The four-day road trip to Midland, Michigan, was a successful one for the TinCaps, who took three out of four games from the Great Lakes Loons, earning just their fourth series victory here in the second half, one where the TinCaps have resided in the basement of the Midwest League for a significant period of time. Tonight Fort Wayne returns home to Parkview Field for a three-game series against the South Bend Silver Hawks, who have been their arch nemesis this season. The TinCaps are a dismal 2-14 against the Silver Hawks this year…but both of the Fort Wayne wins have come at Parkview Field.
Some notes before we get things rolling today:
-Mallex Smith stole three bases last night, giving him the Midwest League lead in that category. Andrew Toles of Bowling Green has 56. Smith, with 13 games to play, is only eight stolen bases away from tying the franchise record for a single season. It was most recently accomplished by Rymer Liriano in 2011, when he stole 65 bags.
-Both Diego Goris and Alberth Martinez homered last night. Martinez now leads the team with 10 home runs, and is only one shy of matching the team high for last season, when Lee Orr had 11.
-The hottest bats of all right now are Reynaldo Bruguera and Gabriel Quintana. Bruguera, the infielder, is hitting .387 (12-31) over his last nine games, while Quintana is at .341 (15-44) with seven RBI in his last 10 games. Bruguera’s hot play means Jose Valentin has to keep him in the lineup, forcing a shuffle between Tyler Stubblefield and Maxx Tissenbaum for the middle infield spots.
Tonight’s game gets underway at 7:05, and I’ll have the TV call on XFINITY 81 with Kent Hormann. You can hear the radio broadcast with Mike Maahs and John Nolan on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com.
For all Friday games the rest of the season, you can hear those games on News/Talk 1190 WOWO and 92.3 FM. If you’re listening out of town, head to WOWO.com and click the “Listen Live” link in the upper left-hand corner. The reason for the switch is that our flagship station, The Fan 1380, airs high school football games on Friday nights.
Also, I will be out of town for the next several days, so John Nolan will have the reins to the blog. He’ll also be traveling with the team and calling the games on radio when they head on down to Bowling Green for that upcoming three-game weekend series.
TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST
In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, John Nolan chats with Hunter Renfroe about the status of his injured right hand, and also gets to know the outfielder from Crystal Springs, Mississippi:
If you’re even a fringe baseball fan, you’ve had no choice but to hear about Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees this season. Heck, even if you’re not a baseball fan you’re bound to hear about the Yankees at one point or another because they’ve permeated the cultural landscape so strongly.
Jeff MacGregor of ESPN.com writes a terrific piece analyzing the team’s clubhouse and what’s happening to the team’s brand and its superstars, most notably Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. Not only is the writing pretty darn good, but so is the narrative.
“It rains hard and then it clears and the skies above the Bronx are blue and high and perfect and Derek Jeter, 39 years old in June, takes BP for the first time in days while Joe Girardi watches. The ball doesn’t sound quite right coming off the bat. Another week to dial things in maybe. Alex Rodriguez, now 38, steps in and the bat cracks and the ball sizzles and rises and flies, and everyone smiles and the fans clamor for autographs and snapshots. The “A-Rat” headlines won’t hit New York doorsteps for another few days.
On the big screen out in center they’re running that video from Mickey Mantle Day in 1969. It feels antique now, grainy as a transmission from deep space and drained of color. Mickey’s all dressed up for his retirement. He waves and smiles that Mickey smile and snaps his chewing gum. There’s Phil Rizzuto. Mel Allen. The ovation goes on and on and on. The roar echoes down out of the old stadium and into the new one, down out of the past, down out of time like a message from centuries ago. Mickey Mantle raises his hand to wave goodbye. Mickey Mantle is 37 years old.”
Oh, how times have changed, huh?
Jake Owen…take it away!
Monday night at Dow Diamond the Fort Wayne TinCaps made history, but not in a good way. In a 12-5 loss to the Great Lakes Loons, Fort Wayne committed a franchise-high-tying seven errors. It’s the first time that mark has been reached in TinCaps history, as the last time it took place was in 2008, when the team was the Fort Wayne Wizards. The errors came in a number of ways mundane and matchless. Infielder Reynaldo Bruguera was charged an error for obstruction on the basepaths during a rundown, and pitcher Chris Nunn was given an error for missing a throw back to the mound from catcher Rodney Daal, allowing a baserunner to advance. Daal was charged with one of his own for trying to field a bunt and falling down during the process. The only other occurrences of a seven-error game in Fort Wayne’s history came July 11, 2008, and July 30, 2000. Reliever Joe Church had perhaps the strangest line of the night, as he allowed seven runs, but only one of them was earned.
Tonight the TinCaps look for a series victory against the Loons at 7:05, in an effort to take three out of four. Colin Rea takes the hill for Fort Wayne, replacing the injured Matthew Shepherd. For Rea, who began the year at Lake Elsinore, it will be his first regular-seaosn start in a TinCaps uniform since September 3, 2012, in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
I hope you’ll join me and John Nolan tonight for the radio broadcast, which starts at 6:45. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05. You can hear the game on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com.
Prior to Monday night’s game I chatted with the first-year manager of the Great Lakes Loons, Razor Shines.
Our chat was good, as Razor is managing a team that right now is right in the thick of a playoff hunt, which means he’s a happy guy. Here are some selections from our conversation…
On balancing winning vs. player development in a playoff race:
“I look at it as though winning is developing. There are days when you’re handcuffed–what I mean by that is there are certain people who have to play and there are certain pitchers who have to throw, regardless of performance. I understand that. This is Low-A ball and I have no problem with that. Winning, I think, is developing. And if you teach these guys to win, obviously they’re going to understand the game of baseball, they’re going to throw the ball to the right base and they’ll get better.”
On how his starters’ limited innings have taxed his relief corps:
“Well it has really taxed our bullpen. It’s given us extended innings that we have to make up out of our bullpen, and on certain nights we’re going to be short. We’re not going to have the best available person to fit in that spot and that’s just part of what we’re doing here in Midland on the A-ball level. It has to happen.”
On managing his son, Devin, who is a Loons outfielder:
“It’s hard. It’s really difficult. I have to treat him just like I treat everybody else and that’s hard to do because at the end of the day he’s my son and I’m his father. Family comes before my work. That’s the way it’s always going to be for as long as I ever do this. It’s a difficult spot to be in. If I had a choice I would rather not manage him, but I don’t have a choice. It’s really good for me to see him play.”
On Jose Valentin’s son, Jesmuel, a Dodgers farmhand who played with the Loons earlier this season:
“He is playing well. He is swinging the bat extremely well. He’s hitting around .290 right now in Ogden (Utah) which is our advanced rookie level, which is our next level to here. There is a chance that he’ll be called up for the playoff run. He actually did pretty good when he was here. He was put in a situation where he had to play shortstop. He’s not a shortstop by trade. HAving to go to a new position on a daily basis, it affected him out there, it affected him at the plate. Now that he’s playing second base every day, he’s swinging the bat well, the reports are good that he’s feeling the ball well, so I’m hoping that we’ll get an opportunity to see him before this playoff run is over.”
Listen to the podcast below to hear our full conversation:
I’m always up for a good story, and when I was getting on the bus last night after the game around 11:00, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read one about the state of Wyoming (approximate population 576,000) having just two elevators. This story from The Atlantic is about a month old, but still eyebrow-raisingly good:
“So, yes: In 2008, Wyoming had two-and-depending-on-how-you-count-four escalators, in the entire state. Which works out, using 2012 state population statistics, to 0.000003467 escalators per capita. Not a high number, but hey, per the Governor’s office itself, “it is widely assumed that there are no escalators in Wyoming.” So, take that.
A lot can change in five years, though. And since the two-escalators stat is getting some attention now that Wyoming is back in the national news, I decided to embark on a very important fact-finding mission when it comes to the technological infrastructure of the great state of Wyoming. How many escalators, I wanted to know, are in the state right now — in 2013?
Best I can tell … two. Yep, still two.”
This all, of course, gets me thinking…how many escalators are there in Fort Wayne? The only ones I can think of are at the Coliseum and in Glenbrook Square Mall. Anywhere else?
ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE ON WHO WE ARE
Read this article from The New York Times about a foreign correspondent’s thoughts on America after having lived in England for 18 years, and tell me you didn’t laugh at least once.
“I’ve come back often, so it’s not like it was a total shock. But while I wasn’t paying attention, Arizona for some reason got its own Major League Baseball team. New York City’s center of gravity shifted to Brooklyn, at least according to the people who live in Brooklyn.
In other developments, available phone numbers ran out, forcing the introduction of unpleasant new area codes. “Awesome” went from being a risible word used only by stoners and surfers to an acceptably ubiquitous modifier, the Starbucks of adjectives.
New York City Transit began kindly informing passengers how long they would have to wait until the next train. A few Americans started going only to restaurants with lovingly reared, locally sourced unpronounceable ingredients; the rest started going only to restaurants with All-U-Can-Eat Fat Plate specials.
The Kardashians arrived and would not leave.”
The story has a few more small differences between the two cultures, which gives you as the reader an interesting way of looking at our culture.
A happy 65th birthday to Led Zeppelin’s Robert plant.
And on that note…Led Zeppelin, take it away!
Happy Monday to you and here’s to another great week of TinCaps Baseball. There are just 15 regular-season games remaining for the club, which has won back-to-back games to open this four-game series against Great Lakes. The TinCaps took both Thursday and Friday’s contests by a score of 4-3.
Tonight they face 2013 second-round pick Tom Windle, who was taken out of the University of Minnesota. The 21-year-old went 6-4 with a 2.14 ERA in 14 starts for Minnesota as a junior in 2013, including tossing the first nine-inning no-hitter in Minnesota history on March 8th against Western Illinois. Windle will be opposed by Fort Wayne’s Max Fried, a first-round draft selection by the Padres in 2012.
On the injury front–Fort Wayne RF Hunter Renfroe was hit by a pitch in his right hand in Saturday’s series opener against the Loons. The official word today is that it is a hand contusion–meaning no broken or fractured bones–and that he is day-to-day.
Tonight’s game is at 7:05, meaning John Nolan and I will join you at 6:45 on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com. Hope to have you along.
In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, John Nolan catches up with Fort Wayne Manager Jose Valentin for our weekly Sunday chat. Valentin has the latest on Hunter Renfroe’s injured hand, he shares his memories of playing in the Little League World Series, and they even talk about the possibility of a snake in the clubhouse…seriously. Have a listen:
THIS ARTICLE BROUGHT TO YOU BY…
If you’ve listened to a TinCaps radio broadcast before, you’ll know we start with the Hupe Insurance Services Pre-game show, and that all pitching changes are brought to you by the law office of Harold Myers, a proud supporter of TinCaps baseball for 21 years and counting.
However, if you listen to a major league broadcast, you’ll notice a lot more sponsored elements, which are known as drop-ins. Richard Sandomir of The New York Times wrote yesterday about this growing intrusion into baseball broadcasts:
“Drop-ins have proliferated in recent years as radio stations have tried to offset the rising costs of broadcast rights. The baseball radio broadcast, for so long the soundtrack of summer with an almost sacrosanct rhythm of familiar voices, is now laden with paid advertisements for everything from the umpire lineup to the postgame wrap-up. Televised games have similarly been infiltrated, but not all of their drop-ins are read aloud.
With the narrative of the game turned into an adjunct for quickie ads, fans who once turned down the volume on their radios between innings to avoid commercials have no escape.
The phenomenon, playing out on airwaves around the country, is most pronounced in Yankees broadcasts. The first Yankees walk prompts, “Just walk into any of CityMD’s six convenient locations.” The announcement of the game’s umpires is brought to you by Levy Phillips & Konigsberg, a law firm specializing in asbestos exposure cases. The personal injury law firm Cellino & Barnes gets a plug when the announcers explain the broadcast’s copyright violation policy. A call to the bullpen comes with a nod to one of three sponsors: Aamco Car Care, Hyundai and the Tri-State Ford Dealers.
The postgame wrap-up show? That’s brought to you, naturally, by Reynolds Wrap.”
The bottom line is someone’s got to pay the bills for the rights fees associated with carrying MLB games on the radio, and the Yankees probably charge more for their broadcast right than anyone. What’s funny is that by the time the midway point of the season rolls around, we say these things so often that I can recite them by memory now. If you’ve ever got a question about the official natural energy booster of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, I’m your guy. (It’s honey, by the way.)
BEHIND THE MASK
Coming soon to this very space on the internet, I’ll be bringing you a feature on two former Midwest League umpires, Sam Vogt and Tim Hromada. The two are only former Midwest League umpires because, as of today, they’e been promoted to the California League. I chatted with them last week about life as an umpire. Here’s one segment of our chat in which I asked them despite the low odds of ever making it as a Major League Baseball umpire, why the continue trying to get there:
Tim: “Right now, just because I enjoy this at my young age. I have a girlfriend and everything, but I enjoy being around baseball. Just because someone’s telling you you can’t do something, that’s one of the hardest pills to swallow. But I still want to do it. I’ve always been that competitive person to where I’d like to at least try. It might not work out, but that’s fine. The experiences you gain and the people you get to know, your connections in life are so much greater and your relationships are so much better.”
Sam: I’ve grown so much in the past three years. I think it’s beneficial to me. I’m growing as a person. This job’s allowed me to have so many different perspectives on things, letting me travel the country, see different places, meet different people—that’s the biggest benefit for me right now even if I don’t end up as a major league umpire. If I didn’t think that this was beneficial to me, if I didn’t think that I would be able to go sit down in a room and get interviewed for a job, whatever the job may be if it’s teaching or a job at a company managing people, anything…if I didn’t think that this job provided me with a viable experience…where I could sit down in an interview and they say “Oh, you were an umpire. How did that benefit you?” I could tell them that I’m making thousands of decisions a year, split-second decisions that have an economic impact on players, the game. Rain situations that can cost the (general manager) a game, tens of thousands of dollars. Dealing with people, dealing with managers, diffusing situations. Every night you could have an array of unexpected problems. If I told a potential employer that I had to spend six months on the road with little to no supervision from the boss, be in a different city every three days, on time, never be late for work, never miss a day, never call off. For six months straight to go out there every night and make hundreds of decisions. I feel like it’s benefiting me right now, that’s why I’m sticking with it.”
Stay tuned for more on the life of a Minor League Baseball umpire.
SELLING GLASSES IS BIG BUSINESS
Ever heard of Warby Parker? Yeah, neither had I until today.
I came across this piece in The New Yorker on the relatively new online eyeglasses distributor that’s trying to take profits away from the big, established businesses in the industry. So far, they’re gaining ground:
“Two years ago, when someone asked if my glasses were Warby Parker, it was typically a stylish British woman or an actor/ironic bike messenger/model,” says a young entrepreneur who was tipped off to Warby Parker glasses by a friend at Harvard Business School. “Now it tends to be bros in Bears jerseys on the subway.”
I suppose that’s one demographic to have….
Another part of what the company, which has employees in either their 20’s or 30’s, does is to create an environment suitable to the people they’re hiring:
“Keeping employees happy isn’t just a nice thing to do; it’s good business. Which is part of what makes Warby Parker so attractive to investors like Amex, which got burned in the last dot-com boom….Earlier this year, the company conducted an internal survey asking employees why they were attracted to Warby Parker and why they’ve stayed. “And to both of those questions, compensation was dead last,” says Blumenthal. “It was culture and opportunity to learn and have an impact.” Every new employee gets a gift certificate to a Thai restaurant (the cuisine of choice during the company’s founding days); a copy of The Dharma Bums; a short history of the Puck Building; and a free pair of glasses, whether or not they need them. In the vein of start-ups, employees who stick around more than a year are offered equity.”
Shying away from the old-school model of business that requires a dress shirt and tie and strict office guidelines might be the wave of the future, at least as far as start-up businesses go. I wasn’t so interested in the glasses-selling aspect of this article as I was the cultural one. As more and more recent college graduates try and start their own businesses, it this how they’ll do it? Online businesses, I would think , require far less overhead than if a company were to have to replicate the entire manufacturing process with a factory of its own, when now it’s done cheaper and easier overseas, in this case it’s China. Food for thought…
Skrillex featuring Ellie Goulding…take it away!
Saturday saw the TinCaps go to extra innings against the Great Lakes Loons, and emerge the victors, 4-3, in the opener of a four-game series. Roman Madrid allowed a 10th-inning run but notched his 20th save of the season, helping Fort Wayne hang on an snap a three-game losing streak.
It was a treat yesterday to watch Great Lakes starter Julio Urias, a 17-year-old from Mexico, work for even just three innings. For a guy the Dodgers found while on a scouting trip to watch Yasiel Puig in Mexico, that’s a pretty good discovery. The Loons starter has a limited innings count, and understandably so at his age, but he looked like he could easily dominate a Midwest League lineup if allowed to pitch a start of six or seven innings. He showed off a fastball consistently in the low to mid 90’s, a good changeup and a stellar curveball that has a late, downward break and was baffling to TinCaps hitters. Urias struck out five batters in three innings, only allowing two singles.
He began the baseball season as a 16-year-old, and mwltraveler.com did a little digging, finding no 16-year-olds having played in the Midwest League since at least 1990. As far as 17-year-olds go, three of them have pitched in the league since 1998, with one of them being Felix Hernandez, who saw three games with Wisconsin in 2003. It’s entirely possible Urias could be here again next year, as he would be 17 for a majority of the season.
Today it’ll be a battle of first rounders, with the TinCaps sending Max Fried to the hill against Dodgers 2013 first-round pick Chris Anderson. Anderson, a native of Minnesota, was taken 18th overall this year, five spots behind Fort Wayne’s Hunter Renfroe. The Loons pitcher is only scheduled to go about three innings, or about 50 pitches, but no more. Coming off his college season at Jacksonville University (FL) where he threw more than 104 innings, he’s just here to see limited action.
Speaking of Renfroe, we’ll look to get an update on him today. He left yesterday’ game in the eighth inning after being hit in the hand by a pitch. Tune in for our pre-game show at 2:45 today, as we’ll talk with Jose Valentin to get the latest on Renfroe and what’s happening in the TinCaps clubhouse. You can join me and John Nolan on The Fan 1380 in Fort Wayne and TheFanFortWayne.com everywhere else.
In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, John Nolan chats with Padres Minor League Field Coordinator Randy Johnson:
Here are a few selections from the chat…
On Gabriel Quintana and his defensive struggles at third base this season:
“Gabriel, most of the time, he doesn’t use his feet as well as he should…He’s got a very accurate arm. He’s not the quickest guy out there and we’ve talked about maybe using him at first base or maybe second base in instructional league, but by no means does that mean we’ve given up on him at third base. He’s got the actions you’d like to see, just not as consistent as you’d hope.”
On how Johnson can help a player like Quintana improve during the season:
“The hardest thing you have to do with these kids is keep them confident and aggressive. Most kids when they’re scuffling, and I had happen to myself in the past, you lay back on balls and you don’t want the ball hit to you…Aggressive errors are OK, but when you’re lazy and you’re not getting yourself in position it’s unacceptable. He’s staying aggressive and he’s trying hard. It’s frustrating for the pitchers, I know, and it’s frustrating for him. We almost gave up on him at third base three years ago, but we like the strides he’s made as far as his technique. Hopefully next year he’ll come in and have better confidence and start off better and we’ll see a more consistent fielder in Gabe next year.”
On what he’s noticed different between the TinCaps in the first half vs. the second half:
“I never thought they’d play as well as they did in the first half. It was exciting to see and it was outstanding for them to get in the playoff like that. We expect them to be around .500. I think some of these kids are getting worn out. A lot of these guys it’s their first real full year and it’s taxing. It’s a long season. Our starting pitching staff , pretty much all of them it’s their first full year in baseball..You look around the field and a lot of the guys are in the same boat. It’s hard to keep them focused, to keep them from burning themselves out. They all want to work so hard and occasionally you have to tell them to step back and sometime less is more.”
SO LONG FOR NOW
On Friday the Phillies, who are 53-69 and 21.5 games out of first place, deicded to fire Manager Charlie Manuel. Matt Gelb, the Phillies beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote a nice tribute to the skipper, including this note on Manuel’s linguistic adventures:
“Everyone laughed at the way Manuel said things. Brad Lidge had a hibiscus injury, not a meniscus problem. Domonic Brown did not fracture his hamate, he broke his ham bone. Martin Prado became Pardo, and we started calling him Don. That was Manuel’s greatest trick. Humor is required to survive 162 games of baseball and six weeks of spring training. “You hear his country accent and think he’s a little bit slow,” Jimmy Rollins said, “but he’s sharp as a tack.”
Manuel once said he keeps five copies of Ted Williams’ Science of Hitting in his house. Four are in bathrooms and another is in the den. Five more copies reside in a closet just in case a visitor has somehow never read the book.”
Manuel was a Midwest League player at one time, starring for the 1967 Wisconsin Rapids Twins. He later came back to manage that team in its last season in 1983.
A WILD WALK-OFF WIN
Double-A Baseball has already provided us with the one-pitch strikeout earlier this season, and now the Eastern League brings us the walk-off walk…sort of. As the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Blue Jays) were attempting to issue an intentional walk to Reynaldo Rodriguez of the New Britain Rock Cats (Twins), pitcher Alan Farina winged an intentional ball over his catcher, allowing the winning run to score.
Click here to see the video (courtesy of Deadspin).
In case you weren’t aware, a new sports television network, Fox Sports 1, launched yesterday morning. Some of the big news over the summer regarding who the network would have on the air was about the two anchors they hired: Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole. The two used to do the Canadian version of SportsCenter together, and come with a long history of being a talented and funny duo. Much has been written about whether Fox Sports 1 can be a challenger to ESPN, when it comes to both live sports and highlight/talk shows, but only time will tell. However, FS1 released a “best of” video from the first show with Onrait and O’Toole last night, and it’s pretty funny:
My favorite part comes at the 1:00 mark with the NFL promo. It’s just so off the wall that it cracked me up. Hopefully more funny things to come from those two.
Electric Light Orchestra…take it away!
Greetings and salutations from Dow Diamond in Midland, Michigan. Tonight the TinCaps, who were just swept in a three-game set by the Bowling Green Hot Rods, open a four-game series against the Great Lakes Loons, the Midwest League affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Here’s a field-level view of the ballpark, which is one of my absolute favorites to visit in the Midwest League:
Game time tonight is 7:05 p.m., as Walker Weickel faces Loons pitcher Julio Urias. This is an important series for the Loons, who were just swept by the Dayton Dragons, as they contend for a second-half playoff spot. Great Lakes is right now in the wild-card spot, 1/2 game behind Bowling Green, with just 16 regular-season games to play.
John Nolan and I will have the radio call tonight, with pre-game coverage on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com getting underway at 6:45.
JUST A KID
Urias, who starts for the Loons tonight, began this season at the ripe age of 16, and has just four days ago turned 17. Here’s a quick scouting report on him, courtesy of Yahoo! Sports, which was written before his recent birthday:
Urias boasts a fastball 88-92 MPH that has natural arm-side run. He’s touched 94 MPH quite often and even touched 95 MPH in his June 11 start. He’s 16!
His changeup might be his best offering. It’s a low-80s pitch that is a weapon against right-handers. The great thing is, he isn’t afraid to throw it to left-handers — something most lefties wouldn’t do. He also has a breaking ball. It’s been called a curveball, he calls it a slider, but whatever it is, it’s effective. As he works in the minors, that pitch should turn into two pitches — a curve and a slider. The curve is a mid-70s pitch and the slider should be a low-80s pitch.
What’s even more amazing about his stuff is he’s doing it from a frame that doesn’t scream “power pitcher.” He’s 5’11, 160 pounds (though, he looks a little more filled out than that) and, at 16, could grow more while in the minors.
Urias has gone no more than two innings in any of his last seven outings, and from talking to Loons Manager Razor Shines earlier today, I expect that to be the case once again. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of an effect that has on the Loons bullpen, which as Shines told me, has been put into service a lot more often with dwindling innings counts for the team’s starting pitchers.
A lot is made of umpiring at nearly any level of baseball, but after I had an extensive chat with Midwest League umpires Sam Vogt and Tim Hromada yesterday, I’ve really come to see their job in a different light. (Side note: A feature story on those two umpires, who were promoted to the Advanced-A California League yesterday, will be coming to this blog in the next few days.)
I was doing a little bit of bus reading today about umpiring, and came across a story on ESPN.com by Jim Caple, in which he goes to umpire school to try and learn what the job is really like:
Instructor Brent Rice discusses such finer points during morning sessions at a banquet room of the school hotel. You’ve probably never heard of Rice but there’s a good chance you’ve seen him on YouTube. He had the unfortunate honor of being the home plate umpire when Braves minor league manager Phil Wellman had hisinfamous nut-out, burying the plate in dirt, crawling along the ground like a soldier and flinging the rosin bag at Rice as if it were a grenade. “How much was the dry cleaning bill for your pants?” another instructor asks Rice.
I feel a little bad about bringing that up because it wasn’t his fault Wellman completely lost his mind. Plus, manager-umpire confrontations are such a small part of the game. Sure, there are arguments and ejections but they really are relatively rare. The key to avoiding them is knowing the rules and calling them authoritatively in a manner that lets the teams understand you know them.
Which is why we receive frequent tests each morning. “Write your name on the ‘graded by’ line,” Rice tells us when we correct each other’s papers. “Do not grade ahead, you are not that smart. Yet.”
No kidding. I’ve covered baseball for 25 years and have seen more than 2,000 games at the major league level. I’ve watched countless others on TV. I know the game. And I get 20 percent of the questions correct on one test.
The article is certainly worth a read, and I hope to give you a better picture of what a Midwest League umpire’s life is like in the next few days.
JJ Grey…take it away!
The TinCaps committed six errors yesterday, coming within one of the franchise record, as they lost, 6-4, to the Bowling Green Hot Rods. The TinCaps will try and avoid the three-game series sweep tonight at 7:05 .
On to other things…
Yesterday we aired the final regular-season episode of “The Leadoff Spot” our 30-minute magazine-style show spotlighting certain figures within the TinCaps and Padres organizations. Here are a few of my interviews from that show…
Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes:
TinCaps outfielder and 2013 first-round pick, Hunter Renfroe:
90’S NIGHT AT PARKVIEW FIELD
Since we’re celebrating all things 90’s tonight, here are a few things you should pick up on your next trip to Parkview Field in The Orchard team store:
A Fort Wayne Wizards shirt (I’ve purchased one and eagerly await my first opportunity to wear it)
A Fort Wayne Wizards hat:
It’s only appropriate that on 90’s Night we feature a former Wizards manager. In this interview, Mike Maahs catches up with former Fort Wayne Wizards Manager Gary Jones:
Barenaked Ladies…take it away!
YOU GOTTA HAVE HEART
In the top of the second inning Wednesday night at Parkview Field, it looked like it was going to be a long night for the TinCaps. They were down, 7-1, against Bowling Green, and Fort Wayne starter Matthew Shepherd was knocked out of the game after just one inning. But then, they scored three times in the second, twice in the sixth and again in the eighth, coming back to tie the game at seven. And after the game, someone used the phrase “heart” in describing the TinCaps comeback effort, which fell just short in extra innings as they lost, 8-7. The word “heart” reminded me of this song from the classic show, “Damn Yankees”:
Side note: I was also in “Damn Yankees” in the Highlands Middle School production of the show in 2003. That was the high point, and also the end of my acting career. I think my high-pitched solo at the beginning of the show as old Joe Hardy might go down in the record books as one of the worst songs ever performed.
With the way the team has scuffled in the second half, there were more positives than negatives after the game. They erased a 7-1 deficit, got great pitching from the bullpen–especially the five innings from Colin Rea–and were never out of the game, although it would have been easy for them to feel that way.
Tonight the TinCaps host Bowling Green for the second game of a three-game set, and we’ll have a special visit from former WWF star Sergeant Slaughter. It’s also a Thirsty Thursday and there will be fireworks after the game.
Although it has been rare in the second half, Jose Valentin was a (mostly happy man) after the game last night:
“I think we lost the game in just one inning, the second inning…After that, I was happy with the way we played. (Colin) Rea went up there for five innings and gave us a chance. Our offense finally showed up…I’m very happy with the way we came back. We fought all the way but we just ran short,” said Valentin.
Of his team’s fight he said, “I’d like to see that more often…I’m happy with the way we swung, our approach at the plate was good.”
Listen to his full post-game comments in today’s TinCaps Report Podcast:
Playing in the minor leagues doesn’t just mean an education in baseball, especially if players come from non-English speaking countries. In this case, the TinCaps players from Latin America–Jorge Guzman, Bryan Rodriguez, Miguel Del Castillo, Reynaldo Bruguera, Diego Goris, Gabriel Quintana, Luis Tejada, Luis Domoromo and Alberth Martinez, and Ruben Mejia–have been working on their English skills. Several times a month, the Padres pay to have an English teacher come in and work with the players, mostly on phrases that will be useful to them in baseball situations. Today was the culmination of their studies, as they recorded a video showing off their newfound proficiency to send back to San Diego.
The English language can be a big barrier for many players, and in clubhouses across baseball Latin American players will congregate with other Latin American players, and American-born players will hang out with other American-born players. I’ve seen, at times, one player–last year it was Adys Portillo, who was proficient in English–order meals for an entire group of Latino ballplayers at a fast-food restaurant because the others could not speak enough English, or do it with enough confidence, to get their intended message across.
I’ve done a few post-game interviews in Spanish this year, and even after having studied the language for seven years, I am still only at a conversational level. This is a small step for these players, that will hopefully make a big impact and make them more comfortable.
As if we haven’t heard enough news about Alex Rodriguez and his 211-game suspension lately….believe me, I know. It’s a tired story at this point. But….but, I ask you to read this Sports Illustrated story by S.L. Price which views Rodriguez’s career holistically, even including a peek back at his 1994 season in the Midwest League with the Appleton Foxes. An excerpt, discussing his rehab assignments throughout the Yankees minor-league chain:
As he has throughout his tour—which has seen him suit up for Yankees affiliates in Tampa; Charleston, S.C.; Trenton, N.J.; and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre—Rodriguez declined to talk specifics about Biogenesis, PEDs or reports that he was considering a deal. On July 12, he met with MLB investigators on the matter, then didn’t show up for that night’s rehab start in Tampa. He says he can’t waste time and energy now worrying about all he may lose, or the distance he has traveled down. Yet the fact is, Rodriguez, once seen as baseball’s great clean hope, is now viewed as hopelessly dirty.
Others have come back from such stigma: Mark McGwire is the hitting coach for the Dodgers; Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte, old teammates and admitted users of PEDs, are treated these days as elder statesmen. Rodriguez figures to be different—and knows it—but last week maintained the front of a blissed-out Candide. He insisted that he doesn’t wonder, Why me?
“I never say that,” Rodriguez said. “But maybe there are a couple chapters where I can become that person again. I’m not giving up. I have tremendous faith, and hopefully there’s a couple more chapters to this book. And hopefully there’s a happy ending somewhere. I have faith.”
The closing paragraph perhaps sums up the entire Rodriguez deal perfectly:
Rodriguez’s gift, his unprecedented completeness, was never really his; it’s called a gift for a reason. Sports is a collective of time as well as talent. Six generations of baseball players and fans, billions of dollars worth of stadia and TV time, an infinity of minor and major leaguers working for untold lifetimes—all of it combined to create the game, the numbers, the interest and hothouse environment in which Alex Rodriguez was going to be the best.
People care so much about sports greatness because, deep down, they know that it’s a reflection; something there belongs to them. We gave Rodriguez his chance. We urged him not to waste it. Cashman knows, better than anyone: We hate when we make so big a mistake.
Florida Georgia Line…take it away!
After a much-needed day off, as the TinCaps had played 20 straight days without resting, Fort Wayne returns to action tonight at Parkview Field at 7:05. They welcome in the Bowling Green Hot Rods, a team they haven’t faced since May 27. The season series is pretty even right now, tilting 5-4 in favor of the Hot Rods, a Tampa Bay Rays affiliate.
To get you caught up, here’s the post-game recap with Kent Hormann and former Wizards pitcher Javi DeJesus from Monday’s 8-5 TinCaps win over Dayton.
Fort Wayne’s Matt Shepherd looks for his first win as a starting pitcher tonight, as he makes his seventh start of the season.
First pitch is at 7:05, and the first 1,000 kids 14 & under will get a free WebKinz doll as they pass through the gates.
TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST
Despite a TinCaps win on Tuesday, Manager Jose Valentin wasn’t particularly happy, saying “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.” Hear his post-game comments in today’s podcast:
DIFFERENT UNIFORMS, SAME TEAM
As you may have noticed either here on the blog or by coming to Parkview Field this season, the TinCaps have worn quite the wide variety of themed jerseys this season. Sean Morrison, the TinCaps beat writer for The Journal Gazette, wrote a feature story on the uniforms, which appeared in today’s paper.
“The TinCaps have worn argyle, tuxedos, pink and the names of their fans in games this season.
There have been eight varieties of Fort Wayne’s jerseys this season, said Michael Limmer, vice president of marketing and promotions, the most ever.
The team wore uniforms representing ’50s Night, Turn the Park Pink, Prom Night, Military Appreciation/Superhero Night (same jersey for both nights), Social Media Night, ’80s Night, Prostate Cancer Awareness and ’90s Night.
Be it a quirky uniform change or the usual pinstripes, the looks have been well received.
“We kind of just sit back and look at our theme nights and kind of decide which ones would lend themselves best for a jersey,” Limmer said. “Every single jersey we give away is one-of-a-kind. It was worn just that one time by that one player, and it came right off the player’s back to the person that either won it or won the auction.”’
And don’t forget that this Friday is 90’s night, and the team will be wearing Wizards uniforms.
THE LIFE OF A BASEBALL OPERATIONS INTERN
Over on MLBTRadeRumors.com, there’s a good piece up by Ricky Benichak, who is a baseball operations intern with the Cincinnati Reds. He writes about his experiences working for the team and what his responsibilities include:
“If I had to identify what a normal day would look like, it would be something like this: update the statistics for our BATS video software, chart a game using that same software or capture pickoff moves to help our Major League coaching staff or players for an upcoming series, compile advance scouting reports, and work on research assigned to me by my bosses. I would say about 30-40% of my workload consists of research, some targeted by my superiors based on the needs of the team, some targeted based on my own interests. I have used that time to further look into the ROI of international players, waiver claim and DFA analyses, valuation of farm systems, and aging curves for defensive abilities.”
It’s good stuff, because it makes me realize how much there is going on behind the scenes with baseball, and that it’s not just show up at 2pm, take some infield, take BP and then get ready for the game. Even when Padres GM Josh Byrnes was here last week, I asked him what he did during the day, wondering if he’d gotten out to one of Fort Wayne’s many great golf courses. He said he hadn’t played golf, and that his day was spent following up on the minor league teams, watching some of the Padres game and working on budgets for next year.
I think the best piece of information Ricky shares is about trying to make it in sports:
“It’s also important that you have mentors. I had mentors when I went to college at the NYU Tisch Center where I studied sports management –- they helped me get opportunities that eventually led to me getting hired by the Reds. Not all of us have parents or friends in the industry, so it’s important to build your network as soon as you can. It’s as simple as sending an email or having a phone call. People love to talk about themselves and their experiences, and those who work in baseball operations are no different.
In pursuing an opportunity, a prospective employee should have the right mindset as well. It’s in our nature to think big and expect big. When I was initially looking for jobs with teams, I had this grandiose vision that all 30 teams would be interested in me and my abilities. I couldn’t have been more wrong, but there was a great lesson in that misconception. The reality is that you aren’t looking for 30 jobs or even a dozen jobs, rather you are looking for one team to listen and value the contributions you may bring. Discouragement and disappointment are a part of the cycle in finding employment, but you must take it in stride, and remember the big picture.”
Whether it in sports or any field, really, sometimes the best things can come from reaching out and sending that first email or making that phone call.
A HUNDRED BUCKS SAYS…
One of my favorite writers, Chris Jones (@MySecondEmpire) has a new story out today in Esquire about the new $100 bill. In this lengthy, but very interesting piece, he takes us through the process of how the dollar bill is made, an introduces us to its designer, Brian Thompson:
“On the back of the new hundred-dollar bill is one of Thompson’s favorite magic tricks. There is an oversized 100 bordered in white and blue, printed in orange. This new feature is primarily to help the visually impaired — like the large purple 5 on the five-dollar bill — but it’s also a secondary defense against counterfeiters. While the 100 looks entirely orange, closer examination reveals that it contains alternating lines of orange and green. Through some quirk of the optic nerve, our eyes pick up mostly the orange. It dominates, and casual counterfeiters might overlook or be unable to replicate the disappearing green.”
I may never hold one of those $100 bills unless one somehow blows up through a grate in the sidewalk and I happen to be a beneficiary of circumstance, but I’m happy just reading this story and learning from Chris Jones, a master writer.
John Mayer…take it away!
This article by John Nolan appeared in Volume 5, Edition 10 of GAMEDAY.
The turning point of Maxx Tissenbaum’s baseball career didn’t come in the batter’s box or on the infield dirt.
It happened at center ice.
“We were on the penalty kill and I received a pass, clearing the puck up ice,” the 22-year old from Toronto recalls from a hockey game during his sophomore year of high school. “And out of nowhere, I got absolutely crushed.”
Michael Del Zotto, who now plays in the NHL for the New York Rangers, knocked Tissenbaum to the ice with a blindside check.
Though a little woozy, the curly brown-haired Tissenbaum was fine. After all, he was a hockey player. His coach had no qualms about putting him back in the game for his next shift.
But after the game, Tissenbaum got blind-sided again. This time, though, it wasn’t by any future NHL enforcer. It was by the coach of his travel baseball team, Jack Brown, who had been in the crowd to see him.
“I’m really glad I got to see you play the last hockey game of your career,” Brown said to Tissenbaum.
Brown believed that if the shortstop on his travel team wanted to reach his goal of becoming a major league player, he’d be best served allowing his body a break from hockey’s punishment.
“I was stunned. It completely caught me off guard,” the 5-10, 185-pound Tissenbaum says. “But then I realized, he’s right. It’s probably not a good idea to have guys who are 6-6, 230-pounds taking runs at me just before baseball season starts.”
So Tissenbaum heeded Brown’s advice and put away the skates. Seven years later, and no longer fearful of center-ice hits, Tissenbaum is the TinCaps team leader in base hits this season. Fort Wayne’s manager Jose Valentin has called him the team’s offensive MVP. And to think, he may have been just one collision away from never getting to the Midwest League in the first place.
“I still love hockey, and it was tough to give it up, but baseball has always been my first passion,” Tissenbaum says.
Circumstances helped make it that way. Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book, Outliers: The Story of Success, points out that in hockey-crazed Canada, boys born in the first three months of the year have a far greater chance of moving up the sport’s ranks than those born in April through December. It’s a product of the country’s youth hockey league cut-off date of January 1.
Tissenbaum was born in July. So the odds were never in his favor to become a professional hockey player in the first place. Tissenbaum’s birth in Toronto in 1991, however, did come at the right time from a baseball standpoint.
The Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 and 1993. Tissenbaum admits he was too young to remember either of those championships, but just a year or two later, before he was even in kindergarten, Tissenbaum was introduced to a VHS documentary on Toronto’s ’93 season.
“It was my first favorite movie. I’d sit there and watch it on replay for hours,” he reminisces. “Then I’d go outside and try to make all the plays Robbie Alomar made or take a swing like Joe Carter and do his home-run trot around the bases to win the World Series.”
Tissenbaum comes from a baseball family. His dad, Gerry, grew up playing baseball and his mom, Lisa, grew up playing softball. His younger sister Molly currently plays softball (and hockey) at Harvard. And perhaps most instrumental for Tissenbaum’s development, his grandfather, Sheldon Taerk, is a longtime Blue Jays season ticket holder.
The combination of factors, plus an unyielding work ethic, led Tissenbaum to make the Canadian Junior National Team as a high school junior. That’s the moment when the infielder says he thought he could make a career out of playing the game he loved, because, by his own scouting report, Tissenbaum isn’t a standout talent.
“I’m the kind of player that grows on you with consistency,” the left-handed batter says. “I can’t hit the ball 600 feet, or run a 6.2 (60-yard dash), or throw the ball 95 miles an hour.”
Hence, why Tissenbaum prides himself on his baseball IQ. It’s an acumen he thinks he developed in part by spending 35-40 nights a summer at Blue Jays games with his grandfather. Since he was as young as three, they’d sit just behind the visiting team’s dugout, which provided an up-close lens for learning. While most little kids were searching around for the nearest cotton candy vendor, Tissenbaum was studying the every movement of the big leaguers in front of him. From hometown heroes like Carlos Delgado to visitors such as Derek Jeter, Tissenbaum took notes and asked his grandfather for explanations about everything that was unfolding.
That background made for an incredible moment on June 11, 2009 when Tissenbaum received a phone call from the Blue Jays. Some 1,299 picks after Stephen Strasburg went first, Tissenbaum was taken by Toronto in the 43rd round of the MLB Draft.
“I was in the car when I got the call,” Tissenbaum says. “I covered up the mic on the phone with my hand and whispered to my dad trying not to sound too overly excited. But I completely freaked out. It felt like 10 years of work and practice everyday finally paying off.”
But Tissenbaum knew he wasn’t ready to succeed yet in Minor League Baseball, so he didn’t sign with the team he grew up watching and instead accepted a scholarship to play at Stony Brook University in New York. “Tiss,” as teammates call him, helped lead the Cinderella Seawolves of the America East Conference all the way to the College World Series his junior year.
During Stony Brook’s run to Omaha, Tissenbaum was drafted again. This time by the Padres, and this time, he signed. Now in his first full season of professional baseball, he’s been a vital part of the TinCaps’ success.
“I’d say he’s been our MVP so far on offense,” the 16-year MLB veteran Valentin says of his everyday second baseman. “Of all the guys, he’s been my most consistent hitter throughout the year. He’s a kid who has a good idea of what he’s doing when he comes up to the plate — a better approach than most.”
In addition to leading the team in hits, doubles, and games played at the mid-point of July, Tissenbaum is the only player on the team who has walked more times than he’s struck out. It’s a mark of his maturity, and an attitude to never give in.
“There were scouts in high school who told me I needed to play catcher because I wouldn’t be fast enough to play infield,” Tissenbaum says. “Then they told me I needed to be a corner infielder. So I’m proud of the fact that I’m doing it now at second and sometimes short.”
The time in high school when Brown told Tissenbaum to give up hockey may be the only time in his life he’s ever succumbed to a doubter.
“That pushes me, when someone says I can’t do something or I’m not good enough to do something,” Tissenbaum says. “It’s something I’ve always secretly liked.”
This article by John Nolan appeared in the Volume 5, Edition 5 of GAMEDAY.
First pitch is about an hour away at Parkview Field and TinCaps catcher Rodney Daal is biding time between batting practice and when he’ll crouch down behind home plate.
Wearing a navy Padres-logoed, short-sleeved Under Armor top, the 19-year old is sitting down on the carpeted floor of the clubhouse’s lounge area. Rodney’s back is up against the beige wall with his legs extended to serve as a prop for his Macbook. With red Beats headphones on, he’s laughing uncontrollably during a Skype session with a friend back home in Amsterdam. Rodney’s speaking Dutch.
After saying “doei” (that’s goodbye) to his friend on the computer, Rodney is now putting his TinCaps uniform on over his almost entirely inked arms, chest, back, and neck. Reggaeton music blares from the clubhouse speakers. As he rocks his curly-haired head back and forth, he doesn’t miss a lyric. “¡Rompe! ¡Rompe!” Rodney’s singing in Spanish.
Now suited up for the game, Rodney goes over to the locker of the night’s starting pitcher to discuss strategy. “Let’s get it,” he says to end their chat. Rodney’s speaking English.
In less than 10 minutes, Rodney has showcased his proficiency in three of what he says are four and-a-half languages he can speak fluently. There’s also Papiamento — the Spanish-based creole language spoken in his dad’s native Curaçao — and German. (German’s the one Rodney says he’s only half-fluent in after studying it in school.) Though stats indicate the average person speaks less than two languages proficiently, Rodney is a multilingual and doesn’t think much of it.
“It’s easy for me,” Rodney casually says of his lingual versatility. “I just pick them up real quick.”
And as a result, Rodney is the most cosmopolitan player in Fort Wayne this season. In a clubhouse that already has had players from seven different countries, the affable catching prospect can communicate, and laugh, with them all.
“I listen to Spanish music. I watch TV in English. When I chat with my friends, I talk in Dutch and Papiamento,” Rodney says. “So I talk everything except German regularly.”
It’s that kind of constant immersion in languages that led Rodney to learn them in the first place. Back in the Netherlands, Dutch was what he heard and spoke most often. But while Rodney’s mother Mieke is Dutch, his father Ritchie came from Curaçao — a country of about 140,000 off the Venezuelan coast. Ritchie taught Rodney Papiamento.
Even though it wasn’t the common language in his house, English was simple enough for Rodney to pick up as a kid, too. Thanks to the reach of American culture in the Netherlands, Rodney watched Nickelodeon and MTV shows to enhance his English education in school. From a young age, he also developed an appreciation for American rappers like Tupac and Eminem.
Spanish, though, wasn’t on Rodney’s radar until he moved from the Netherlands to Arizona in 2011 to begin his professional career with the Padres’ organization.
“I learned Spanish my first year after I got signed because I couldn’t communicate with the Latin pitchers,” Rodney says, recalling his difficulties catching for Genison Reyes in particular.
The Dominican right-hander, who was again teammates with Rodney on the TinCaps earlier this season, possessed a fastball in the mid-90s then, but couldn’t speak English.
“Reyes threw so hard,” Rodney remembers. “It was hard to catch him already. And then I couldn’t communicate with him. It made it harder. When I went out to talk to him, I just couldn’t explain things to him. I realized I had to do something, so that’s what led me to learn Spanish.”
Like with English, Rodney used music to aid his development in the language. He also relied on his Dominican teammates to answer questions he had about certain translations.
At this point, Rodney’s relationship with his Spanish-speaking teammates is reciprocal. They continue to help him stay fluent in Spanish, while now he’s often relied upon as a translator for them to interpret English. Whether on the field or dealing with media, the multi-lingual Rodney is a liaison.
Ruben Mejia, who’s in his third season as a pitcher for the Padres after moving to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, speaks English rather well. Still, he says he appreciates having Rodney around to avoid potential confusion.
“When we don’t understand (pitching coach Burt Hooton), Rodney tells us what we need to know,” Ruben says. “And if someone (who can’t speak much English) has an interview, then he helps them with that, too.”
Whether it’s a mound-visit from “Hoot” or manager José Valentín (who’s also a dual-speaker in Spanish and English), Rodney regularly translates the instructions for the entire defense.
Ironically, though, Rodney’s teammate Walker Weickel points out that the most important language Rodney knows isn’t English, Spanish, Dutch, Papiamento, or German.
“It’s nice that he’s able to speak five languages, but really, the only language he needs to speak as a catcher is sign language,” says the 19-year old pitcher. “So as long as he knows that, then he can work well with pitchers.”
But Weickel, who grew up in Florida and occasionally pitched to primarily Spanish-speaking catchers in showcase tournaments, also acknowledges that Rodney’s communication skills are a benefit to the staff. As is his personality.
Earlier this season after the TinCaps clinched a berth in the Midwest League Playoffs, it was Rodney who stepped into the center of the team’s celebratory circle and danced like he was in a club, not a clubhouse. Perhaps fittingly given his propensity for tongues, on Star Wars Theme Night at Parkview Field, it was Rodney who easily delivered the best Chewbacca impersonation on the video board.
And while no one understood him then, his dialogue with pitchers throughout the season has come across crystal clear.
“I think communication is a big part of the game, especially for a pitcher and a catcher,” Rodney says. “They have such a close relationship, it’s essential.”