July 2013

Lead Disappeared, Vin Scully, Johnny Football

Tuesday night marked a return to Parkview Field for the TinCaps, their first home game since July 24th. It also looked like it might have broken a four-game Fort Wayne slide, following a three-game sweep against the Dayton Dragons over the weekend. That, however, was not the case, as the TinCaps coughed up leads of 5-0 and 8-1, eventually losing, 10-9, and blowing their largest lead of the year.

There’s understandable frustration around the clubhouse for this team, which has not won at Parkview Field in 11 days and has not won more than two games in a row since June 9-11. The search for answers to the team’s play has been futile so far in this second half, as the team has dipped into the basement of the Eastern Division standings. The TinCaps 12 wins are second-fewest to the 10 that Kane County has this half.

In his office after the game, Manager Jose Valentin was fed up with his team’s play:

“It’s hard to lose a game like that, when you’re up 8-1, and your starter can’t go five innings. It’s hard to explain….Defensively, we made a big (mistake) with one out and the bases loaded. (Maxx) Tissenbaum, instead of just getting an out (at first base) tried to turn a double play on a ball where there’s no way he could have turned a double play. He threw the ball away, they scored two, We always find a way to just turn the game around. We never find a way to keep the lead…I’ve got players in here with no instincts. Managers, coaches cannot teach in that situation. I’ve thrown all my bullets. I’ve run out of bullets. I don’t know what else I can do.”

“The same players that I had in the first half are the same players that I have here. Why they play that type of baseball? I don’t know. I don’t want to make any excuses. I don’t think they’re tired, they’re just not smart enough. I think they don’t know how to get out of the struggles. It sounds like they get down in a hole, (and) they quit. We’re working on it, we help them out, but the results are getting worse and worse and worse.”

Fort Wayne starter Walker Weickel went 4 1/3 innings and allowed a career-worst eight runs (five earned) and a season-high-tying nine hits.

The TinCaps Research Department was hard at work to find the last time that a seven-run lead evaporated in a loss, and you’ve got to go back to 2006 to find it.

It was May 6, 2006 and the Fort Wayne Wizards were taking on the Kane County Cougars in Geneva, Illinois. Future major leaguers Ernesto Frieri, Mike Baxter, Nick Hundley, and Jon Link all played that day, but they were just Midwest League players at the time. The Wizards went up, 7-0, after 3 1/2 innings, only to lose, 12-8. Of the 12 runs the team allowed that day, seven of them were unearned, due to four errors.

TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST

Here’s the full audio from Jose Valentin after last night’s game:

DO YOU LIKE VIN SCULLY?

The answer is yes.

Because you do, I recommend that you watch this interview: http://web.yesnetwork.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=29278535&topic_id=&tcid=vpp_copy_29278535&v=3

JOHNNY FOOTBALL

Since everyone’s been talking about ESPN’s feature on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (wonderfully written by Wright Thompson, I share that with you today. I haven’t finished reading it yet (I fell asleep reading it last night. Noon game, ya know..), but it’s got some terrific nuggets.

Read it here: http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/9521439/heisman-winner-johnny-manziel-celebrity-derail-texas-aggies-season-espn-magazine

MUSICAL GUEST

Citizen Cope…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

Back Home, Hall of Fame Tie, Banned from Baseball

The TinCaps dropped the series finale against Dayton last night, 3-2, being swept in a series for just the fourth time this season. Fort Wayne enters play today in last place in the Eastern Division second-half standings and the second-lowest winning percentage among the 16 Midwest League teams.

A few roster moves today, too. Infielder Chris Burke has been promoted to Advanced-A Lake Elsinore of the California League, marking the third promotion for any player this year (Jeremy Baltz and Justin Hancock). Additionally, outfielder Alberth Martinez was reinstated from the disabled list, after having spent nearly a month on the shelf. Martinez was hit in the face by a pitch from Lansing’s Roberto Osuna at the end of June, and had been on the DL since June 28th.

Tonight the TinCaps return home for a quick two-gamer against the Lake County Captains. It’s part of a a split four-game series with two games here and two games in Ohio. You can catch the game on XFINITY 81 and hear the action on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com.

PODCAST

To hear John Nolan’s talk with Padres Minor League Pitching Coordinator Mike Cather, listen to the podcast below. Cather discusses the growth of some of the team’s youngest and brightest arms:

FORT WAYNE’S HALL OF FAME TIE

I wrote last week about some of the history of baseball in Fort Wayne, and how the first-ever professional baseball game was played here. As it turns out, one of the posthumous inductions into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday was of a former player by the name of Deacon White.

White, whose baseball career took place only in the 19th century (1868-1899) played in that first ever game as a member of the Cleveland Forest City Club, which took on the Fort Wayne Kekiongas. Although Fort Wayne’s Bobby Matthews, who is said to be the inventor of the curveball, twirled a shutout in that game, White went 3-for-4, hit a double and also hit into a double play.

According to the Hall of Fame’s website:

White was a standout catcher in a catcher-important era. Catchers did not use any equipment and were positioned much farther back from the pitcher than in modern baseball. Just catching the ball was considered an advantage, but White could catch and throw runners out.

White was 42 during his last season and had been the oldest player in the league for his last four seasons. He was also the first ever player to win a most valuable player award and earned the honor in 1875 when his Red Stockings went 71-8.

At the end of his career, White had a career batting average of .312, 2,067 hits and 988 RBIs.

Despite none of the members of this year’s class being alive, there’s still a nice bit of history in the three-man group.

BANNED FROM BASEBALL?

There’s lots of talk this week around Major League Baseball about the Biogenesis ordeal and whether more players might be named as having used performance enhancing drugs, leading to suspensions. Although no one knows if there will be more suspensions to follow Ryan Braun’s or what any penalties might be, Sports on Earth took a fun look at how many players have actually been banned from baseball since the game has been played:

The most recent cases are a varied bunch. Under commissioner Fay Vincent, George Steinbrenner famously was banned in 1990 for hiring small-time gambler Howard Spira to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield; that one lasted just three years. While Steinbrenner was out, Yankees pitcher Steve Howe was booted after his seventh drug-related suspension but promptly reinstated by an arbiter. And Marge Schott, the only person Bud Selig has ever banned, was an unhinged bigot – something that wouldn’t have gotten her so much as a slap on the wrist, back in Landis’ day.

Back then, the game was consumed by worries about game-fixing, and nearly as much by the fear of free agency. Ironically, when free agency arrived, it very nearly eradicated any concerns about gambling; after all, a player making a good salary has far less of an incentive to risk throwing a game. With those two concerns dispatched, baseball now has entirely different things to police. The sport continues to evolve, and as it does, so does its list of exiles.

If Alex Rodriguez were to get banned, he’d have plenty of company, historically speaking. But it would be a very unusual occurrence in modern baseball, and even more unusual if the ban actually stuck. He would be the first player ever banned for PEDs — though not the first for being caught with illegal substances. That would be Fergie Jenkins, who was banned in 1980 for cocaine and marijuana — and who’s now in the Hall of Fame. Lifetime bans aren’t what they used to be.

MUSICAL GUEST

Timeflies…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

The Way it Goes, Life on the Road, Reflections on the Hall

SOMETIMES THAT’S THE WAY IT GOES…

Sunday afternoon at Fifth Third Field in Dayton, things were going well…until they weren’t. The TinCaps had kept the Dragons off the scoreboard through five innings, and were holding a 3-0 lead heading to the bottom of the sixth inning. That lead stretched to 5-1 by the time the seventh inning rolled around, but the Dragons were just getting started.

Dayton scored once in the bottom of the seventh, and six more times in the bottom of the eighth, securing a come-from-behind, 8-5, win over the TinCaps. The big blow of the six-run inning was a grand slam hit by Beau Amaral on a 3-2 pitch from Chris Nunn. The TinCaps lefty had just come in to the game to relieve a struggling Trevor Gott, who was eventually charged with five runs.

Yesterday’s game was a reminder that, as Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”, and that the Dragons are playing their best baseball of the year right now. That was Dayton’s fourth walk-off win of the season and fourth grand slam hit this month. Perhaps the most surprising part of it all was that Amaral had just one home run this season prior to yesterday’s game. The Dayton roster also has Jesse Winker, the MWL Home Run Derby champion, and Seth Mejias-Brean, who is second all of professional baseball this month in OPS at 1.234.

After all that, today is a new day and Joe Ross is on the mound for Fort Wayne. Ross has looked good in his last two starts, going six innings in both and only allowing two runs total, both in the latter start. Although his second half has been tough, it looks like he might be turning it around. Here’s how Ross’ first half looks compared to his second half:

FIRST: 3-2, 2.71 ERA in 12 starts. 56 hits allowed in 66 1/3 innings

SECOND: 1-3, 6.39 ERA in 5 starts. 38 hits allowed in 25 1/3 innings

He’s been much more hittable. Opponents average against him has risen from .232 to .362–a massive jump. We’ll look for the answer as to what the difference has been on tonight’s broadcast.

I’ll be joined by John Nolan tonight at 6:40 for the start of our broadcast, with first pitch scheduled for 7:00 ET. We hope you can join us on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com.

PODCAST

To hear which team TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin thinks is the best in the league, how he’ll manage his six-man infield, and who will be the go-to closer with Roman Madrid on the disabled list, listen to today’s podcast:

LIFE ON THE ROAD

I went out and did a little exploring today, finding a nice jogging trail along the border of Dayton and Kettering, a neighboring town.

Running in the shade...always a good idea.

Running in the shade…always a good idea.

Also please excuse my terrible photography, but this is the University of Dayton campus:

Seriously, I'm not good at taking pictures.

Seriously, I’m not good at taking pictures.

And later in the day had lunch with John and some former Dragons colleagues at a nice spot, 5th Street Wine and Deli, in the cultural hub of Dayton, the Oregon District. We can assure you we were only there for the deli part. Since I’m not the type to take a photo of my food and post it online, I’ll post a picture of someone else’s food that was posted online:

This is actually what the sandwiches look like. Grilled to perfection.

This is actually what the sandwiches look like. Grilled to perfection.

I recommend you make a stop there if you ever find yourself in downtown Dayton.

NO LIVING INDUCTEES

An odd moment this past weekend in Cooperstown, NY, the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum–there were no living inductees added into the hall.

For the first time since 1965, there was no breathing inductee to deliver a speech, tell a joke or remember advice from his first manager.

Instead, in a rain-delayed and sparsely attended ceremony that underscored the lingering damage that performance-enhancing drugs have inflicted on America’s national pastime, the three men who were enshrined have been dead since the 1930s. Two were better known to historians and aficionados than fans. Several living players have Hall-worthy statistics and might have lured a huge crowd to this village, which was founded by James Fenimore Cooper’s father and boosted by the myth of baseball’s invention here.

But Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, who were all in their first year of eligibility for election but tainted by their involvement in or connection to baseball’s steroids era, were firmly rejected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America earlier this year.

Despite being raised in New York, I’ve only been to Cooperstown once, and I would really like to go again. It’s a small, quaint place that carries so much history and beauty, especially at this time of the year right on the shores of Otsego Lake.

My favorite Hall of Fame speech is from Giants broadcaster Jon Miller, who received the Ford C. Frick (born in Wawaka, IN) award, the league’s top honor for broadcasters. Just watch the first 90 seconds (click here to see the speech) and listen to the way he inflects on the word “french fries”. Fantastic.

MUSICAL GUEST

Ben Harper…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

Errors Hurt, Roster Moves, Experience

In Saturday’s series-opening action against the Dayton Dragons, the TinCaps lost, 5-2, suffering defeat against their rivals from the Gem City for the first time this year in seven games. With the amount of times that these teams meet (12 overall) the first loss was bound to come at some point. The tough part about yesterday’s game was that the three-run gap was created all due to TinCaps errors, and three of the runs allowed by Fort Wayne pitching were unearned runs.

As our game notes point out today, the TinCaps yesterday raised their season error total to 129, and dropped their season fielding percentage to .967. Only Lake County, Lansing, and West Michigan have committed more errors this year, and those teams all have records below .500. Third baseman Gabriel Quintana, who commmitted an error yesterday, leads the TinCaps with 19 errors in 51 games. His .848 fielding percentage is lowest of all Midwest League position players who have seen action in at least 45 games at one position.

ROSTER MOVES

Fort Wayne made a quartet of roster moves prior to yesterday’s game:

-INF Eric Charles released

-RHP Roman Madrid placed on disabled list

-RHP Ruben Mejia reinstated from disabled list

-INF Luis Tejada reinstated from disabled list

The Charles move wasn’t all too surprising, considering Tejada’s return was imminent and someone had to be moved either to Eugene or elsewhere.

Madrid goes on the shelf for a week which, among other things, will allow him to rest a tired arm. He’s second in the league with 39 appearances.

Mejia’s return bolsters the TinCaps bullpen, and Tejada coming back gives the TinCaps their regular four back on the infield for the first time in a long time: Quintana at third, Tyler Stubblefield at shortstop, Maxx Tissenbaum at second and Tejada at first. Minus Stubblefield (who was signed to replace the injured Stephen Carmon), that’s the infield the team had to start the year.

Today on our pre-game show, John will ask Manager Jose Valentin about those roster moves, and he’ll also find out who Jose thinks the best team in the league is. Tune in for our coverage of today’s game, which has a 2:07 start time due to it being televised, at 1:40 on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com.

PODCAST

Prior to yesterday’s game, John Nolan chatted with TinCaps reliever Trevor Gott, who was drafted last month by San Diego out of the University of Kentucky. John and Trevor discuss what it’s been like adjusting to pro ball, and the familiarity Gott has with some of the Midwest’s League’s best hitters from seeing them in the Cape Cod Baseball League or in SEC play while at Kentucky. Have a listen:

GOOD TO KNOW

One of the big things that pitchers in the Midwest League, who are usually in their first or second professional seasons, struggle with is command of their pitches. Pitchers and pitching coaches alike will tell you that a) a repeatable delivery and b) control of pitches are paramount for success not just at this level, but at any level.

Andy Martino, a baseball writer for the New York Daily News, has a good article on that regarding Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler, who was acquired as a prospect in a deal for Carlos Beltran in July 2011 and made his MLB debut last month. Many including Martino, have written that Wheeler has the stuff to pitch in the majors ,but not necessarily the command.

Wheeler’s performance through seven starts has validated those opinions.  The 23-year-old has at times used his talent to overcome issues with command and pitch tipping to dominate hitters, like when he shut out the Braves through six innings in his major league debut, and allowed one run in seven innings in San Francisco on July 10.

But in his past two starts, both Mets wins, Wheeler has labored, wading through deep counts, and displaying a lack of command common for young pitchers. On Thursday, he threw 95 pitches in six innings, allowing four runs.

“He’s pretty good,” said a scout in attendance.  “He really only commanded the fastball to one side, and was inconsistent with it overall. May be hot and cold for a while at this level, but the pure stuff is great.”

Martino asked Matt Harvey, another young Mets pitching phenom, who has had great success this season, on how he has improved his command:

“In his first few major league appearances, Harvey was surprised to see the quality of opponents’ swings when he fell behind in the count; that spooked him, so he made a point to be more aggressive earlier in at-bats.

“They become really good hitters, a lot better hitters, when you are behind,” Harvey said.  “You learn that quickly. When you go 2-0 on a guy and see the hacks that he takes, I’d rather be 0-2 or 1-2.  You remember those swings.”

Still, Harvey needed experience, and innings, to hone his command — it was far less consistent last season than in the first half of this year.

“It’s experience,” he said. “It’s knowing yourself, and trusting yourself. That was it for me, trusting my stuff. Obviously there was some mechanical stuff that needed to be done, whether it was staying back a little longer, minor adjustments like that.  It was just little things that I needed to learn and change. Once I was able to do that, I was able to pound the zone a lot more.”’

That’s a great translation to the Midwest League. Experience. The pitchers at this level, and the front office folks watching them, aren’t quite concerned about the results as they are about the process and getting the pitchers to trust themselves and their stuff.

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

Rained Out, Maxx Turns 22, Weickel’s Fashion

The TinCaps return to action tonight at 7:00 at Fifth Third field in Dayton, Ohio, as they take on the Dayton Dragons in game one of a three-game series.

Fifth Third Field, home of the Dayton Dragons.

Fifth Third Field, home of the Dayton Dragons.

Last night the TinCaps were rained out at West Michigan, in what would have been the final game of a three-game series. Although the rain stopped at about 8:00, for what was supposed to have been a 7:00 first pitch, the field was deemed unplayable after much review and the game was officially called at 9:38, making for a nearly three-hour wait. That meant that the TinCaps bus arrived in Dayton around 3:30 AM. Don’t mind a few yawns and eye-rubs tonight as they take the field.

Courtesy of John Nolan, roaming photographer (and occasional gnome) here are some pictures of the rain delay “action” last night:

Matt Shepherd, Max Fried and others playing cards in the clubhouse at West Michigan.

Matt Shepherd, Max Fried and others playing cards in the clubhouse at West Michigan.

Whitecaps VP Jim Jarecki talks with umpires Sam Vogt and Tim Hromada about the field conditions.

Whitecaps VP Jim Jarecki talks with umpires Sam Vogt and Tim Hromada about the field conditions.

Tonight the TinCaps take on a Dragons team that’s playing pretty well lately. They are 13-10 in July and despite losing their last series against Lansing, they’ve won all of their other series since July 1st. They haven’t lost back-to-back games since July 2-3. Dayton is still fighting for a playoff spot, having not qualified in the first half, and currently sit three games back of playoff-race-leading Great Lakes.

Look out for Seth Mejias-Brean, Dayton’s cleanup-hitting first baseman, who is leading all of professional baseball in OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) this month at 1.224.

All that said, the Dragons still haven’t beaten the TinCaps this year, with Fort Wayne a perfect 6-0 against Dayton in 2013.

I’ll be joined by John Nolan tonight for all the action, with our pre-game coverage getting underway at 6:40 on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com. We hope you can join us.

BACK AT IT

Thanks to John Nolan for filling in for me the last few days as the TinCaps took on the Whitecaps up in Michigan. Although I was down at Disney World, I was working. I promise.

I had the privilege of calling the AAU Super Showcase on ESPNU, along with Paul Biancardi, Dave Telep and Andy Katz.

Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 12.20.03 AM

I’ll be on assignment a few more times next month, when you’ll get a full Nine Innings of Nolan (copyright pending) once again. It’s good to be back with the TinCaps and call some Midwest League Baseball.

PODCAST

In today’s TinCaps Report Podast, John Nolan catches up with Maxx Tissenbaum, who just celebrated his 22nd birthday:

CONTEMPORARY FASHION

TinCaps pitcher Walker Weickel, easily the fashion leader of the clubhouse, might have set fashion back a few decades today with his outfit, even if it is rather patriotic:

Photo taken by master artist, TinCaps pitcher Matt Chabot.

Photo taken by master artist, TinCaps pitcher Matt Chabot.

Then again, I guess you can’t knock his creativity, either:

So, basically this?

en-suite

Just kidding, Walker. Do you.

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

RISPy Business, Christmas in July, Leisure Reading & Listening

With the Whitecaps celebrating Christmas in July at Fifth Third Ballpark on Thursday, there was no win under the proverbial tree for the TinCaps. Fort Wayne lost, 4-3, meaning that tonight is the winner of tonight’s contest takes the series.

The offensive positives (oxymoron?) from last night included Dane Phillips hitting his first home run in more in 40 days and Maxx Tissenbaum — on his 22nd birthday — collecting his first two extra-base hits in three weeks. Luis Domoromo also kept up his hot hitting with another two-hit game to boost his average to .329 in July.

Now the offensive part of the offense: More struggles with runners in scoring position. Fort Wayne went 1-for-11 in those situations last night, stranding seven on base (six in scoring position). Let’s look at some numerals…

* .263 — TinCaps team batting average

* .266 — TinCaps team batting average with runners in scoring position

* .236 — TinCaps team batting average with runners in scoring position with two outs

In this case, these numbers don’t seem to tell the story. At least not for the second half. Fort Wayne’s team batting average is tied for best in the East Division on the season. And the TinCaps’ average with RISP is tied for second best in the East. Next time we’ll try to delve into the second half numbers to see if those better explain Fort Wayne’s post-All-Star break woes.

ADO WAY

Take a listen to last night’s pregame interview with Corey Adamson, who’s hitting .308 in July. Corey shares how he’s gotten back to his early season form, even though he hasn’t had a significant break from the sport in more than a year, as well as what it means to have his mom and dad visiting from Australia.

CHRISTMAS IN JULY

So yesterday was July 25th. Pretty tough to believe that December 25th is now only five months away. But to help bridge the gap, the Whitecaps celebrated a “Christmas in July” theme last night. Christmas music was played throughout the game. The halls were decked with boughs of holly. And bacos roasted on open fires.

Gotta hand it to the Whitecaps' on-field emcee for sporting the Buddy the Elf getup. I'm just a little offended, though, that Buddy didn't ask me what my favorite color is.

Gotta hand it to the Whitecaps’ on-field emcee Bob for sporting the Buddy the Elf getup. I’m just a little offended, though, that Buddy didn’t ask me what my favorite color is.

Santa hadn't flown in yet at this point so one of his elves was holding it down. First 100 kids got a free baseball from jolly Saint Nick.

Santa hadn’t flown in yet at this point so one of his elves was holding it down. First 100 kids got a free baseball from jolly Saint Nick.

Nothing elicits the Christmas spirit like a cup of chili and a bowl of mac and cheese! But the poinsettias are a nice touch.

Nothing elicits the Christmas spirit like a cup of chili and a bowl of mac and cheese topped with bacon — just like you leave for Santa! But the poinsettias were a nice touch.

Not pictured: Crash the River Rascal had a red and white suit and hat on. However, his mascot teammate Franky the Swimming Pig wasn’t wearing any festive attire. I fully intend to tip off FOX News to this and for them to investigate why Franky the Swimming Pig hates Christmas and is trying to take it out of our minor league baseball mascots…

Also learned a couple of interesting Christmas-related notes on TinCaps players:

* Walker Weickel’s favorite gift growing up as a kid was a Red Ryder BB Gun. Walker will now be known as Ralphie.

* Brian Adams’ family celebrates Christmas on December 23rd. I know, the anxious-side of me is jealous, too. The Adams Family (*snap, snap*) isn’t necessarily cooky, they just enjoy the holiday three days in a row — first as an immediate family, then with one set of grandparents on the 24th and the other one on the 25th.

* And I suppose this isn’t anything you didn’t already know, but Fort Wayne’s favorite Aussie, Corey Adamson, reminded me that the biggest difference between Christmas “down under” and in the U.S. is the weather. Corey says Christmas is often the hottest day of Australia’s summer, reaching as high as 110 degrees in his hometown of Bullsbrook in Western Australia.

LEISURE READING & LISTENING

* The New York Times takes a small glimpse at the Cape Cod Baseball League here. Both Mike and I have referenced the CCBL on this blog before and it’s for good reason. It truly is an idyllic league.

* Eddy Rodriguez of the Tucson Padres never played in Fort Wayne, but you ought to read this Sports Illustrated story on how the San Diego prospect escaped Cuba at the age of 7 and went on to become a big league-caliber catcher.

* With NPR, you can either read or listen to this next one on this weekend’s World Series. The World Series of Beep Baseball that is. Find out how blindness doesn’t stop some from playing America’s pastime.

MUSICAL GUEST

To boost page views with a younger demographic, One Direction, take it away…

Thanks as always for reading. Feel free to be in touch on Twitter @John_G_Nolan or by email: nolan@tincaps.com. Hope you can catch tonight’s game on The Fan 1380 or TheFanFortWayne.com. Coverage starts at 6:40 EST.

From Nailbiter to Laugher, Tigers in Town, Family in the Fort

Editor’s Note: Mike Couzens is at Disney World. For work. John Nolan, meanwhile, is at the Most Magical Place in the Midwest League: Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, Michigan.

The TinCaps got back in the win column Wednesday night in one of the closer 9-2 games you’re ever going to see. The game was 3-2 Fort Wayne going into the ninth and that’s when the TinCaps put their stamp on the game with a six-run inning.

Starting pitcher Zach Eflin continued his claim to be called the TinCaps to arm these days as he threw seven innings for the second time this year. It was only the sixth time this year a Fort Wayne starter did that. And until Zach’s performance, Justin Hancock (now with Advanced-A Lake Elsinore) had been the only other pitcher to do it twice.

While Zach left the game with a 3-2 lead, it didn’t feel safe until the offensive eruption in the ninth. The TinCaps didn’t have an extra-base hit during the inning but sent 10 men to the plate, hit four singles, drew two walks, and capitalized on two West Michigan errors. For most of the second half, it’s been the TinCaps who have had sloppy play exacerbate their problems, but Wednesday they finally got to be on the punishing side again.

Luis Domoromo was the offensive MVP with his first four-hit game of the year as a TinCap. Remember, Domoromo played the first half with Lake Elsinore, but struggled mightily. He was hitting .198 there when he was sent down for the the start of the second half. Things were even worse for “Domo” at the start in the Midwest League. He began 0-for-16. But now he’s finally hot, hitting .319 this month.

TIGERS IN TOWN

Omare Infante takes batting practice Wednesday.

Omare Infante takes batting practice Wednesday.

As we’ve discussed before here, maybe the only downside to the TinCaps outstanding, and longstanding, partnership with the Padres is the distance between Fort Wayne and San Diego. As a result, only two Padres have ever rehabbed injuries with the TinCaps — one being Everth Martinez, who did so at the beginning of the month when the TinCaps were on the road in South Bend.

A number of other Midwest League teams, though, are fortunate enough to be affiliates of MLB teams based nearby. Like the Whitecaps are with the Tigers just a bit more than 2 hours away.

So the TinCaps are the lucky ones who get to see a pair of Tigers up-close here in this series. Infielder Omar Infante and reliever Darin Downs are both here on Major League Rehab assignments.

Infante, 31, played here at Fifth Third Ballpark last night for the first time since 2000 when he was 18. That year Infante played 12 games with the Whitecaps on the way to his All-Star career in the bigs. He DH-ed last night, going 1-for-3 with a HBP, and is starting at second base and batting second tonight. Infante has been on the Tigers’ DL since July 9 with a sprained left ankle.

Downs, 28, has been on the DL since July 7 with tendonitis in the rotator cuff of his left shoulder. He’s expected to make his Midwest League debut tonight as the first arm out of West Michigan’s bullpen.

Fort Wayne players (who again had Cabrera as a teammate a few weeks back and have seen other MLB players rehab against them before) seem to have the appropriate level of “this is cool” while also approaching the game the same way.

FAMILY IN THE FORT

The Nolan Family minus sister Katie.

The Nolan Family minus sister Katie.

Was great to have my parents, Kathy and John, and sister, Kirsten, visiting in Fort Wayne from Saturday night through Wednesday morning. They set a family record for longest single-day drive, going 646 miles and 10 hours (not counting rest stops) from Edison, N.J., to Fort Wayne.

After listening to TinCaps games all year, I was glad to be able to show them around Parkview Field and Fort Wayne. Not to mention, it was a great excuse to go eat at some of the best spots in town. Thanks for coming, family!

MUSICAL GUEST

It’s Christmas in July tonight at Fifth Third Ballpark. We’l have more on that in tomorrow’s blog, but now, Burl Ives, take it away!

Thanks as always for reading. Feel free to be in touch on Twitter @John_G_Nolan or by email: nolan@tincaps.com. Hope you can catch tonight’s game on The Fan 1380 or TheFanFortWayne.com. Coverage starts at 6:40 EST.

Inter-Division Rubber Match, Fort Wayne Baseball History, Programming Note

Saturday’s game was close throughout against the Kernels, but Cedar Rapids prevailed, 2-1, on the strength of one swing of the bat. The Midwest League’s leading home-run hitter, Adam Brett Walker, hit his 21st longball of the season to power the Kernels to victory.

Tonight is the rubber match of the three-game series, and the rubber match of Fort Wayne’s inter-division play, as they’ve gone 11-11 against the Western Division.

Although TinCaps starter Joe Ross went six innings yesterday and only gave up those two runs, the TinCaps offense once again proved nearly nonexistent.

“I’m not too happy,” Manager Jose Valentin told The Journal Gazette. “It’s something (wrong) every day. It’s painful to see offensively the way it goes. There’s not too much you can do. We can have a hitting coach here every day working with those guys, but they’re not getting better.”

Fort Wayne has scored two runs the last two days, while collecting just nine hits. On the bright side, pitching has been very good. Cedar Rapids, as previously documented on this blog, is the league’s top offense, and the TinCaps have held them to two runs in two days, too. The only time in the prior 97 games that’s happened to the Kernels was June 6-7, in back-to-back 1-0 losses against Quad Cities and Kane County, respectively.

TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST

To hear Mike Maahs’ pre-game chat with Jose Valentin prior to yesterday’s loss, listen to today’s podcast:

FORT WAYNE’S BASEBALL HISTORY

For an upcoming edition of our Gameday program here at Parkview Field, I’ve put together a short history of baseball in Fort Wayne, I hope you enjoy it:

In 1862, when the United States Civil War was in its second year, and Confederate supporters clashed with Union backers on the fields of Antietam and Fredericksburg, history was also being made in Fort Wayne. The nation was in an era of war, but it was also approaching a new time, as organized baseball had spread to Fort Wayne.

While figures like Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant dominate history in the middle of the 19th century for being instrumental in settling scores on the battlefield, two men in the Summit City were vital pieces of settling scores on the ballfield.

———-

The names Shoaff and Brackenridge will ring a bell to anyone who’s lived in Fort Wayne, with Shoaff Park just six-and-a-half miles away from Parkview Field and Brackenridge Street bordering the ballpark on its southern end. Those two landmarks are named after Thomas Shoaff and Charles Brackenridge, the two men responsible for forming the city’s first baseball team, the Summit City Club, in 1862. Although that team didn’t stay together for long, as some of the players went to fight for the North in the Civil War, baseball was in Fort Wayne to stay, creating a legacy that’s been going for 151 years.

During the 2012 season at Parkview Field, the TinCaps averaged nearly 6,000 fans per game. However in May of 1871, when the first-ever professional baseball game in the United States took place, only 200 fans, perhaps not realizing what they were going to see that day, showed up to watch the game that was held not far from Parkview Field, as the Fort Wayne Kekiongas defeated the Cleveland Forest City Club, 2-0.

This is the only known photo of the 1871 Fort Wayne Kekiongas. It sold at auction for $43,500.

This is the only known photo of the 1871 Fort Wayne Kekiongas. It sold at auction for $43,500.

The pitcher in that game for Fort Wayne, Bobby Matthews, is said to be the inventor of the curveball. At the time that game was played, the pitcher threw the ball underhand and the mound was only 45 feet from home plate.

That team didn’t stick around for very long, though, disbanding after one year with a 7-21 record. Just 12 years later, on June 2, 1883, another baseball first took place in Fort Wayne: a professional game played under lights. Although it’s something we take for granted now, more people showed up for the game to see the lights than they did to see the baseball being played, according to newspaper accounts from that time.

“It was a unique and brilliant spectacle,” one scribe wrote. “The diamond appeared a charmed enclosure where the sun had focused its rays. The grandstand was as light as day, and the elegant garb of the ladies showed to as good advantage as in a ballroom because the electric light shows colors the same as the sun.”

———-

One of the Summit City’s earliest baseball stars who shined nearly as bright as those first stadium lights was Bill Wambsganss. As the second baseman for the Cleveland Indians, he turned an unassisted triple play on October 10, 1920, in game five of the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Wambsganss was born in Ohio, but was raised in Fort Wayne and attended Concordia College, now Concordia Theological Seminary, where the gymnasium is named in his honor. After his 13-year playing career, he returned to Fort Wayne to coach several teams.

Fort Wayne was also home to a short-lived all African-American baseball team, the Fort Wayne Colored Giants. Loosely affiliated with the Negro Leagues, the Colored Giants only lasted two seasons in the 1920’s. The team’s arrival and subsequently quick disappearance was not out of the ordinary in that time. Leagues and teams could come and go overnight, as players found better opportunities elsewhere or funding ran out. The Colored Giants disbanded because when they took a trip to Pittsburgh, their bus broke down and most players didn’t have enough money to get back. Instead of trying to find their way home, they picked up jobs in Pittsburgh and settled in Pennsylvania, marking the end of the Colored Giants.

The Fort Wayne Colored Giants.

The Fort Wayne Colored Giants.

One of the city’s greatest moments of baseball folklore took place in 1927, when Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees were in town on a barnstorming tour. The Yankees, which featured the likes of Lou Gehrig, were at League Park taking on a team of folks who worked for Lincoln Life. Ruth hit a home run that is said to have landed on a train that was passing by, and is the longest home run he ever hit. A gentleman whose father worked at the food stand for that game wrote a note to The History Center in Fort Wayne, saying that his father sold Ruth six hot dogs and four Coca-Colas that day. The Great Bambino, indeed.

———-

Baseball took another turn in Fort Wayne in 1945, when the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) came into existence. The league was founded by Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley in 1943 to hold the American public’s interest in baseball, as World War II was concurrently taking place.

Dottie Collins, who played for the Fort Wayne Daisies from 1945-1948 and in 1950.

Dottie Collins, who played for the Fort Wayne Daisies from 1945-1948 and in 1950.

Players came from all parts of the country, some even from overseas like Isabel Alvarez, who came from Cuba and joined the Daisies in 1951. Dottie Collins was playing fast-pitch softball in Inglewood, California, earning a bag of peanuts per game as compensation, when an AAGPBL scout invited her to try out and join a team where she could make anywhere from $90-$150 per week. During the 1948 season, she pitched until she was four months pregnant. Collins was also instrumental in helping the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, form its “Women in Baseball” exhibit in 1998. The AAGPBL received widespread recognition with the 1992 movie, A League of Their Own. Even the coaches of the Daisies carried name recognition, with Wambsganss and Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx each leading the team at separate times throughout its 10-year tenure.

Professional baseball existed only in the memories of Fort Wayne residents for a long time after the 1950’s. In the late 1980’s the Midwest League (MWL), which has been in existence since 1960, had its entry in Wausau, Wisconsin looking to move elsewhere. The MWL board of directors voted, 13-1, in late 1988 to approve the move of the Wausau Timbers to Fort Wayne, pending “the acquisition of a suitable stadium lease for play.”

In 1989, the Fort Wayne City Council approved funding for a ballpark in the city. In that same meeting, city councilors argued over whether it would be wise to sell beer at the stadium. To be fair, the ever-popular “Thirsty Thursday” had only been invented six years earlier in Asheville, North Carolina.

The Wausau franchise eventually moved to Geneva, Illinois, because there was not enough financial support to move the team to Fort Wayne. That team is now known as the Kane County Cougars, and has been a member of the Midwest League since 1991. In January of 1992, however, another Wisconsin-based team, the Kenosha Twins, was purchased by businessman Eric Margenau, who moved the team to Fort Wayne. The Kenosha franchise was losing money and drew only 45,349 fans in its final season in Wisconsin. The Wizards’ first season in Fort Wayne, which kicked off on April 19, 1993, saw more than 300,000 fans pass through the gates.

The Wizards became the TinCaps in 2009 and moved into beautiful Parkview Field, which drew a record attendance of 408,044 fans in 2012. Since professional baseball retuned to Fort Wayne in 1993, 117 players (as of this writing) have gone on from Fort Wayne to play in Major League Baseball. That’s nearly six players from each season that make it to the big leagues. From the championship team of 2009, 11 players have reached MLB.

A view of Parkview Field from The Treetops. (Photo by Jeff Nycz, 2013)

A view of Parkview Field from The Treetops. (Photo by Jeff Nycz, 2013)

So when you next enjoy a game at Parkview Field, take a lap around the concourse to view one of the 19 signs that hang above each section, paying tribute to some of the biggest names in Fort Wayne’s baseball history. Former Major League Baseball commissioners (Ford Frick), managers (Eric Wedge) and players (Jake Peavy) have lived and worked in the Summit City, and 151 years later, that legacy carries on.

A CLOSING NOTE

The team will be off tomorrow, so there will be no blog post. The team ventures Wednesday to West Michigan to take on the Whitecaps, and John Nolan will have you covered both here on the blog and on the radio broadcast Wednesday and Thursday nights. I will be down in Orlando to broadcast AAU basketball on ESPNU Wednesday and Thursday nights, and will re-join the team on Friday night. John and I will then bring you tandem coverage Friday-Monday as the team will also travel to Dayton, Ohio. Thanks, as always for reading/listening/watching!

MUSICAL GUEST

Live…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

Late-Game Decisions, Small World, Uni-Rating

In the opener of a three-game series, the TinCaps defeated the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the league’s top-hitting and top-scoring offense, 1-0. It was just the second time all season the Kernels have been shut out.

What stands out most from yesterday’s game is what happened in the top of the ninth inning, with the bases loaded and two outs. Cedar Rapids was threatening to tie or take the lead, and TinCaps closer Roman Madrid, the Midwest League’s active saves leader, was on the mound. And then all of a sudden…he wasn’t. With Adam Brett Walker, the league leader in home runs and runs batted in coming up to the plate, Jose Valentin made a pitching change and brought in Trevor Gott. If you’ve watched the TinCaps to the point where you’re familiar with the roles on the team this season, you had to have been surprised by the decision. It ended up working out, as Gott threw one pitch to retire Walker, but the result didn’t change the eyebrow-raising factor of the decision. Valentin explained after the game:

“I took my chances taking Madrid out, but he’s been kind of struggling. Sometimes managers have to make tough decisions. Sometimes we’ve just got to go with out gut, you’ve got to go for whatever you think is best. I wont give up on him. He’ll still be my closer. I’ve just go to have confidence that he’s going to go up there and get the job done. He’s got to work more on his command. His command with the slider is not good and it hasn’t been good enough. He’s got to be more aggressive and throw strikes…It was tough to take him out. Also, the reason I did it because (Walker) is the cleanup hitter and watching him, he’s got a long, slow swing, he’s a breaking ball guy. Madrid in that situation, he might go with the slider, and that’s what the hitter is looking for. In that situation I had to go with a guy who throws more strikes. I was thinking about going with a guy who could get ahead with the fastball…

I know he (Madrid) is kind of pissed about the call that I made, but I will explain it to him tomorrow and hopefully he understands.”

So, there is the logic behind the slider vs. fastball argument, but there’s also the numbers that Madrid has posted in the second half. He fell behind a few hitters yesterday and although he didn’t give up any hard-hit balls, he still loaded the bases. Here’s how Madrid has fared this season:

First Half: 5-1, 1.11 ERA, 33K, 17BB in 32 1/3 innings, 12-14 save opportunities.

Second Half: 0-2, 6.35 ERA, 12K, 9BB in 11 1/3 innings, 3-4 save opportunities.

In the second half, Madrid has already given up twice as many earned runs (8) than he did in the first half (4). He’s also being used a lot, too. He and TinCaps lefty reliever Chris Nunn are tied for the league lead with 39 appearances each.

Meanwhile, Gott, who was selected in the sixth round from the University of Kentucky this year by the Padres, has surrendered one earned run in 10 2/3 innings, while striking out 13 and walking four.

As Jose said, he’ll be keeping Madrid as the closer, which was the role he assumed last year in Eugene, too, but last night’s decision worked out OK.

PODCAST

To hear full post-game comments from Manager Jose Valentin as he discusses Bryan Rodriguez’s slider and other topics, listen to today’s podcast:

BASEBALL IS A SMALL WORLD

So I’m headed out of the ballpark last night when I get an email from John Nolan, and it’s a flashback to a game in the collegiate Cape Cod Baseball League from the summer of 2011. Before I share with you what that email said, let me re-hash the top of the ninth inning for you in yesterday’s game. Trevor Gott vs. Adam Brett Walker with the game on the line. Gott throws one pitch, Walker, who leads the league in home runs and RBI, grounds out to end the game. Here’s John’s email:

On the Cape in 2011 —  July 12, to be precise — Gott (Orleans) struck out Walker (Hyannis), who was the tying run, for the final out of a 3-1 Firebirds win. And like (last night), (Fort Wayne’s Maxx) Tissenbaum (Orleans) was on Gott’s team but watching from the dugout.  

Second-level nugget: Walker was pinch-hitting there for current River Bandit Austin Elkins. The runner on base was Dragon Zach Vincej. And in the inning, Gott also struck out River Bandit Dan Gulbransen. 

Really? That’s a lot of MiLB talent in one game right there. If anything, it should tell you that on your next vacation, if you’re interested in catching some more stars of tomorrow before they even reach the Midwest League, you should plan a trip to Cape Cod. John and I both worked for the Falmouth Commodores, but we’ve traveled all over the Cape (my family is vacationing there right now) and are happy to provide tourist suggestions and restaurant recommendations.

YOU ASK, I ANSWER

Today’s blog question comes from @drkensf, a great FOB (that’s Friend of the Blog for those new readers out there). He asks via Twitter:

@MikeCouzens Q for future IAR: Excluding the TinCaps, what MWL team has the best uniforms?”

This is an interesting one for me, because I usually prefer boring colors like grey when it comes to clothing, but in the Midwest League, every team’s got a road grey uniform and every team has a home white uniform. I don’t know that I can put them in any particular order for you, but here are my favorites:

Dayton’s green tops:

Photo courtesy MWLTraveler.com

Photo courtesy MWLTraveler.com

Burlington’s navy outfits:

bluebees

Bowling Green’s ketchup red unis:

They also have a mustard yellow jersey.

They also have a mustard yellow jersey.

Having seen them the most out of these three, I’d say the Dragons’ green uniforms really pop the most under the sunshine, as they’re traditionally worn for Sunday home games. They wear them with a white cap that has a green bill, and is a really sharp look. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the Bees wear the blue uniforms, but I like the color scheme. Bowling Green has what I believe is the most uniform combinations in the league. If I’m not mistaken they have a white, black, grey, red and yellow option each time they take the field. Most teams just have three–a home white, a road grey and an alternate, so Bowling Green’s breaking the mold there just a bit.

As a fan, I must ask, do you have a favorite uniform, whether it be the TinCaps or another team?

MUSICAL GUEST

Paul Simon…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 Kernel Invasion, Weickel Performs, Keeping PVF Pristine

A series victory was not meant to be for the TinCaps, who lost, 6-3, to the Quad Cities River Bandits last night at Parkview Field.

The story of this game, as Fort Wayne Manager Jose Valentin said afterward, was that his team couldn’t execute pitches.

“Our pitchers today were struggling to throw some strikes. Too many pitching behind counts, too many 2-0 pitches, 3-1 pitches. It’s tough to watch that day by day.”

Another storyline was the appearance of Mark Appel, who was drafted first overall last month by Houston. He’s on a tight inning limit, so he only threw four innings, but he looked very advanced doing it. Appel, who played four years at Stanford, faced 16 batters and only went to a three-ball count one time, never coming close to walking a batter after that at-bat to Mallex Smith in the bottom of the first inning. Appel did give up two home runs, one to Corey Adamson and one to Gabriel Quintana, but other than that showed great command of his fastball and a big slider that badly fooled Diego Goris in the first inning.

Tonight the TinCaps open a three-game series with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, who are in their first year of affiliation with the Minnesota Twins. Of all the affiliation changes that took place in the Midwest League this offseason, I was probably surprised most by this one, seeing as Cedar Rapids had been an Angels affiliate dating back to 1993. The Kernels roster features five of Baseball America’s Top 30 Prospects for this season:

10 –  OF Max Kepler

13 –  P Mason Melotakis

14 –  INF Jorge Polanco

22 –  P Madison Boer

26 –  INF Niko Goodrum

Not included in that list is outfielder Adam Brett Walker II, who leads the league with 20 home runs. For reference, the TinCaps home run leaders, Rodney Daal and Gabriel Quintana, have six. Second on the Kernels roster with 15 home runs is infielder Travis Harrison. This team’s got some serious power. A look at the Midwest League RBI leaders also shows their dominance offensively:

RBI
Walker II, Adam Brett CR 83
* Hicks, Dalton CR 82
Bostick, Chris BEL 69
# Polanco, Jorge CR 69
Nunez, Renato BEL 67

Fortunately for the TinCaps, Dalton Hicks just received a promotion to Advanced-A Fort Myers of the Florida State League, so at least they won’t have to deal with him.

Even though those numbers are impressive, what stands out to me is how many runs the Kernels have scored: 562. That’s an average of six runs per game. The next closest team in terms of runs is Bowling Green with 470, a full 92 runs behind. The TinCaps have scored 464 runs for an average of 4.8 runs per game. I realize it doesn’t quite matter how many runs a team scores per game, seeing as a group can win 13-1, and it still just goes down as one win, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Bryan Rodriguez gets the call for the TinCaps tonight. Things haven’t been too rosy with him on the mound lately, as the TinCaps are 1-4 in his last five starts, with Rodriguez going a personal 0-4 with a 5.84 ERA. He’ll be opposed by Tim Atherton, who received his PhD in physics, oh, whoops wrong guy…who spent last year in Beloit (then a Twins affiliate) pitching out of the Snappers bullpen.

First pitch tonight is at 6:05 rather than the usual 7:05, because the fireworks from the Three Rivers Festival are set for 10:00, and you’re welcome to watch from Parkview Field if you’re here for the game. Also, one of the best entertainment acts in all the land, QuickChange, will be here, too. No extra innings, OK everyone?

PODCAST

To hear from Manager Jose Valentin after last night’s game, listen to today’s TinCaps Report Podcast:

NEVER GONNA STOP LAUGHING

Last night was 80′s night at Parkview Field, and so the TinCaps wore these jerseys:

Tyler Stubblefield models the latest creative designs of the TinCaps' Tony DesPlaines.

Tyler Stubblefield models the latest creative designs of the TinCaps’ Tony DesPlaines.

And TinCaps staff members dressed up like this:

tony

And like this:

brentabbyaustin

And it was awesome.

But perhaps the best part of the entire night was the musical performance put on by pitcher Walker Weickel. Having just competed in Fort Wayne’s Luscious Legs competition, we knew he was fearless, but this rendition of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” takes his skills to a whole new level:

Bravo, and a standing ovation to Walker and his backup dancers, pitchers Matt Shepherd and Zach Eflin. May this video live forever.

UP ALL NIGHT

One of the faces you may not know from Parkview Field is that of Assistant Director of Maintenance Donald Miller. He’s at Parkview Field working long hours to ensure that the facility looks as good today in year five as it did in year one. A big part of that is cleaning the ballpark after a game. John Nolan wrote a little about the cleaning crew in an earlier blog entry, found here, but now there’s a video story done by WANE-TV photographer Maverick Atteberry that you’ve got to watch.

Click here for the story: http://www.wane.com/dpp/news/local/behind-the-scenes-look-at-the-tincaps-clean-up-crew

Atteberry’s story shows what a night is like with the cleaning crew, that consists of about 30 people, cleans nearly 8,000 stadium seats, 66 toilets, and countless other areas around the ballpark. And they don’t leave until about the time you’re ready to wake up for work the next day. So the next time you’re ready to throw your cup on the floor of the ballpark, make it a little easier for everyone and find the nearest trash can.

MUSICAL GUEST

Dave Matthews Band…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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