be fine with it.’ It was that quick.”

After some visa paperwork and a half-month stay at extended spring training in Arizona, Hussey found himself back in Fort Wayne when reliever Tayron Guerrero went on the disabled list. This time instead of a new arm, it was new outlook for the former Wizard.

“I just hope this works out for him, whether he gets all the way to the big leagues or takes it as far as he can go, at least he’s going to have no regrets when he’s older. At least he’s able to come back and give it everything he’s got,” Smith said.

Sometimes It Rains

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”

-Bull Durham

On Tuesday afternoon, not only did the TinCaps win, 7-5, but it also rained. It rained on just two people though:

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The aquatically obscured man to my left in this photo is Alberth Martinez, who hit a game-winning grand slam Tuesday, taking the TinCaps from a 5-3 deficit and giving them a 7-5 lead. It was the second home run in two days for Martinez, who has had a resurgence in Fort Wayne this season.

“So far he’s been kind of battling it the last couple of days,” said Manager Jose Valentin of Martinez, “You never know what to expect from him because sometimes he gives you some good at bats and sometimes he goes up and swings at everything. He had a pretty good plan this time. He worked the count and he got a pitch where he could do some damage.”

While it was an odd experience doing my post-game show yesterday with my pants soaking wet after taking on a half-cooler of water during my interview with Martinez, it was fun. I smelled like a mix of wet dog and shaving cream (Martinez got shaving cream to the face, too) but I realized something more important about this team–they’re having fun.

“I saw that these guys never quit, they play hard,” Valentin said. “The chemistry in the clubhouse is real good. They care for each other and try to get better every day. They are young and they are going to make mistakes, but one thing about those guys is they like to work hard and get better. We’re kind of inconsistent right now but it’s not too bad but I’m happy with it because I see the effort.”

This homestand that just concluded saw Fort Wayne go 4-2, and pick up two walk-off wins and an exciting Tuesday finish. The TinCaps are a fantastic 10-3 at home, and have won all four of their series at Parkview Field. Meanwhile, they’re just 4-7 on the road, and three of those wins came against Great Lakes in the first three games of the season.

Now it will be incumbent upon Fort Wayne, which today embarks on a six-game road trip to Burlington and then Peoria, to win on the road. Burlington, now an Angels affiliate following an offseason affiliation change, has lost seven of its last 10, dropping its record to 9-12.

The Bees defeated Dayton last night, 4-0, but played the game in Dayton, meaning they likely had a long overnight bus ride back to Iowa. Fort Wayne, much to the relief of the dirty laundry pile accumulating in my bedroom, left today at 6 a.m. to head to Burlington. We’re fortunate to have a bus not only with electrical outlets, but also with WiFi, so that I can blog away. These are the little things in Minor League Baseball that make a broadcaster smile. That, and a continental breakfast at the team hotel.

Speaking of team hotels, the one at which the TinCaps stay in Burlington is called “Pzazz!”, and it features a casino, waterpark, bowling lanes and apparently some type of nightlife venue that will be hosting the group “Stache”:

Why must they be performing next month. The agony!

Why must they be performing next month. The agony!

Yeaaahhhhh…nobody’s going to go to that show.

I will fill you in more on the casino/waterpark/bowling alley, alternatively known as Watersino Alley, over the course of our three-day stay.

Tonight, after about a six-hour bus ride out West, Joe Ross will take the hill for the TinCaps. He’s a perfect 3-0 to begin the year, and having him start this game could be extremely beneficial for Fort Wayne as it looks to assert dominance on the road. The Bees are hitting just .234 as a team, which ranks 14th out of the 16 teams in the league, (Dayton is hitting a league-worst .215) compared to Fort Wayne’s .272, which is fifth in the circuit.

I hope you’ll join me for tonight’s broadcast from Burlington, which will get underway at 7:10 EDT. First pitch is scheduled for 7:30 EDT. You can hear the game on The Fan 1380 in Fort Wayne, and TheFanFortWayne.com everywhere else.

PODCAST

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

MUSICAL GUEST

Florida Georgia Line and Nelly…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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