June 2013

A Record Crowd and a Well-Traveled Guest

Although Thursday’s second-half opener against South Bend featured very little offense–just seven combined hits in a 2-1 Silver Hawks victory–it did provide quite a thrill for those in attendance at Parkview Field. Thursday night’s crowd, which was treated to $1 beers and fireworks after the game, was the largest ever in the five-year history of the stadium: 8,643. The previous record attendance came on Opening Day in 2012, when 8,577 fans packed the park to see the TinCaps take on the Lake County Captains.

The highlight of this game came on the mound, as Walker Weickel enjoyed the best outing of his young career, striking out a career-high nine batters in 5 1/3 innings. The nine strikeouts weren’t even the most impressive part–it was that after he gave up a double in the top of the fourth inning, he then retired sixteen straight batters to finish his outing.

“I really tried to go out there and attack with my fastball,” Weickel said after the game. “It was a little different for me coming in with a runner on base and at the end of an inning, but it’s still an aggressive mindset.”

Weickel teased opposing hitters with the fastball, whizzing it by them at 95 and 96 miles per hour, then sometimes, seemingly just for fun, mixing in an offspeed pitch to throw them off. It was as dominant an outing we’ve seen this year from any TinCaps pitcher.

Jose Valentin has said twice now that he believes Weickel could be the team’s most important pitcher in the second half of the season. That hasn’t changed the way the 19-year-old views things, though. As he reflects on his first half, it’s a brief look in the rear view mirror and then excelsior, ever upward.

“You really can’t carry anything with you. C.S. Lewis has a quote that says, ‘It’s not the load that breaks you, it’s the way in which you carry it.’ As far as everybody’s concerned, it’s the second half and he first half is obsolete at this point.”

THE MIDWEST LEAGUE TRAVELER

If you’re a fan of the Midwest League, or any of its teams in particular, chances are that you’ve come across either the website or Twitter feed of Craig Wieczorkiewicz, who tweets at the handle @MWLTraveler and blogs at MWLTraveler.com. And yes, it’s not as if you’re alone in not knowing how to pronounce his last name, I didn’t until we finally met last night, either. In attempting to phonetically spell it, I think I’m accurate with wuh (like the beginning of what, but with no “t”)-zoor-kuh-witz.

Craig was a guest on the radio broadcast for an inning, and also joined me an Kent Hormann on television for an inning, too.

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It was fun to hear about Craig’s travels and how he’s not a fan of just one team in the league, but all of them, and that he particularly enjoys visiting Parkview Field.

Thanks to Craig for stopping by. Great to meet you!

ROSTER MOVES

In yesterday’s blog post, I posed a few questions for the TinCaps heading into the second half, and a few of those were answered before yesterday’s game (but after I hit publish). I wondered what would happen with the rotation with the loss of Justin Hancock, and if there would be a replacement at shortstop with the loss of Stephen Carmon.

Well, the rotation, for now, will feature Adys Portillo and Walker Weickel pitching on the same day, although Portillo, who is coming back from a triceps injury, is only scheduled to make one more start with Fort Wayne. However, Ruben Mejia and Bryan Rodriguez could come off the disabled list any any point now, so right there you’ve got two arms that can jump back into the rotation and keep things flowing.

As far as position players go, I was surprised to hear two blast from the past names: Tyler Stubblefield and Luis Domoromo. Stubblefield was cut by the Padres at the end of spring training, and had his contract purchased from the Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League, passed his physical and started at shortstop last night for the TinCaps. The 25-year-old (he’ll be 26 in November) played for the TinCaps in 2011 (43 games) and last year spent 84 games in a TinCaps uniform, starting primarily at second base across from Jace Peterson. Stubby, as he’s known in the clubhouse, was having a good year with the Miners, hitting .305 with two home runs and 12 RBI in 27 games.

Also, how’s this for an age-related note. Stubblefield (birthdate 11/19/87) is the oldest player in the clubhouse and Zach Eflin (birthdate 4/8/94) is the youngest. That means when Stubblefield was graduating high school, Eflin was in sixth grade. Think about that.

Domoromo, on the other hand, was struggling with his offense at Advanced-A Lake Elsinore, and was essentially swapped with Jeremy Baltz who, before being injured, did not struggle with offense. The 21-year-old Domoromo was hitting .198 in 50 games with the Storm. He played here in 2011, recording his best statistical season at .283, 9HR and 68 runs batted in. Baltz, to be moved, was activated from Fort Wayne’s DL and was in the Storm’s starting lineup last night, going 2-for-4 with a home run.

So we’ll have to see how the addition of two new faces, and bats, to the TinCaps clubhouse and lineup change things for the team.

MUSICAL GUEST

Calvin Harris…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

Second-Half Headlines

In the words of George Costanza, “I’m back, baby! I’m back!”

It’s great to be be back with you here on It’s All Relative after a three-day All-Star hiatus, during which I returned to my native New York to spend some time with family and friends. Feeling refreshed, I, as I hope you are, too, am ready for the second half of the season to begin.

In case you missed John Nolan’s posts from the All-Star Game down in Dayton, you can read them here:

http://tincaps.mlblogs.com/2013/06/20/sights-sounds-from-the-midwest-leagues-mid-season-classic/

http://tincaps.mlblogs.com/2013/06/18/all-star-delight-in-dayton/

Here are some TinCaps headlines as we head into the second half:

Adys Portillo’s Return: The 21-year-old Portillo, who was promoted from Fort Wayne to Double-A San Antonio in July of 2012, is back with the TinCaps for a three-game rehab stint. He injured his triceps in his throwing arm (right) during spring training, and was added to the Fort Wayne roster last week. He pitched on Saturday and gave up four runs (two earned) on eight hits in 2 2/3 innings against West Michigan. He’ll start again tonight, with Walker Weickel scheduled to come in as a piggyback pitcher.

Bye Bye Baltzy (and Hancock): The TinCaps lost two of their best players as the All-Star break rolled around, with outfielder Jeremy Baltz and starting pitcher Justin Hancock being promoted to Advanced-A Lake Elsinore. No word yet on who their replacements will be, but they are certainly big losses to the Fort Wayne squad. Baltz, who hadn’t played in a game since May 28 when he was placed on the disabled list, is still tied for the team lead with 33 runs batted in. Hancock, meanwhile, has a team-best 5-1 record and a Midwest League-leading 1.73 ERA.

Que pasa, Madrid?: Closer Roman Madrid has walked at least one batter in each of his four outings, and in his last stint (or regular-season action) had his worst outing of the year, allowing three runs (two earned) against West Michigan, in a game Fort Wayne clung on to win, 8-7. In the Midwest League All-Star Game Tuesday in Dayton, Madrid faced four batters and the sequence went walk, single, walk, two-run single, and then he was removed from the game. Prior to these last five outings, Madrid had been near perfect. He still has only allowed four earned runs in 32 1/3 innings and has a 1.11 ERA and 12 saves in 14 tries, but he’s just lacked his usual command lately. Something to keep an eye on.

More Changes Coming?: With the loss of shortstop Stephen Carmon to injury, the TinCaps have bounced back and forth between using Maxx Tissenbaum, who Jose Valentin called his first-half MVP, and Diego Goris at shortshop. Manager Jose Valentin has said he would like to use Tissenabaum at second and have Goris as a backup player, with the same going for Felix Cabrera, who plays second on occasion, but is hitting .161 (5-31) in 10 games. We’ll have to wait and see what the Padres decide to do.

VIN SCULLY: VOICE OF THE YANKEES?

According to this story from Brian Costa of The Wall Street Journal, that almost happened:

The year was 1964. Scully was in New York with the Dodgers, who were playing the Mets. Jim Bealle, an executive at the advertising agency BBDO with close ties to the Yankees, invited him to lunch.

At the time, corporate sponsors—and by extension, the admen they employed—held heavy sway over teams’ broadcast operations. Eleven years earlier, when Scully, at age 25, became the youngest man to call the World Series, it was an executive from the ad agency Maxon who called to tell Scully the job was his.

Now Bealle had some news to share: The Yankees were looking to replace Mel Allen, their longtime play-by-play announcer, at season’s end.

“He said, ‘Would you be interested if there was an opening?’ ” Scully said. It was not a formal offer, and there was never any direct communication between Scully and the Yankees. But Scully said it was understood by both men that the job would be his if he wanted it. “It was a very thinly veiled offer,” he said.

There was good reason for the Yankees to want Scully in their booth. He wasn’t just a star. He was a New Yorker through and through: born in the Bronx, raised in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan and educated at Fordham University. His Dodgers broadcasting debut came in 1950, when they were still the Brooklyn Dodgers.

So what happened to Scully, who is now in his 64th consecutive season calling Dodgers games that he stayed with the Dodgers?

I guess you’ll have to read the rest to find out!

MUSICAL GUEST

Randy Houser…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

Sights & Sounds from the Midwest League’s Mid-Season Classic

Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game is commonly referred to as the Midsummer Classic. In the case of the Midwest League, that moniker doesn’t quite work given that the league’s All-Star Game was played Tuesday night, while summer — technically — hasn’t begun yet (although you try telling that to Alice Cooper and kids everywhere).

With that said, the 49th edition of the Midwest League All-Star Game at Fifth Third Field in Dayton was indeed rather “classic,” as the East Division All-Stars won, 6-5, over the West Division All-Stars in walk-off fashion. Maybe the only drawback of being at the game, which featured both great play and great weather, was that it meant you missed most of a truly classic NBA Finals Game 6 between the Heat and Spurs. But then at least you have something in common with Heat fans

Luis Tejada, Dane Phillips, Roman Madrid, and Joe Ross represented the TinCaps together in the 2013 Midwest League All-Star Game.

Luis Tejada, Dane Phillips, Roman Madrid, and Joe Ross together on the field prior to the 2013 Midwest League All-Star Game. A fine representation of talent and character from Fort Wayne.

As we told you Tuesday, the TinCaps had four players make the drive to the Birthplace of Aviation. And although the TinCaps’ players didn’t have the individual performances that Fort Wayne fans have become accustomed to seeing from them so far in 2013, it was still a memorable experience for all involved.

Before Tuesday’s All-Star game, I caught up with all four Fort Wayne representatives. First, here’s a conversation with catcher Dane Phillips and first baseman Luis Tejada.

And here’s a chat with starting pitcher Joe Ross and reliever Roman Madrid.

TINCAPS All-STAR TAKEAWAYS

* As Dane discussed in the interview above, it was cool that his mom (Kay), dad (David), and younger sister (Deanna) got to see him in the All-Star Game after making the 14-hour drive from Nacogdoches, Texas. That’s love. And they’re staying in the Midwest for the week to see #9 at Parkview Field, too.

* Kudos to Luis Tejada for making his TinCaps Podcast Report debut with us. Luis, who’s from Constanza in the Dominican Republic, didn’t come to the United States until last year at the age of 19 when he played in the Arizona League. As someone who’s fluent in only one language and struggles mightily attempting to speak/understand Spanish, even after about five years of taking it, I think Luis’ progress with English is very impressive. Keep it up, Luis! And I’ll be tapping into you for some serious help with my Spanish.

* One of the biggest clichés in sports is mentioning how competitive athletes are, but, that’s exactly what I’ll do right now. The TinCaps All-Stars didn’t perform their best in Dayton. And who cares, right? It was an exhibition. Stats didn’t count. It was supposed to be an off-day anyway. Well, you couldn’t tell that to Luis, Dane, Roman, or Joe, who all were disappointed afterward. If you’re a TinCaps or Padres fan, that’s a good thing. These guys care. Not just about themselves individually, but for the team’s sake. And in this case, it wasn’t even really their team. It was an All-Star squad. Yet they cared. Apologies for the cliché, but it’s no coincidence that Luis, Dane, Roman, and Joe helped lead the TinCaps to the second-winningest first half in Fort Wayne’s 21-year history.

APPRECIATING THE MVP

Devon Travis’ West Michigan teammate Jeff Holm gave him the pie-to-the-face treatment after being named the All-Star Game MVP. (Photo Credit: Nick Falzerano, Midwest League)

You know how in school, there’s always that classmate who says s/he isn’t going to study for the test. “Oh, I’m just hoping to pass. I don’t really care how I do,  as long as I pass,” they say. Then they go out and get the highest grade in the class. Oops. Because even if they try to give off a nonchalant demeanor, they’re not wired like that. Well, I can’t speak to what kind of a student West Michigan’s Devon Travis was (although he was on the ACC-Academic Honor Roll at Florida State, which gives an indication), but the Whitecaps second baseman is apparently that kind of player. At least when it comes to All-Star games.

Travis, who leads the Midwest League in batting with a .350 average, said Monday night that while he was honored to be an All-Star, he really wouldn’t mind a day off. And you can’t blame him for feeling that way in the least bit, because he also leads the league in games played, having sat out in only one of West Michigan’s 70 games in the first half. (The absurd part is that in 69 games played, he’s yet to have consecutive games without a hit.) And if they’re being honest, nearly every All-Star would’ve said the same thing.

But what does the guy who just wishes he could have a day off go and do when he plays? He goes and wins the All-Star Game MVP award after a 2-for-2 night in which he triples and drives in three runs. Might as well have gotten a 100 on a chemistry exam. By the way, Travis does extra credit work, too. So in addition to leading the league in hitting and games played, he also has the best fielding percentage among all second baseman (.982), as he’s committed just six errors in 60 games at the position.

Joking aside, congrats to Devon, who was a pleasure to meet and talk to for a bit.

DAYTON DOES IT “WRIGHT”

In the city where the Wright Brothers flew for the first time, by all accounts, the Dragons pulled off a soaring success in hosting the 2013 Midwest League All-Star Game. From an enjoyable, fan-friendly Block Party on Monday night, to an entertaining Home Run Derby Tuesday, to an All-Star Game with a sell-out crowd won in the bottom of the ninth inning, to the finale of a fun after-party, I had nothing but a positive experience at my first Midwest League Mid-Season Classic.

Here’s a look at some of Tuesday’s fun…

Folks were ready to go inside more than two hours before first pitch. In all, an impressive crowd of 8,746 turned out for the game.

Folks were ready to go inside more than two hours before first pitch. In all, an impressive crowd of 8,746 turned out for the game. Death, taxes, and sellouts at Fifth Third Field.

I don't have much to say about this other than when you see a massive, inflatable dragon, you feel compelled to take a picture.

I don’t have much to say about this other than when you see a massive, inflatable dragon outside of a ballpark, you feel compelled to take a picture.

Jesse Winker of the hometown Dragons led the East to a win in the Home Run Derby. Each division had two sluggers, plus one local little leaguer. Thought that was a fun touch.

Jesse Winker of the hometown Dragons led the East to a win in the Home Run Derby. Each division had two sluggers, plus one local little leaguer. Thought that was a fun touch.

Though not a participant in the Home Run Derby, Luis Tejada momentarily stole the show by bringing out a towel and cup of water to cool off Winker after he knocked a few out. The crowd loved it and laughed out loud.

Though not a participant in the Home Run Derby, Luis Tejada momentarily stole the show by bringing out a towel and cup of water to cool off Winker after he knocked a few out. The crowd loved it and laughed out loud.

Being that the Dragons are an affiliate of the Reds, Cincinnati Hall of Famer Joe Morgan threw out the first pitch. (Photo Credit: David Kohl, USA Today Sports Images)

Found it tacky that as Joe Morgan walked off the field, the P.A. announcer said something along the lines of, “Give a round of applause for Joe Morgan of Joe Morgan Honda.” Can you hashtag a dollar sign?

A beautiful scene for the start of the 49th Midwest League All-Star Game. And do think that most likely a few of the guys standing out there will be MLB All-Stars one day.

A beautiful scene – enhanced even more so by Instagram – for the start of the 49th Midwest League All-Star Game. And to think, most likely, a few of the guys standing out there will be MLB All-Stars one day.

Even if they didn't play their best, still fitting to see the TinCaps' All-Stars get to celebrate another scintillating win. Remember, Fort Wayne had six walk-off wins in the first half.

Even if they didn’t play their best, still fitting to see the TinCaps’ All-Stars get to celebrate another scintillating win. Remember, Fort Wayne had seven walk-off wins in the first half.

MUSICAL GUEST

Is this too obvious a selection, and a song that’s now played too often at arenas and stadiums? Yes, probably. But if you grew up in the 90s, it’s also a song that I bet at one point or another was a fun pump-up. So Smash Mouth… take it away!

Thanks for reading. Mike will be back Thursday, but feel free to be in touch: @John_G_Nolan on Twitter and Instagram, as well as nolan@tincaps.com.

All-Star Delight in Dayton

Editor’s Note: While Mike enjoys his All-Star break back home in White Plains, New York, John is with the TinCaps’ All-Stars to chronicle their experience in Dayton and broadcast Tuesday night’s game with Mike Maahs on The Fan 1380.

Believe it or not, the first half of the 2013 schedule came to a close on Sunday with another TinCaps win, 10-5, over the Whitecaps in West Michigan. Fort Wayne finished off the first half with a 43-26 record — the second highest win total for a first half in the franchise’s 21 years of existence. (Only a 45-win first half in 2009 tops it.)

So after the game, the TinCaps boarded their bus home with a bit more exuberance than usual. Not only could they enjoy a victory, but alas, the All-Star break had arrived. In a 140-game season that offers 12 total off-days, the three that come together in the middle of the season are savored.

Some TinCaps jettisoned for home as quickly as possible after Sunday’s game. They may only get one or two full days with family and friends, but for a teenager or 20-something who’s been on the road since at least spring training, it’s worth it. And for those staying in Fort Wayne, there’s arguably nothing more glorious than getting a chance to just kick back and relax.

But for four TinCaps, this All-Star break means a trip to play in the Midwest League All-Star Game tonight in Dayton, Ohio, at Fifth Third Field. Starting pitcher Joe Ross, closer Roman Madrid, catcher Dane Phillips, and first baseman Luis Tejada piled into a van with Mike Maahs and myself Monday afternoon to make the two-and-a-half hour trip from Parkview Field to Dayton. (Designated hitter/outfielder Jeremy Baltz was also named an All-Star, but is on the disabled list and didn’t make the trip.)

Top: Roman Madrid and Joe Ross. Bottom: Luis Tejada and Dane Phillips, who apparently prefers Ruffles to leis.

Top: Roman Madrid and Joe Ross. Bottom: Luis Tejada and Dane Phillips, who apparently prefers Ruffles to leis.

Even though the game is tonight, the All-Star Game festivities really kicked off last night. The Dragons hosted a “Block Party” at Fraze Pavilion, an outdoor entertainment venue in Dayton.

The Midwest League All-Stars were treated to a dinner and signed autographs for fans. It was also a chance for many of the players to catch up with each other. Although they’re competitors during the season, a lot of them also have connections within the baseball community. Some know each other from home or college, and others through mutual friends. Not to mention, these guys are all going through similar experiences and share a common goal of making it to the majors. It’s a nice reminder for fans to see that rivals on the field can also be amicable off it.

But anyway, besides the dinner and autographs, the headline of the Block Party was a concert by Parrots of the Caribbean, a Jimmy Buffet cover band. So some great summer tunes were the backdrop for a tropical theme that also included the Dragons’ “Green Team” entertaining young fans with bounce houses, face-painting, temporary tattoo-inking, inflatable animal balloon-making, and more.

Mike and I were lucky enough to attend the Block Party, too. Take a look below at some of the fun.

vip

This was my pass to delicious barbecue, burgers, and beverages. Does anything boost the ego more than being told you’re very important?

Roman signs an autograph for Napoleon Dynamite's brother Kip. Coming in a future post: how old is too old for autograph-seeking?

Joe signs an autograph for a young fan, while Roman signs an autograph for Napoleon Dynamite’s brother Kip. Coming in a future post: how old is too old for autograph-seeking?

The Dragons had a very nice set-up for the Block Party at Fraze Pavilion, and the weather came through, too.

The Dragons had a very nice set-up for the Block Party at Fraze Pavilion, and the weather came through, too.

I asked for the Mike Tyson look, but was told my request couldn't be accommodated.

I asked for the Mike Tyson look, but was told my request couldn’t be accommodated.

Odd for the Dragons to be giving out swords, no? Don't they know what little heroes like this do with a sword when dragons are around?

Odd for the Dragons to be giving out swords, no? Don’t they know what little heroes like this do with a sword when dragons are around?

It's a proven fact that the presence of beach balls makes everything more fun.

It’s a proven fact that the presence of beach balls makes everything more fun.

Credit some of the Dragons' players for having some fun learning how to hula.

Credit some of the Dragons’ players for having some fun learning how to hula.

MUSICAL GUEST

Sticking with the theme from last night, Jimmy Buffet… take it away!

Thanks for stopping by, and make sure to come back tomorrow for more sights and sounds from the All-Star Game in Dayton. Don’t forget you can listen to tonight’s game on The Fan 1380 in Fort Wayne and worldwide on TheFanFortWayne.com. Coverage will start at 6:45 with the game to follow around 7:05. Get in touch with me on Twitter @John_G_Nolan or by email at nolan@tincaps.com.

Like Father, Like Son: José and Jesmuel Valentín

The following story by John Nolan originally aired on The Fan 1380 on May 15.

You know how the old saying goes, “like father, like son.”

But when it comes to TinCaps manager José Valentín and his son Jesmuel, that expression really rings true.

“Oh, he mimics his father,” said Razor Shines, who once coached José in the major leagues with the Mets in 2007 and now manages Jesmuel with the Great Lakes Loons. “That’s his father’s son. You can believe that.”

“The way he carries himself, is very similar to the way José carries himself,” said TinCaps reliever Matthew Shepherd after seeing Jesmuel for the first time. “The way he runs — definitely the way his body looks.”

“Pretty much they look like the exact same guy,” Fort Wayne outfielder Corey Adamson said. “Both little dudes who speak Spanish.”

And the similarities between 43-year old José and his 18-year old son Jesmuel don’t stop there. Like his dad was, Jesmuel is a switch-hitting middle infielder. Like his dad, Jesmuel wears uniform number 22. And like his dad, Jesmuel is now in the Midwest League.

“From the moment I got called up, I just looked at the schedule to see when I was going to face my dad,” the younger Valentín said.

Jesmuel didn’t have to wait long. After an injury sidelined him during spring training, the 2012 1st-round pick of the Dodgers was called up to Great Lakes on April 25. Just two weeks later, Jesmuel was in Fort Wayne for a three-game series against the TinCaps.

“It was a little hard in the beginning,” the elder Valentín said. “It felt kind of different than other days. You hate when your son is going to fail. You want him to see him doing well, but the other way, he’s playing for the opponent. I’m happy. I’m enjoying it as most as I can. I wish him the best. He can have the best game ever, but I have to get the win.”

“He didn’t tell me our pitcher is going to throw you this or throw you that,” Jesmuel said. “No, we are father and son, but we’re on opposing teams. This is pro baseball. We have to leave love and family out of the game when the game starts.”

Prior to joining the TinCaps in 2012, José helped coach Jesmuel at the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School in 2011. (Credit: Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School)

As it turned out, José and the TinCaps swept the series at Parkview Field. But for the father, maybe more rewarding than the victories was having the chance to see his son play professional baseball right in front of him.

“I didn’t push him to follow my steps,” José said. “That’s something that came from him. He wanted to be like daddy. Then when I figured out he really had a feel for the game of baseball, yeah, I tried to teach him.”

And it’s his dad’s 16 years in the majors that Jesmuel credits for helping to turn him into a prospect.

“The years that he played and I was able to watch him and join him was one of the best things that helped me build as a player and become mentally tough like I am right now,” Jesmuel said.

Spending the first 14 years of his life around big league club houses also allowed Jesmuel to develop a baseball acumen well beyond his years.

“I tell you what, his baseball IQ is as good as anyone’s here,” Shines said. “There have been a few plays he’s shown that. One comes to mind where we’ve got runners on first and third and there’s one out. There’s a ball hit to the second baseman’s side. He comes in, fields the ball,  fakes the pitch to second, tags the runner, and then throws to first for the out. It’s not going to be a doubleplay ball if he goes to second with the ball.

That’s just something you can’t teach. It’s just instincts. You either got ‘em or you don’t, and he has ‘em.”

Although having a big league baseball-playing father meant Jesmuel didn’t always have his dad around as a kid growing up in Puerto Rico, it also made for some pretty memorable moments in the summers.

“I remember he was with the White Sox,” Jesmuel recalled of his fondest memory. “I was in the dugout. He hit three home runs in the same game. After every single home run he went to the dugout, gave me a hug, and kissed me after all the three home runs. It was a really, really good experience.”

But for José, more important than showing Jesmuel how to hit home runs, has been teaching him how to act away from the diamond.

“Being a ballplayer in the big leagues is great, but you’ve got to earn it and you’ve got to work hard and be the same guy everyday,” said the former Brewer, White Sock, Met, and Dodger. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing well or doing bad, you’ve got to respect people. If you want people to respect you, you have to know how to treat people off the field and on it. And always being friendly and smile.

Even when bad times are on top of you, that’s when you have to be strong mentally. You’re only going to be a ballplayer for so long a time, but you’re going to be a person forever, so you’ve gotta be a good person — not just a good ballplayer. You’ve got to be both of them.”

With those lessons in mind, the race is on between José and Jesmuel to see who makes it back to major league dugouts first.

“I want him to make it more than myself to be a manager in the big leagues,” the dad said. “My time as a player in the big leagues was enough. So it’s something that’s not easy, but I think he has enough to make it.”

Meanwhile, his son dreams of them making it together.

“I hope. I hope,” Jesmuel said. “It’ll be a great experience. And I hope we can be on the same team. That would be the greatest experience ever.”

Note: The Dodgers transferred Jesmuel from Great Lakes to extended spring training in early June.  

First Half Comes to a Close, A Burger for the Ages

I think it was the band Bon Jovi that has some lyric about being halfway there, right? However, in this case, it does make a difference if we make it or not, because the playoffs start in September, soooo, kinda important to be there for that. HOWEVER, there is just one more game to be played before the All-Star break, and that, my friends, is today’s 1:00 game in Comstock Park, Michigan.

It’s a beautiful day here in The Wolverine State, and Justin Hancock is making perhaps his last start in a TinCaps uniform this season. Think about it…even though he’s not an All-Star (which is a travesty), his numbers show that he’s been one of the best pitchers in the league. He’s 4-1 with a 1.72 ERA which, by the way, is the best ERA for starting pitchers in the Midwest League. He hasn’t given up a run, earned or unearned, in his last two starts, and looks like a guy who, in his second year in the league, deserves to be promoted. Today will be his second start against West Michigan in the last three outings for him, and the last time he faced this team he went  a season-best seven shutout innings on June 3rd at Parkview Field.

To think about the growth he’s had as a pitcher from one year to the next, here are his Midwest League stats from a year ago: 0-4, 6.95 ERA and 20 BB/23K in 33 2/3 innings to what he’s done this year is remarkable. Here’s to hoping the TinCaps will get him another win today.

A win today would also only better the team’s 42-26 record, which checks in as the team’s second-best first-half record in 21 years. The only better first half was in 2009, when the championship team won 45 games. In the second half of ’09, the TinCaps won 49 times, meaning that this current first half is the third-best half in franchise history.

Today’s game broadcast begins at 12:40 on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com. John Nolan and I will have the call, and hope you can join us then.

A MASSIVE CHALLENGE

One of the staples of crazy ballpark food here at West Michigan is the Fifth Third Burger. Here’s what it looks like:

Yes, it is served in a pizza box.

Yes, it is served in a pizza box.

Here’s the list of ingredients:

Doctors: Look away!

Doctors: Look away!

Here is my broadcast partner, John Nolan, attempting to eat the Fifth Third Burger between games of a doubleheader:

He ain't gon' make it! (He almost did)

He ain’t gon’ make it! (He almost did)

John began at 3:10 and had until 6:30 (we went on the air at 6:40) to finish the challenge, but only finished 3/4 of the burger. All in all, a pretty valiant effort. Here’s what was left at the end of the night:

Mmmm...cheesy!

Mmmm…cheesy!

Congrats to John, and to his cardiologist, who is about to make a lot of money when we get back to Fort Wayne.

PODCAST

To hear my chat with Jose Valentin from today’s pregame show, in which we discuss his “fun” first half, the injury status of some players on the disabled list, and his plans for the team in the second half, listen to today’s TinCaps Report Podcast:

MUSICAL GUEST

R.E.M….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

Talkin’ Baseball, A Family Affair, Ace of Blades

In game one of today’ s doubleheader, the TinCaps lost, 5-0. Another game in which they had just four hits, and they have now not scored since the second inning of Friday’s game, making it 16 straight scoreless innings. With the loss, it locks Fort Wayne into the Eastern Division wild-card spot and ensures South Bend will win the Eastern Division title in the first half.

If you’re interested, I chatted with Whitecaps Vice President Jim Jarecki during the 7th and 8th innings of game one of the doubleheader. He’s been with West Michigan since 1993 and has been in baseball since 1989. He’s a great guy and offers some good insight onto several baseball topics that are pertinent to Fort Wayne fans. Topics of our discussion include:

-Does sucess on the field have anything to do with the success of a franchise?

-What makes a minor league baseball team successful?

-What makes players good to work with?

-What effect does it have on a franchise for their parent club to be located nearby?

-What’s his secret to longevity in Minor League Baseball?

Thanks to Jim for being generous with his time. Here’s the interview in full:

ALL IN THE FAMILY

TinCaps outfielder Wytnon Bernard, who’s only played in five games so far, carries one heck of a story in his back pocket. Not only does he come from an athletically talented family, as one of his brothers has played in the NFL and another has played professional basketball overseas, but from an ambitious one, too. He and his brothers were testing their knowledge with a Family Feud video game last summer when an idea struck.

250px-FamilyFeud-NES-Front-USA

“We’re playing Nintendo, the old school thing, and we’re trying to beat this game and keep getting to 10,000 points,” Wynton says, recalling the summer of 2012, “but 20,000 is the goal. We play for hours, and hours, and hours. We can’t beat the game. I said, “Wayne, we should really go on the show.” And he thought I was just joking about it.”

Well, perhaps the lesson is to never challenge a Bernard, because Wynton, who was selected last year in the 35th round out of Niagara (NY) University by the Padres, put the idea in motion.

“So I sat up,” he says, “it was probably about two o’clock in the morning, and I sent (Family Feud) an email all about my brothers and how they play professional sports and about my mom and how my dad passed away but that he always us to be on the show. They emailed me back and said, “You have auditions on Friday.”‘

Dumbstruck, Wynton emailed his brother Walter, who was studying in law school in Washington, D.C., at the time to see if he would be willing to fly out to Los Angeles for an audition. The answer was a resounding yes. The trip was a little bit shorter for Wynton, who was in the family’s home town of Poway, California, about two hours away from L.A.

The auditions went well, and the family was asked back to be on a taping of the show, complete with host Steve Harvey. Wynton, who played baseball at Niagara, and was used to big crowds, somehow was a bit rattled at the thought of being under the bright lights.

“If I could play in front of thousands of people, I can do this. I tried to calm myself down, but I was a little bit nervous going on. It’s a little bit overwhelming when you’re there,” he said.

Paired up against the McGlynn family from Massachusetts, team Bernard won the first round on the prompt: Name Things a Sex Education Teacher Might Bring to Class. We’ll just keep going…

The second prompt, also taken by the Bernards was Something That Gets Dumped. So far, so good. The game ended up going to sudden death when neither side had reached 300 points in regulation. It was up to Wynton to try and win the buzzer, but he was just a hair late. The question he would have answered?

Steve Harvey said, “Tell me a word a woman says that makes men shake in their boots.” The top answer? Marriage.

The question the Bernard family ended up losing on was, “Name Something a Child Dreams of Having as a Pet”.

“Our family said ‘bear’,” Wynton said, “but the answer was ‘elephant’. That was one of the heartbreaking questions because we thought we would get that one right.”

They might not have one, but they do have a great story to tell for the rest of their lives, and a pretty cool picture, too. Wynton is pictured in red:

Photo courtesy of Wynton Bernard

Photo courtesy of Wynton Bernard

Here’s the full video of the episode:

ACE OF BLADES

Tonight for the second game of a day-night twinbill at West Michigan’s Fifth Third Ballpark, there will be a special “Aces In The Outfield” card handed out to every fan who walks through the gates. As for the outfield? Here’s what they’ll see in each quadrant of the grass:

OF4 OF1 OF2 OF3

Whitecaps groundskeeper Mike Huie etched a club, heart, diamond and spade into the grass to help this promotion get going. The rest, however, is up to the players. Here’s why:

aces

Each fan will get a card from one of the four suits, which each has different prizes affiliated with it. The hard work that went in beforehand, though, involved work for the grounds crew.

“Having four suits,” Huie told me, “we’ll chop the outfield into quarters and incorporate the symbols in each quadrant. Literally, last year, we were out there with strings and said, “What do we do?” and just kind of went with it.”

He’s added a bit more flair to the designs this year, incorporating an outline to each image, and says this is by far his most intricate groundskeeping undertaking yet.

“The way we started was by pacing off the length of each section. We do that down the foul line and find the exact center point in each quadrant. The diamond was 15 steps off the center point toward the field and the wall, and 10 steps toward the sides. For the spade, we did a triangle to make an upside-down heart, and the stem is really easy to put in,” he said.

West Michigan Whitecaps head groundskeeper Mike Huie. (Photo by Cory Morse - MLive.com)

West Michigan Whitecaps head groundskeeper Mike Huie. (Photo by Cory Morse – MLive.com)

My biggest concern, being someone who couldn’t even draw a 3-D rectangle in eighth grade design class and had smudge marks all over my assignments, was what happens if you make a mistake?

“You just erase it, you go the other way,” Huie points out in regard to which way he takes his riding lawn mower.

“We’ll go up top (to the press box) to see if anything neeeds adjustments. Another key is getting the main shape, and then we’ll fire up irrigation to get the shapes wet, and then take brooms out there so it lays down. It helps to get the corners, especially where the heart meets, in the little spots where the mowers can’t really get.”

I’m certainly going to enjoy watching fans follow along, and I hope you enjoy the backstory of what might turn out to be one of the most exciting promotions we’ll see on the road all season.

MUSICAL GUEST

Incubus…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

Four To Go, Weickel’s On a Roll, Batting Practice Rituals

The TinCaps get set to close out the first half, opening a four-game series tonight at Fifth Third Ballpark, the home of the West Michigan Whitecaps.

IMG_20130614_161734_535

In short, the team has already qualified for the playoffs, and now has its eye on the Eastern Division title. Fort Wayne trails South Bend by 1.5 games, and while the TinCaps have four games left (they’ve got a doubleheader tomorrow), South Bend only has three games left in the first half. So they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.

Last night’s win was a 4-1 victory over the Lake County Captains, and it was powered by Walker Weickel, who picked up his first home win of the season.

He described the victory as “one of a kind,” and was definitely happy to earn his second straight win. Considering he went five scoreless innings, didn’t walk anyone and struck out a career-high five batters, it’s easy to say that it was the best win of his young career.

Jose Valentin even heaped praise on Weickel, saying to keep an eye on the righthander during the second half of the season.

“His numbers kind of look bad, but if you look when he pitches, he’s always going to give you five or six innings, keep the game close,” TinCaps manager Jose Valentin told The Journal Gazette. “It’s been tough, but you know, the way he finished the first half, he could be our best pitcher in the second half.”

With Justin Hancock and Joe Ross in the rotation, those are pretty lofty expectations. To hear what Weickel has to say in response to that, listen to the podcast below.

TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST

To hear my pre-game chat with Walker Weickel, listen to today’s TinCaps Report Podcast:

NOT AS SIMPLE AS IT SEEMS

There’s a fun story from Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post on the ritual of batting practice. While from the stands it may look like a very mundane routine, there’s really a lot that goes into it all:

Jim Lett, the team’s bullpen coach, stands on the third base side of the cage, hitting grounders across the diamond to first. Nilson Robledo, one of the team’s bullpen catchers and batting practice pitchers, smacks fungoes from the first base side of the cage to Ryan Zimmerman and Tracy, his backup, at third. “There’s an art to it,” said bench coach Randy Knorr, who gets his turn hitting grounders to the next group. “And I’m probably the worst of the group.”

It is at this intersection – the pitcher throwing pitches, the coaches banging out grounders, outfielders and pitchers shagging fly balls – when batting practice dissolves into its percussive beat. The coaches wait to swing their fungoes until the split second after the hitter in the cage makes contact, just to allow the fielders a chance to protect themselves.

And the fielders, they’ve got issues with which to deal, too, particularly when the team arrives for the first game of a road series. “If the grass is long, or if the dirt goes deeper than most,” Desmond said, “just as far as picking out how I’ll position myself, I need to know all that.”

And although batting practice may seem like the first part of the “work day” for players, it’s really, at least at the minor league level, about an hour or two into their sometimes tightly-scheduled afternoon. This year, hitting coach Morgan Burkhart and Manager Jose Valentin have put in a lot of time in the 2:00-3:30 window with guys, doing baserunning, infield and front-toss exercises at the batting cage.

MUSICAL GUEST

OneRepublic…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

Who’s at Short?, VanMeter Says Yes, Out and About

Not too much to dig into from last night’s game against Lake County, which was an 11-0 defeat for Fort Wayne. However, when it comes to the race for the first-half playoff race, the TinCaps are only 2.5 games behind South Bend, and Fort Wayne has five games to play. So, we’ll keep an eye out for that tonight.

Of note in tonight’s starting lineup is that Diego Goris will get the start at shortstop, playing there for the first time this season. Previously only Maxx Tissenbaum and Stephen Carmon have had the chance to play there. I talked to Jose Valentin last night, and he said he’s not sure if the team will receive another infielder at the break, since Carmon is on the disabled list, or try and patch together an everyday starting infield with who they currently have on the roster. 

To open the season it was Gabriel Quintana at third, Carmon at short, Tissenbaum at second and Luis Tejada at first. Now that Carmon and Quintana are hurt, Chris Burke has stepped in at third, Tissenbaum has shifted to short and Goris has slid into the hole at second base. We’ll have to wait and see as for what the new normal might be.

Keep an eye on Channel 81 tonight in Fort Wayne if you’re an XFINITY subscriber, as we’ll be bringing you The Leadoff Spot, our monthly 30-minute magazine-style pre-game show. Tonight’s episode features interviews with Jose Valentin, Maxx Tissenbaum and Rodney Daal. You can see it live at 7:00, and then it will be available On-Demand for subscribers. I hope you’ll be able to tune in!

PODCAST

To hear thoughts from TinCaps Pitching Coach Burt Hooton, listen to today’s TinCaps Report Podcast:

 VANMETER SAYS YES

Norwell High School’s Josh VanMeter was recently selected in the fifth round of the MLB draft by the San Diego Padres, meaning he could one day be a member of the TinCaps. Of course, there’s first the matter of him playing in this weekend’s state championship game down in Indianapolis against Jasper High School. 

But once that game is over, win or lose, VanMeter, who hails from Ossian, about 30 minutes away from Fort Wayne, will have a decision to make–attend Illinois State to play baseball (he’s already committed verbally) or sign with San Diego. Last night, as he joined us on our XFINITY broadcast, he told us that he would, indeed, sign with San Diego. He also tweeted this:

@VanMeter15

can’t wait to be playing here #tincaps #padres pic.twitter.com/uCXJEo55Pr

Embedded image permalink
 

So that was good to hear that yet another local baseball product could make his way to Parkview Field. Last year we saw both Ryan Wright of Homestead High School come through with the Dayton Dragons, and had Leo’s Brandon Alger pitching in a TinCaps uniform late in the season. In recent years, we’ve also seen Bishop Luers grad Kevin Kiermaier come through with the Bowling Green Hot Rods.

VanMeter was great to have on the air during the fifth inning last night. He’s well-spoken, articulate, and seems like the type of high-quality individual who would fit in well in the Fort Wayne clubhouse right now. Best of luck to Norwell and Josh this weekend.

OUT AND ABOUT

Along with TinCaps players Maxx Tissenbaum, Walker Weickel, Matthew Shepherd and Dane Phillips, as well as TinCaps Assistant Director of Marketing/Community Relations Abby Naas, I was out at Arbor Glen Retirement Community here in Fort Wayne this morning. Each season, the TinCaps suit up against the Arbor Glen Generals, the retirement community’s version of the Mudville Nine, for a fun game of beanbag baseball.

MyCollage_1

 

It was a lot of fun to see pro baseball players hang tight with folks who are nearly 90 years old! 

Also, tonight is Social Media Night at Parkview Field, which means the TinCaps will be wearing these jerseys:

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If you were following the TinCaps before March 11th, your handle is on their. Bring your binoculars…or bid for one of the jerseys at tonight’s game and you could take one home with you!

MUSICAL GUEST

REO Speedwagon…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

Five Straight Seasons, Jaff to the Bigs, #Hashtag

For the fifth straight season, the Fort Wayne TinCaps are headed to the Midwest League Playoffs.

The post-game celebration in the Fort Wayne clubhouse.

The post-game celebration in the Fort Wayne clubhouse.

The TinCaps defeated the Lake County Captains, 7-4, on Tuesday night at Parkview Field, clinching a certain playoff spot, with the opportunity to win the division.

Entering play today, the TinCaps, who have six games remaining in the first half, are only 2.5 games behind the Silver Hawks. Fort Wayne has now won nine straight games, and 15 of its last 16 games. To give you an idea of where that hot streak ranks in Minor League Baseball, we look at the best records since May 26th around the minors:

Fort Wayne 15-1

Potomac (Nationals, High-A) 13-3

South Bend (Diamondbacks, Low-A) 13-4

Binghamton (Mets, Double-A) 12-3

Beloit (A’s, Low-A) 12-5

Winston-Salem (White Sox, High-A) 12-7

Mobile (Diamondbacks, Double-A) 11-5

Best ERAs in MiLB

  1. Savannah (SAL) – 3.00
  2. Lexington (SAL) – 3.04
  3. Jupiter (FSL) – 3.08
  4. Mobile (SOU) – 3.12
  5. Mississippi (SOU) – 3.15
  6. San Antonio (TEX) – 3.20
  7. Dunedin (FSL) – 3.20
  8. Jackson (SOU) – 3.24
  9. Myrtle Beach (CAR) – 3.26
  10. St. Lucie (FSL) – 3.27
  11. Bowling Green (MWL) – 3.30
  12. Indianapolis (INT) – 3.31
  13. Fort Wayne (MWL) – 3.38

Best Batting Averages in MiLB (excluding the Triple-A Pacific Coast League–11 of the 16 teams in the PCL are hitting .270 or better, but the TinCaps stack up well otherwise.)

  1. Lancaster (CAL) – .289
  2. Fort Myers (FSL) – .284
  3. Durham (INT) – .282
  4. Buffalo (INT) – .279
  5. Asheville (SAL) – .279
  6. Bowie (EAS) – .273
  7. Clearwater (FSL) – .271
  8. Norfolk (INT) – .271
  9. Kane County – .270
  10. Cedar Rapids – .270
  11. South Bend – .270
  12. Fort Wayne – .269

So, yeah, it’s been a pretty good season so far for Fort Wayne. On top of where they are in the standings around the Midwest League and Minor League Baseball, they could also have one of the best halves in franchise history.

Best Halves in Franchise History

2009 2nd – 49-21 (.700)

2009 1st – 45-25 (.643)

2010 2nd – 41-29 (.586)

2003 1st – 40-28 (.588)

2006 2nd – 40-30, 1995 2nd – 40-30 (.571)

1998 1st – 41-31 (.569)

Right now the team is 40-23 (.635) with six games to play in the half, so it could theoretically end up as the second-best half in franchise history. If not, at least being the best non-2009 half is still something pretty good to brag about.

PODCAST

To hear post-game comments from Manager Jose Valentin, listen to today’s TinCaps Report Podcast:

DECKER GETS THE CALL

Make it official–2009 TinCaps outfielder Jaff Decker, a part of the Midwest League championship-winning team, is now a member of the San Diego Padres, reaching the major leagues for the first time in his career. When he plays in a big-league game, he’ll be the 115th former Fort Wayne player to have reached Major League baseball, and the ninth member of the 2009 team to have played in the bigs.

In 2009, Decker hit .299 with 16 home runs and 64 runs batted in with the TinCaps, and he was only 19 years old. This season with Triple-A Tucson, he was hitting .251 with five home runs and 20 runs batted in.

Congrats, Jaff.

JOIN THE REVOLUTION

Facebook is adopting hashtags, folks. We knew this day would come, it was just a matter of when. From The New York Times:

Facebook has joined the hashtag revolution, introducing a tool on Wednesday that allows users to add the # symbol before a word to signify its topic. The topic would then be easily searchable by other users of the social network.

Of course, anyone who has used the microblogging service Twitter is familiar with hashtags, which have long been used there to organize public conversations. Right now, for example, #manofsteel is a popular hashtag on Twitter because of the coming Superman movie. Search for that hashtag on Twitter and you can see the global conversation about the topic.

Tumblr, Pinterest and other social networks also use hashtags, and Google announced last month that it was adding hashtags to its Google Plus service.

Should you care about this? No.

Will lots of people on Facebook and Twitter care about this? Yes.

Carry on.

MUSICAL GUEST

Led Zeppelin…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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