Inside the Parker, Playing for Something, Catnip Mascot
Although Thursday’s game started with a bang, it ended with nothing more than a fizzle for the TinCaps, who did not put a runner on base over the last four innings of the game. The final 13 men came up to the plate, and went right back to the dugout, without more than a step toward first base. Fort Wayne lost, 4-1, to South Bend, leaving August 2, 2012, the last time they won at Coveleski Stadium, hanging over their heads.
The highlight of the night was this–and inside-the-park home run from third baseman Diego Goris:
How does a third baseman hit an inside-the-park home run, you ask? Let’s take a look at this picture first:
Notice that grassy, terraced area in right field? That’s where South Bend right fielder Socrates Brito ended up after chasing Goris’ hit. Diego hit just a small pop-fly to the right field line that Brito charged in on, but missed. Brito kept running, leaping over the fence and into the grassy area, while the ball rolled all the way to the corner, 336 feet away from home plate. Both South Bend’s second baseman and center fielder chased after it, but Goris was rumbling around third by the time they got to the ball, and finished off the play with a round-tripper.
Fort Wayne will look to avoid a three-game sweep after having come into the series on a three-game winning streak. Joe Ross takes the mound tonight for a 7:35 first pitch in South Bend. I’ll be joined by Mike Maahs for the radio call, which starts at 7:15 on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com. Hope you’ll join us.
A CHAT WITH THE MANAGER
For yesterday’s pre-game conversation, I sat down with Silver Hawks Manager Mark Haley, who’s in his ninth year with the club, having been in South Bend since 2005. He lives in nearby Granger, Indiana, which is one of the reasons he enjoys being in South Bend so much. I figured he might be able to share some wisdom on how he’s getting his club to play so well, despite the fact that they, like the TinCaps have qualified for the playoffs. In the first half, South Bend went 44-25, while Fort Wayne was 43-26. In the second half, however, South Bend is 28-19 while Fort Wayne is 17-29, sitting in last place in the second-half standings.
The first thing I wanted to know from him was how he’s kept his team playing so well after the All-Star break:
“From day one, even when we clinched it in the first half, the motto in the locker room is “we haven’t done anything yet.” We won the first half, but we’ve gotta go out there and play hard. We’ve gotta get better. Our goal is to get in the big leagues and the only way you’re going to do that is playing this game the right way….You’ve gotta go out and play every day and be prepared every day because it’s your career…The bottom line is they’ve gotta win in Arizona (the parent club of South Bend). Every game we play, it’s one game closer to where we want to be and don’t take it for granted. We don’t have time to have any lapses or look back at what we accomplished. We haven’t accomplished anything. We’ve got a ticket to the dance, but we don’t know who we’re gonna take and if we’re gonna have fun at it or not…If you’ve got a locker room full of guys who are pulling for each other, it makes it a little easier and they know that we’re here to win ballgames.”
We got to talking about South Bend’s most prolific hitter, 20-year-old Brandon Drury, who’s hitting .313 and hasn’t had his average dip below .300 since May 18th. Drury was sent to Arizona from the Atlanta organization in the off-season trade for outfielder Justin Upton. We also talked about 2012 TinCaps closer Matt Stites, who was recently involved in a trade to the Arizona organization. Haley mentioned that Stites gave him “a lot of sleepless nights” last year, but also made a larger point about why it’s important to keep playing well individually, even if a team is in the playoffs–there’s always someone watching:
“That’s what I tell our players. When you go out there even if you’re 20 games down in the race, August comes and you perform well against other organizations, you want to get on their computer list of having good grades, good skill grades so when a trade comes up you’re going to have the opportunity to play somewhere else. You don’t play just for your organization. You develop that way and you create their identity, but you’ve got to realize that there are a lot of other opportunities out there. Every time you take infield (practice), every time you take the field, somebody’s watching. They want to give you that opportunity and you’ve got to show that you deserve it.”
Haley reiterated that his players understand that there are always other pro scouts watching, which is why his team goes out to take infield practice every day. Not only do MLB organizations have amateur scouts, the ones who find players to be drafted, but they also have pro scouts, who are looking and evaluating for players that one day might be involved in a trade. So, when a “player to be named later” is included in a deal or a minor leaguer is involved, there’s a lot of scouting that goes into that, too.
To hear our full conversation, including Haley’s thoughts on ripped jeans (you’ll have to listen to understand), check out the podcast below:
A CHAT WITH THE OWNER
During the game yesterday, South Bend’s second-year owner Andrew Berlin. He bought the team on November 11, 2011, and has made massive efforts to turn the franchise around from where it was under the previous ownership, headed by former Indiana governor Joe Kernan.
Kernan took on a great deal of debt to operate the Silver Hawks and has not had the resources to fully promote and market the team. The club never turned a profit in his six years with the team.
“We are selling the team for less that what we bought it for,” said Kernan.
Many offers have been made to purchase the Silver Hawks in recent years, but Kernan rejected them because the prospective buyers planned to move the team.
“Joe is a great guy,” said Berlin. “He has dedicated himself to his country, his city and his state. Joe kept the team in town. I plan to do my darnedest to make sure it thrives.”
In 2011, South Bend drew a franchise-record low 112,895 fans for 64 openings at Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium, an average crowd of 1,762. The Silver Hawks ranked 13th in the 16-team Class-A Midwest League in attendance.
After buying the team, Berlin signed a 20-year lease with the city of South Bend for the ballpark. Last year, he told me yesterday, the attendance rose 68% from 2011, and this year the attendance is 25% ahead of 2012. He’s also put in $12 million in private money for renovations, which include a new team store, 30-foot-tall inflatables, a 36-jet splash pad in right field, among other things.
Berlin said the stadium was “a tired ballpark”, before his arrival. “We’ve turned the team around, and financially it’s secure now, virtually no debt on the team.” One of his plans is to, at some point, bring natural grass back to Coveleski Stadium. It’s the only turf surface in the league, and he calls himself a “purist” who would like to see grass at The Cove. From talking to players, they seem to prefer that it be grass.
Perhaps one of the more interesting touches that Berlin, a minority owner of the White Sox, has added to the stadium is where the hot dogs come from. While trying to draw fans from Indiana and Michigan, the hot dogs come from Massachusetts.
“Baseball writers of America are surveyed every year,” he said, “who’s got the best hotdog in a major league ballpark? Fenway (Park in Boston) ended up getting the nod two years in a row…We ship the hot dogs in from Massachusetts and we’ve got the best hot dog in baseball.”
Though he likes the Silver Hawks, Berlin, the owner of the eponymous Berlin Packaging, says one day he’d like to own the White Sox, who are currently owned by Jerry Reinsdorf.
“Yes, I’m happy in South Bend, and that doesn’t have to end,” Berlin told me. “Yes, I’d like to own the White Sox and I’ve made my desire clear, but at the same time in order to buy the White Sox, (they) have to be for sale…I’m ready financially, I’m ready emotionally, and I’m ready, I believe, with the kind of business acumen to at least learn what I need to learn to make it a great team.”
South Bend is currently the only team in the league with no media presence. Although formerly on WSBT radio and then, in recent years, internet only broadcasts, they currently are not on the air at all. Berlin hopes to change that.
“We’d like to have the team on TV and on the radio. I think that, even for the folks who can’t make it to the ballpark, to start exposing them to the team…Being on TV and radio, it gives the folks the opportunity to get to know the team better…We’re going to start televising games here locally, and we’ll look to expand it. The TinCaps have done a nice job with that with Comcast.”
Lastly, we talked about where the Silver Hawks looked for ideas and inspiration when trying to re-vamp the experience at Coveleski Stadium. He told me that since the Oakland A’s were voted as having the best music in baseball because they play the best of the 60’s and 70’s, so now that’s what the Silver Hawks play between innings.
“Almost everybody likes the Beatles, almost everybody likes Journey, Led Zeppelin. You’ll find that in a lot of our music we play the best of the 60’s and 70’s.”
My favorite nugget from the whole interview was when he shared the detail about how they spruced up their mascot.
“The Diamondbacks taught us to spray our mascot with cotton candy cologne. It’s like catnip for kids. And I’ve got to tell you, we’ve got the best-smelling mascot in all of Minor League Baseball.
To hear our full conversation, listen to the podcast below:
Green Day…take it away!