June 2014

TinCaps Back

Hey, how ya doin?

We’ve been on a bit of hiatus over the last six days, traveling to the Midwest League All-Star Classic and working the big Florida Georgia Line (and Nelly!) Concert at Parkview Field. Stay tuned to upcoming posts recapping those experiences. But meanwhile…

The second half of the MWL season began Thursday night for the TinCaps and Fort Wayne was trounced at West Michigan, 15-4. That was the 12th time this year the TinCaps have allowed 10+ runs in a game. In two games, they both scored and allowed 10+. Entering play on Sunday, Fort Wayne has allowed 439 runs (6.1 per game) — 65 more than Beloit, which has allowed the next most. On the flip side, the TinCaps have scored 386 runs (5.4 per game) — 22 more than South Bend, which has scored the next most.

So through the first 70 games of the year, 29% of the time, either the TinCaps or their opponent was in double digits. That’s quite often. After a rare mid-series day off on Friday (Fifth Third Ballpark was hosting the Opening Ceremony of the Michigan State Games), on Saturday, Fort Wayne played 18 innings of baseball in a day for the second time this season. Previously, it happened when the TinCaps and Burlington played a 5 hour, 45 minute marathon on April 16. Saturday, though, in came in a now rare day-night doubleheader. Both games were scheduled to last seven innings. The first one did, and Fort Wayne won, 5-4. The second did not, and Fort Wayne lost, 6-5, in 11 frames. You can read about those dramatic games here.

Although we’re a few games into the second half now, it still seems worth reflecting back on the half that was. And for that, here’s our conversation with manager Michael Collins from last week.

Along the same line, Mike Maahs caught up with TinCaps President Mike Nutter at the All-Star Classic.

SUMMERTIME Yesterday was the longest day of the year for the TinCaps — and for everyone else for that matter. They played 6 hours and 2 minutes of baseball on the first official day of summer. With that in mind, we recommend checking out a recently released NPR stream of “The Songs of the Summer.” It’s a pretty cool mix of the top summer hits of the past 50 years.

The songs that win the summer season spread so fast and far because they work. They’re fun to sing. The hooks are catchy. They speak to something larger than our tastes, fulfilling a collective need for music that’s as danceable as it is escapist as it is a shared experience. This happens every year. We here at NPR Music wondered what we might discover when we put all the Songs of the Summers of the past 50 years or so in one place. What story would they tell us? Billboard has compiled lists of the Top 10 charting Songs of the Summer since 1985, so figuring those was easy. For the summers of 1962 through 1984, we looked through the June-August Billboard charts, taking note of which songs were on the charts the longest, in any position, and which had staying power at No. 1. It wasn’t a perfect science, but we made our best educated decisions about which songs once ruled the radio and the cash registers.

MUSICAL GUEST

From 1991, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, take it away…

Thanks for reading. Mike Couzens and I have the call of Fort Wayne’s series finale at West Michigan today at 1:00 p.m. Hope you tune in, be it on ESPN Radio 1380 or on Tune In.

Father’s Day First Act Finale

Time flies when you’re having #BIGFUN. Last we talked, the TinCaps were coming off four consecutive losses. Well, that changed Thursday with a big swing of the bat by Dustin Peterson. Fort Wayne’s third baseman hit a grand slam against Lansing’s Matt Dermody — the same pitcher who hit Petey in the head with a fastball at Parkview Field on May 23 — to lead the TinCaps to a 7-2 win.

You can watch Petey’s granny below, plus see our postgame interview with him and a recap from Mike Couzens and Dave Doster.

Here’s the call of Dustin’s grand slam coming to fruition.

Fort Wayne came back to Parkview Field on Friday night to start a three-game set with Bowling Green. Kyle Lloyd threw as well as any TinCaps starter has all season for six innings. The seventh, though, was a different story as his shutout bid ended when Hot Rods third baseman Pat Blair hit a three-run homer to give Bowling Green a 3-1 lead. Fort Wayne’s offense had just a measly unearned run through eight innings, but turned on the power switch in the ninth. Ryan Miller and Henry Charles both cranked solo home runs to improbably tie the game, 3-3. However to the Hot Rods’ credit, they responded with a run in the 10th to take the opener. Mike and Javi De Jesus recap how that unfolded below.

Last night, just like the two previous nights, Parkview Field was sold out. More than 8,000 fans were treated to seeing the national performing act QuickChange, fireworks, and best of all, an 8-4 TinCaps win in the penultimate game of the first half. Six days after Fort Wayne was stymied by Bowling Green starter Ryne Stanek (1 unearned run in six innings against him last Sunday), the TinCaps knocked the 2013 first round draft pick out of the game after 2 1/3 innings. Dustin Peterson and Fernando Perez each drove in three runs, while Mallex Smith was a home run shy of the cycle. Mike and Javi have more.

Now today, a happy Father’s Day to all whom it applies (including John Nolan Jr. back east).

Parkview Field is expecting its fourth sellout in a row. In fact, there’s such a demand that the TinCaps are opening up the Ortho Northeast Treetops for individual ticket sales — typically that is an exclusive group-seating area. The forecast calls for sun, a clear sky, and warm temperatures — a delight day for dads.

Our friend Kevin Barry is a reporter at KGAN in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who yesterday got to cover a rather cool story. As part of a celebration for the 25th anniversary of Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner and Dwier Brown returned to Dyersville, Iowa — where the movie was filmed — for a catch.

With Bob Costas looking on, Ray and John Kinsella have a catch. (Photo Credit: Kevin Barry)

For more on the Father’s Day Field of Dreams reunion, and all of the dads and sons who were there to see it, check out Kevin’s story here.

CALL IT A WRAP

Today is the final game of the season’s first half. Here are the headlines from our Game Notes.

Shutdown Pitching: Beginning with th third inning of yesterday’s game, TinCaps pitchers allowed only four hits over the final six frames. Reliever Eric Yardley recorded six of the eight outs he notched via the ground ball, and Tyron Guerrero fanned two batters in his one inning of relief.

Looking Back: A comparison of Fort Wayne’s Opening Day roster compared with the 24-man group it has today shows 15 of the 25 players that began the year in a TinCaps uniform. Of the original starting rotation that consisted of Pete Kelich, Walker Lockett, Yimmi Brasoban, Payton Baskette, Adrian De Horta, and Walker Weickel, only Baskette and Weickel remain. Kelich has been sidelined with Tommy John surgery, while Brasoban, Lockett, and De Horta are with Short-Season Eugene.

From 30,000 Feet: A win today for the TinCaps would see them close the first half at 31-38, tying them for the third-lowest win total in a half by a Fort Wayne team. That, however, is no reason to panic, as the 2012, team the franchise’s second to reach the championship series, also had 31 wins in the first half under manager Jose Valentin.

On Record Pace: 19-year-old third baseman Dustin Peterson leads the Midwest League with 55 runs batted in. The franchise record is held by Jeremy Owens with 111, who accomplished that feat as a 22-year-old in 1999, when he also stole a franchise record 65 bases.

Happy Birthday: TinCaps closer Nick Mutz celebrates his 24th birthday today.

Starting Pitchers: Walker Weickel makes his team-leading 13th start of the season. The TinCaps are just 3-9 in his outings, and have provided him with 4.2 runs per game of support. Weickel has increased his durability on the mound as the season has gone on, especially in his last four starts, having gone a career-high-tying six innings each time. In his last start, a June 9th outing at Bowling Green, he worked two batters into the seventh, but surrendered a triple and a walk, prompting the end of his game.

Jaime Schultz, 22, makes his sixth start with the Hot Rods this season, and his third against the TinCaps. The Castelton, New York, native, last went 6 scoreless innings on June 9 against Fort Wayne, striking out eight,  and walking three. Schultz was selected by Tampa Bay in the 14th round of the 2013 draft out of High Point (NC) University. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011. In his final year at HPU, he had a 3.05 ERA (14G/6GS) and struck out 59 batters in 60.2 innings.

MUSICAL GUESTS

We were looking forward to sharing this on Friday, when Parkview Field celebrated Spotlight on Broadway Musicals Night (presented by Shindigz), so cast of 42nd Street, take it away…

And now in the spirit of the day, The Notorious B.I.G., take it away…

We’ve got an earlier than usual Sunday start time today at 1:05 p.m. You can catch it on XFINITY Channel 81 and also listen on ESPN Radio 1380, TheFanIndiana.com, and on the TuneIn Radio app. Remember you can always stay in touch in the comments below or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan. Thanks for stopping by.

Basecer

The TinCaps lost their third in a row on Wednesday night, 4-3, to Lansing. For the second night in a row against the Lugnuts, it was a tie game through eight innings, and then Lansing eeked it out thanks to the bottom of its order. More on that below from Mike Couzens and one-time Fort Wayne pitcher Javi De Jesus.

Not to be forgotten from last night, it was Military Appreciation Night at Parkview Field. The TinCaps wore special red, white, and blue jerseys (see below) and players recorded thank you messages that were played on the video board during the game. Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, Director of the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University, and Master Sergeant Eric Vickrey, Chairman of the Northeast Indiana Military Assistance Network, threw out ceremonial first pitches. Meanwhile, the 122nd Fighter Wing Base Honor Guard presented our nation’s colors.

Best of all — nearly 900 tickets were donated to members of the military, veterans, and their families on behalf of the TinCaps and the following community organizations: Shepherd’s House; 122nd FW Airman & Family Readiness Program; Union Home Mortgage; Hiking for Heroes; His Pack, His Boots, My Hero!; VA Seamless Transition; VA Suicide Prevention; MFRI; 122nd FW Key Volunteers Team; Turnstone; Money Management International; National College; Wells Fargo; IPFW Military Student Services; Vet Center- Fort Wayne; Senator Donnelly’s Office; Office of Congressman Stutzman; Fort Wayne Base Community Council; Volunteer Center; Team RWB.

The TinCaps will wear these special patriotic unis again on July 4th. (Photo Credit: Jeff Nycz)

So now tonight the TinCaps look to avoid being swept for the third time this year. Here are other storylines from our Game Notes

Not Trippin’, But Tripplin’: Dustin Peterson led Fort Wayne’s 10-hit attack on Wednesday with his 5th 3-hit game of the season. “Petey” had 2 singles, plus a triple — his 3rd of the year and 2nd in as many nights. As a team, the TinCaps now have 26 3-baggers, which is tied for 2nd most in the Midwest League. Quad Cities leads the way with 27; Burlington also has 26.

1 And Done: With Wednesday’s loss, the TinCaps dropped to 7-10 (.412) in 1-run games. That’s the 6th lowest winning percentage in such games out of the MWL’s 16 clubs. Wild-card leading West Michigan has been best in 1-run games with a 15-8 record. Fort Wayne’s opponent, Lansing, is now 11-10.

Not So Great Late: Wednesday was the 2nd night in a row that the TinCaps and Lugnuts were tied entering the 8th inning only for Lansing to
prevail. Fort Wayne is 3-7 this season when the scored is tied entering the 8th. Of MWL teams this year, only Burlington (3-11) has more losses in such contests.

Diecisiete For Número Veinticinco: Jake Bauers enters tonight’s contest on a 17-game hitting streak — the longest by a TinCaps player this
season and longest active streak in the MWL. On this current tear, which dates to May 24, Bauers is hitting .419 (26-62) with 4 HR and 12 RBI. He has reached base in 26 straight games, dating back to May 14… The longest-ever regular-season hitting streak by a TinCaps player is 18 (Rymer Liriano in 2011 and Blake Tekotte in ‘09)… The longest in Fort Wayne franchise history is 23 by Sean Burroughs in 1999 with the Wizards…. The MWL record is 35 by Frank Toups of the now-defunct Waterloo Diamonds in 1977… The MiLB record? Joe Wilhoit — 69 (Wichita Jobbers, 1919).

Footnotes: On this first day of the World Cup, note that Ryan Miller played soccer in high school… Tyron Guerrero’s mom is from Brazil.

Starting Pitchers: Ronald Herrera is set to make his Parkview Field debut tonight. After coming over to the TinCaps from Beloit in the Kyle Blanks trade between the Padres and A’s, Herrera’s first 2 starts as a TinCap have come on the road. Most recently at Lake County last Friday, the 5-foot-11 Venezuelan right-hander received credit for a win with 5 1/3 innings pitched of  3-run ball. Of the 6 hits Herrera allowed, 2 were home runs. On the year, he has surrendered 8 home runs in 62 2/3 innings. That’s 1 out of every 8.25 hits he has allowed. Only 3 other MWL pitchers gave served up more longballs this season.

The last time Matt Dermody pitched at Parkview Field was May 23. He was ejected after hitting Dustin Peterson in the head with a pitch. Earlier in the game, Peterson had hit a 3-run homer against Dermody. As it is, that’s the only home run Dermody has allowed this season and it’s also the only time he has hit a batter. Before his ejection, the TinCaps tagged Dermody for 11 runs (9 earned) on 8 hits. Since that game, Dermody has not missed a start.

FORT WAYNE’S FINEST 

Bishop Luers alum Kevin Kiermaier is taking Major League Baseball by storm. The Fort Wayne native is hitting .347 in 18 games for Tampa Bay, but don’t forget he’s multi-talented.

And the Jay Z impersonation to boot — phenomenal.

THE PHYSICS OF A RIDICULOUS THROW

Kiermaier wasn’t the only AL player to make an incredible defensive play last night. A’s outfielder Yoenis Cespedes did, too.

Hat tip to Michael Limmer for passing along this Baseball Prospectus column from Alan Nathan, Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Nathan breaks down the physics of Cespedes’ throw. This will either lead you to say, (A) “Neat. I could figure that out” or (B) “My math skills are embarrassing.”

ONE FOR THE ROAD

As we write this, the World Cup has officially kicked off in Brazil. It’s a joyous occasion — except for how corrupt FIFA is. John Oliver had a brilliant, hysterical, and depressing takedown of FIFA on the latest episode of his new HBO show Last Week, Tonight.

MUSICAL GUEST

K’naan, take it away…

Tonight’s game can be seen on XFINITY Channel 81 and also heard on ESPN Radio 1380, TheFanIndiana.com, and on the TuneIn Radio app. And remember you can always stay in touch in the comments below or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan. Thanks for stopping by.

TinCaps Lose, Sleep Matters, and Major League Blood

The TinCaps were back home after a six-game road trip last night to host the Lansing Lugnuts (Toronto Blue Jays), but the result was the same as it had been for four of the six games away — a loss. Fort Wayne overcame two separate deficits only to see Lansing break a 4-4 tie in the eighth with a run and score twice in the ninth to make it a 7-4 final. As they say, when it rains, it pours, and it did indeed rain for the majority of the game.

Mike Couzens and former Phillie Dave Doster recap Tuesday’s game below.

Although it wasn’t enough to mount a comeback, Jake Bauers collected a hit to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning. That made it the 16th game in a row in which Jake has hit safely, extending the longest active hitting streak in the Midwest League. Before the game last night, Jake was kind enough to chat with Mike Maahs about being named MWL Player of the Week and thriving in Fort Wayne.

For more on Jake’s hitting streak, here are the headlines from today’s Game Notes:

Dieciséis For Número Veinticinco: First baseman Jake Bauers enters tonight’s contest on a 16-game hitting streak, which is the longest by a TinCaps player this season, and the longest active streak in the MWL. On this current tear, which dates to May 24, Bauers is hitting .431 (25-58) with 4 HR and 12 RBI. He has reached base in 25 straight games, dating back to May 14… The longest-ever regular-season hitting streak by a TinCaps player is 18, accomplished by 2011 Midwest League MVP Rymer Liriano and 2009 MWL champion Blake Tekotte… The longest in Fort Wayne franchise history is 23 by Sean Burroughs in 1999 with the Wizards…. The MWL record is 35 by Frank Toups of the now-defunct Waterloo Diamonds in 1977… The MiLB record? Joe Wilhoit — 69 (Wichita Jobbers, 1919).

This Date in TinCaps History: Fort Wayne clinched the Eastern Division’s Wild Card with a 7-4 win over the Lake County Captains on this day a year ago. The TinCaps went 43-26 in 2013’s first half, making it the second winningest first half in franchise history.

The scene in Fort Wayne’s clubhouse on this day a year ago.

World Cup: With the FIFA World Cup set to begin Thursday, it seems appropriate to point out the diversity of the TinCaps. Fort Wayne’s 25-man roster features 15 players from the United States, 6 from the Dominican Republic (Cabrera, Charles, F. Reyes, G. Reyes, Santos, Tejada), 1 from Colombia (Guerrero), 1 from Mexico (Perez), 1 from Panama (Reina), and 1 from Venezuela (Herrera). And don’t forget, TinCaps manager Michael Collins is from Australia. Coincidentally, Mark Loretta, Padres Special Assistant to the Baseball Operations Staff, is in town right now. In 2013, Loretta managed Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic… To expand further, Fort Wayne’s opponent, the Lansing Lugnuts, is the affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Lugs currently have players from Aruba (Kelly), the Dominican (Del Rosario, Lugo), Mexico (Espinosa), Puerto Rico (Thon), and Venezuela (Nessy). Their disabled list features more foreign flair with 2 Canadians (Atkinson, Robson).

Today’s Starting Pitchers: Adrian De Horta was not listed above as one of Fort Wayne’s international players, although, both of his parents are from Mexico. The bilingual right-hander from the Los Angeles area is coming off his shortest start of the season. Last Thursday at Lake County, De Horta was chased after 2 2/3 innings after he allowed 4 runs — all earned — on 6 hits and 3 walks. The 19-year-old enters tonight with 33 walks in 44 2/3 innings pitched. That’s the 5th highest total in the Midwest League. Meanwhile, he has struck out 34 — 5th most of any TinCaps pitcher this season.

Chase De Jong (pronounced “dee YUNG”) is the highest-rated pitching prospect on this Lansing team, per Baseball America, which tabs the 20-year-old as the No. 11 prospect in the Blue Jays’ farm system.

SLEEP MATTERS

Unfortunately, this has become nothing new for the TinCaps, but the team was less-than well-rested for last night’s game. Fort Wayne played at 8:05 p.m. ET in Bowling Green on Monday and bused back to Indiana through the night. So the club didn’t arrive at Parkview Field until approximately 5:30 a.m.

Falling asleep on a bus can be challenging. And even if you do succeed in getting some ZZZs on the bus, it hardly compares to the quality of sleep in your own bed.

A recent New York Magazine story had five people “detail how they slept—or didn’t—during a single night. Then Alcibiades J. Rodriguez, M.D., medical director of the New York Sleep Institute, guides them toward better rest.”

We may need Dr. Rodriguez to visit Fort Wayne soon.

BASEBALL BLOOD

One of the more interesting things about this Lansing team is that they have multiple players with big league pedigrees. RHP Frank Viola III is the son of Frank Viola, Jr., a three-time All-Star and the 1988 AL Cy Yong Award winner and ’87 World Series MVP for the Twins. Meanwhile, Dickie Joe Thon is the son of Dickie Thon — an All-Star in ’83 with the Astros.

According to this New York Times article from last week, “Baseball Almanac has recorded 205 other instances of fathers and sons playing in the majors in a list that is probably incomplete… Having two sons play in the majors is an accomplishment only 15 former players can claim.”

Will be interesting to see if any of these Lugnuts will add to that list of 205.

MUSICAL GUEST

Pitbull feat. Jennifer Lopez & Claudia Leitte, take it away…

Tonight’s game can be seen on XFINITY Channel 81 and also heard on ESPN Radio 1380, TheFanIndiana.com, and on the TuneIn Radio app. Audio coverage commences at 6:45. And remember you can always stay in touch in the comments below or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan. Thanks for stopping by.

Home Again

For the first time in eight days, the TinCaps will play a baseball game at Parkview Field tonight. Fort Wayne finished a six-game road trip last night at Bowling Green. You can see a recap of that below courtesy of the Hot Rods (and simultaneously enjoy Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX).

The Lansing Lugnuts (Toronto Blue Jays) are in town now for the first of a three-game series. Perhaps you recall the last time the Lugs came to the Summit City?

Photoshop Credit: David Hentz

That little brew-ha-ha happened on Star Wars Night (“Hentz” the Photoshop). Here’s the lineup of #BIGFUN this homestand.

Design Credit: TinCaps Creative Director Tony DesPlaines

By the way, there was quite a bit of #BIGFUN at Parkview Field while the TinCaps were away. For the first time, Fort Wayne hosted the Indiana GOP State Convention. Previously, it’s always taken place in the capital city, Indianapolis. While the nuts and bolts of the convention took place across the street at the Grand Wayne Convention Center, Parkview Field hosted a big party on Friday night.

WANE TV’s Alyssa Ivanson had a good story on how Parkview Field — which would never have been built in the first place if public opinion ruled — played a big role in drawing the event to Indiana’s second largest city.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Federated Media’s first Rock N’ Brew beer tasting took place. Those are just two of hundreds of non-baseball events at the home of the TinCaps this year.

But going back to baseball now…

From today’s Game Notes, here are the headlines:

Quince For Número Veinticinco: First baseman Jake Bauers enters tonight’s contest on a 15-game hitting streak, which is the longest by a TinCaps player this season, and the longest active streak in the MWL. On this current tear, which dates to May 24, Bauers is hitting .444 (24-54) with 4 home runs and 12 runs batted in. He has reached base in 24 straight games, dating back to May 14th… The longest-ever regular-season hitting streak by a TinCaps player is 18, accomplished by 2011 Midwest League MVP Rymer Liriano and
2009 MWL champion Blake Tekotte.

Speaking of Hitting Streaks: Ronnie Richardson enter this series on season-best 6-game hitting streak. The run began on May 13, although Richardson injured his quad in that game against Lake County and was promptly placed on the disabled list. Since returning from the DL on June 1, he’s hit safely in all 5 games in which he has played.

Photo Credit: Jeff Nycz (Mid-South Images)

Jake Bauers is blowing up. (Photo Credit: Jeff Nycz, Mid-South Images)

Player of the Week: On Monday, the MWL named Jake Bauers its Player of the Week for June 2-8. At 18, Bauers is the youngest player in the 16-team league, but his prowess at the plate tells a different story. In 6 games last week, the Huntington Beach, Calif., native hit .455 / .520 / .727 with 2 home runs and 5 runs batted in. During the torrid stretch, he even scored 6 runs and stole 3 bases.

More Accolades: The San Diego Padres announced Tuesday morning that Jake Bauers is the organization’s Minor League Hitter of the Month for May, while Mallex Smith earned the distinction of Base Runner of the Month. Former TinCap Adys Portillo ’10-13 (Double-A San Antonio) claimed Pitcher of the Month honors and Diego Goris ‘13 won Defensive Player of the Month.

On Tonight’s Starting Pitchers: Erik Cabrera makes his 6th start of the season for the TinCaps. The 23-year-old right-hander from the Dominican had something of a turning point to his campaign the last time he faced Lansing. On May 23, Cabrera, who began the year in Fort Wayne’s bullpen, allowed 5 earned runs in 2 1/3 innings (at that moment raising his season ERA as a starter in to 8.71). The wheels seemed to be coming off when Cabrera allowed a 3-run homer to L.B. Dantzler, then hit Justin Atkinson in the head (knocking him out of the game), and committed a throwing error on a pickoff attempt of the pinch-runner Mitch Nay. But fortunately for Cabrera, TinCaps right fielder Luis Tejada threw Nay out trying to advance to third base on that play. After that, Cabrera retired the next 10 batters he faced. His 6-inning performance that night was a career long. He followed that with another 6-inning start on May 29 at Bowling Green where he didn’t give up an earned run. Last time out on Thursday at Lake County, Cabrera kept the Captains off the board in the first 2 frames, but yielded 3 runs in the 3rd, 1 in the 4th, and another in the 5th. Two of those were unearned as Fort Wayne committed 2 errors behind him. He left after 5 innings and took a loss as the TinCaps fell, 6-4.

As for Lansing starter Jeremy Gabryszwski (pronounced ga-bo-RISS-kee), all we have on him is that in Scrabble, his name would be worth 33 points. That’s brought to you by Ryan’s Scrabble Score Generator v1.1.

MUSICAL GUEST

Mase, take it away…

Tonight’s game can be seen on XFINITY Channel 81, beginning at 6:30 with The Leadoff Spot, and also heard on ESPN Radio 1380, TheFanIndiana.com, and on the TuneIn Radio app. Audio coverage commences at 6:45. And remember you can always stay in touch in the comments below or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan.

Road Trip Wrap-Up

On a comfortable Sunday afternoon at Bowling Green Ballpark, the TinCaps lost, 7-1. You can read about it by clicking here.

Today is the final road game of the first half for the TinCaps. Hard to believe, isn’t it? After this, it’s six more games at Parkview Field and then the All-Star break.

What’s not hard to believe is that Jake Bauers was named the Midwest League Player of the Week. Congrats, Jake. He becomes the first TinCaps player to win the award this season.

Here are today’s headlines:

A TinCaps Win Would:Result in a series victory…Pull them even with Bowling Green in the standings…Make it four wins in six tries at Bowling Green Ballpark in the first half…Give the TinCaps a chance to finish the first half at .500…

Two Touchdowns For Number 25: First baseman Jake Bauers enters tonight’s contest on a 14-game hitting streak, which is the longest by a TinCaps player this season, and the longest active streak in the MWL. On this current tear, which dates to May 24, Bauers is hitting .442 (23-52) with four home runs and 12 runs batted in. A hit this afternoon would pull Bauers within two of last year’s longest TinCaps streak, a 15-game span by third baseman Gabriel Quintana. The longest-ever regular-season hitting streak by a TinCaps player is 18, done by 2011 Midwest League MVP Rymer Liriano and 2009 MWL champion Blake Tekotte.Bauers has also reached base in 23 straight games, dating back to May 14th.

Player of the Week: Bauers has been named the Midwest League’s Player of the Week for June 2-8, the league announced today. At 18, Bauers is the youngest player in the 16-team league, but his prowess at the plate tells a different story. In six games last week, the Huntington Beach, Calif., native hit .455 / .520 / .727 with two home runs and five runs batted in. During the torrid stretch, he even scored six runs and stole three bases.

Road Turnaround: A win today would give the TinCaps their 11th road win of the season, and their sixth in the last nine away from Parkview Field. Prior to May 28th, the TinCaps had won just five road contests in 55 calendar days since the season began.

The Final Stretch: Today begins the final week of the Midwest League’s first half. It’s a four-team race for a playoff spot, with South Bend and West Michigan currently in the top two spot, and Dayton and Great Lakes on the periphery. Fort Wayne, Bowling Green, Lansing and

Today’s Starters:

Walker Weickel

Weickel, 20,  makes his team-leading 12th start of the season, and his first against Bowling Green. Despite a slow start to the season, the Orlando, Florida, native has taken off in his last two outings, each of which have been six-innings. His last start, which came a week ago today, he limited West Michigan to one run on four hits in a game the TinCaps won in the bottom of the ninth inning. Through 11 starts last year with Fort Wayne, Weickel was 2-3 with a 5.04 ERA.

Jaime Schultz

Schultz, 22, makes his fifth start with the Hot Rods this season, and his second against the TinCaps. The Castelton, New York, native, went 4 2/3 innings on May 28 against Fort Wayne, striking out eight, walking two, and allowing two earned runs. Schultz was selected by Tampa Bay in the 14th round of the 2013 draft out of High Point (NC) University. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011. In his final year at HPU, he had a 3.05 ERA (14G/6GS) and struck out 59 batters in 60.2 innings.

Tonight’s broadcast begins at 7:45 ET on ESPN Radio 1380 and TheFanIndiana.com.

TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST

Listen to my Sunday conversation with TinCaps Manager Michael Collins, as we discuss Bauers, the team’s resiliency as of late, his favorite park to visit (other than Parkview Field, of course), what it’s been like as a first-year manager in a full-season league, and what sporting event grips Australia the way the Triple Crown does here:

A LOOK INSIDE 

I feel compelled to share a story I read today because of its author’s vulnerability in what he wrote. The word vulnerable likely has a negative perception when it pops into your head, but it shouldn’t necessarily be that way. From Dictionary.com, here’s the definition:

capable of being physically or emotionally wounded

But it also means a lot more. Being vulnerable can open you to closer relationships with people, a better understanding of oneself, and a much fuller life.

What I’m getting at is that Cubs television play-by-play broadcaster Len Kasper wrote a wonderful story about his anxiety regarding his profession and his life. And it’s so honest that you can’t help but empathize with Len:

“It’s probably not uncommon for “performers” to deal with this stuff. The spotlight can be bright and the thought of messing up can be paralyzing.

I have always pushed myself to overachieve and while I have done OK in some areas, I have struggled in others. Family and friends have taken a back seat at different junctures as I have focused on being the best broadcaster I can be.

But a funny thing happened after my brain chemistry started getting corrected and I was able to prioritize things — I improved at a lot of things simply by not worrying all the time.”

I can certainly identify with those things. Having moved away from home right after college ended (a semester earlier than the rest of my class) and living in places I’d never been before: Dayton, Ohio, Burlington, Vermont, and now Fort Wayne, Indiana, which I certainly could not have pointed out on a map before moving here.

Len continues:

“But the irony is that my chosen field is subject to a million things completely out of my control. I talk to colleagues all the time about balance and trying not to let the job define us as human beings. We are incredibly fortunate to talk about baseball for a living, but what happens if it’s all snatched away for reasons beyond our grasp?

Eckhart Tolle wrote in The Power Of Now, “Realize deep that the present moment is all you have.” It’s great advice for a broadcaster calling a live event on television. But when you deal with anxiety like I used to experience, the seven or eight things in your head that cloud and distract you make it more difficult to achieve. Yes, you can do the job well, but the emotional and mental toll can be overwhelming.

The ending to this story hasn’t been written, and likely won’t be for a long time to come. I still have those days like everybody else. My self-awareness and anal-retentive tendencies still cause stress. But medication and an openness to talk about my insecurities have helped me tremendously.

I am a better person and I think a better broadcaster as a result.”

I think we can all relate. We’ve all had anxiety, but not all jobs come with such a public spotlight on them as sports broadcasting do. Those on the higher levels of the profession are subject to constant public critique, which is even easier now when anyone with a Twitter account can sent a message right to the broadcaster they’re watching in real time.

Where Len really hit me with this story was with his openness and honesty about it. He acknowledged those concerns he had and shared them, opening himself to perhaps worse feelings than he had before but instead found, at least from what I’ve read on Twitter and in the comments section of that article, people who also have felt the same way and were thanking him for writing about how he feels. It’s amazing what can happen when we overcome that barrier of fear that always seems much larger than it really is. It’s also a good sign that whenever we feel like the only one’s in a certain bad situation, we are surely not alone.

I got great advice a while back from someone who told me that the best thing I can be on the air–with my personality, my voice, the way I call a game–is myself. And I think that’s made me much more comfortable as a broadcaster. Whether it’s making bad puns, sharing cheesy jokes, or just telling fun stories, I’ve realized I can’t be afraid to be who I am…because there’s no changing it.

So to those of you who listen and watch, thanks for putting up with me!

MUSICAL GUEST

Bruce Springsteen…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

Sunday Notes, Draft Conversation

It’s a brisk morning here in Bowling Green today as the TinCaps get set for a 3:05 first pitch against the Hot Rods in game two of their three-game series. I am considering seeking medical attention, as I have now eaten at Cracker Barrel three times in fewer than 24 hours. After all that, I am still assuredly an eg-no-ra-moose. Although I didn’t need this game to help me figure that out:

How people killed time at their table before cellphones existed.

How people killed time at their table before cellphones existed.

Without further ado, here are today’s headlines:

A TinCaps Win WouldBe their third in a row…Pull them ahead of Bowling Green in the standings…Make it four wins in five tries at Bowling Green Ballpark in 2014…

Five Runs? No Problem: The five-run deficit overcome last night by the TinCaps didn’t mark they’ve closed out such a gap this season. All three of those instances have taken place in the last 11 days. The first was a 7-2 deficit turned into a 12-7 win on May 28 at Bowling Green Ballpark, and the second was a 5-0 game on May 31 in which the TinCaps stormed back to win, 8-6, on a two-run walk-off home run by Adolfo Reina.

A Baker’s Dozen For Number 25: First baseman Jake Bauers enters tonight’s contest on a 13-game hitting streak, which is the longest by a TinCaps player this season, and the longest active streak in the MWL. On this current tear, which dates to May 24, Bauers is hitting .438 (21-48) with four home runs and 12 runs batted in. A hit this afternoon would pull Bauers within two of last year’s longest TinCaps streak, a 15-game span by third baseman Gabriel Quintana. The longest-ever regular-season hitting streak by a TinCaps player is 18, done by 2011 Midwest League MVP Rymer Liriano and 2009 MWL champion Blake Tekotte.

Scoring in Bunches: With a 10-run output Saturday night, the TinCaps have put up double-digit runs in nine games this season. Despite having a league-worst 5.01 ERA and having allowed a league-high 372 runs, Fort Wayne has elevated its team average to .268, second-best in the MWL. Their 342 (5.6/game) runs scored in the most in the league and makes them one of just five teams to have scored at least 300 runs.

Sunday No-Fun-Day: Keeping in accordance with their record in day games (6-14) the TinCaps have their worst record (1-5) on Sundays.

Today’s Pitching Matchup: LHP Payton Baskette vs. RHP Ryne Stanek

Baskette, 20, pitches for the first time in a week, which was one of the bumpiest of his season. He started, went three innings, and allowed seven runs in a 19-1 loss for the TinCaps, the most lopsided defeat in franchise history. Fort Wayne has lost each of Baskette’s last three starts, in which his average outing has consisted of four innings, six hits,  four earned runs, three walks and two striketous.

Stanek, 21, makes his sixth appearance of the season. Save for a May 20th outing in which he gave up six earned runs against Lansing, the 2013 first-round draft choice out of the University of Arkansas has been nearly untouchable. In four other starts, he has thrown 22 innings, allowed 15 hits, two earned runs, walked two and struck out 18. He was named the #13 prospect in last year’s draft and the #5 right-handed pitcher. Despite being born into a family of St. Louis Cardinals fans, Stanek was named after hall-of-famer Ryne Sandberg, meaning it is indeed Ryne, not Ryan.

TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST

Before Saturday’s game, I chatted with TinCaps starting pitcher Ronald Herrera about being traded to the Padres organization, his arsenal of pitches, and how he learned English:

DRAFT OPINIONS

As I wrote here yesterday, the Padres selected Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel in the 28th round yesterday. It’s 99.9% certain Manziel is not going to sign with San Diego, as he has a chance to compete in the NFL and will be generously paid to do so. This draft selection raised a few questions around the Padres blogosphere yesterday, which I’ll present here.

The first comes from Geoff Young (@ducksnorts), who says the move, despite not yielding a player for the farm system, could help the Padres:

“It’s a publicity stunt that had some fans wishing the team would pick a baseball player who might, you know, help on the field. Problem is, 28th-round picks generally don’t. Paul Molitor is in the Hall of Fame, but he didn’t sign when the Cardinals drafted him in 1974. Here are the best signed players ever drafted in the 28th round, listed in descending order by rWAR:

  1. Woody Williams, 1988, 30.9
  2. Dave Roberts, 1994, 9.0
  3. Sergio Romo, 2005, 7.9
  4. Luke Gregerson, 2006, 5.0
  5. Shane Spencer, 1990, 4.9

Point is, the Padres (or any team) probably won’t get anything out of their 28th-round pick. They might, however, generate revenue by selling a few Manziel jerseys (hey, it worked for the Rangers with Russell Wilson). It won’t be much, but for a perpetually cash-strapped franchise, something is better than nothing.”

In the comments section of that article, Bryant wrote:

“As Geoff suggested, perhaps that’s all they’ve established their 28th rounder was worth: a few hours as ESPN’s top story. It’s tough not to look at the past and establish that the chances are very slim that they’ll ever field a major leaguer with that pick. There’s probably market research that backs that up…

That said, my major hangup is that current ownership has repeatedly told fans that they must be smarter by building through the draft, and this is using a pick as a self-described “gimmick.” Marketing and baseball operations can do their own thing concurrently, relatively independent of one another. As a general practice, I take issue with marketing interfering or possibly clashing with baseball operations – even if, in this case, I’d imagine it’s ever so slight. Allow ops to concentrate on building a successful team that markets itself, and don’t take away anything from their biggest chance of the year to bring talent into the organization. No matter how remote the chance is that a 28th-round pick even makes it to the big leagues, what message does it send when you try to sell fans on two completely different schools of thought? Even if the chances are slim that the pick will pan out, the very idea that they would aim for a short-term gain in publicity over the potential long-term benefits of even a role player certainly flies in the face of what’s been said before.

But, fair or not, taking a gimmick pick in the 28th round does lead to the obvious follow-up question: “if that was the time for a gimmick, what does that say about the 12 picks after Manziel?”‘

The reaction that I  saw on Twitter from baseball players was disappointment, in that the pick of Manziel was a slot used in place of a fringe player who might have otherwise been taken. Just consider yesterday’s TinCaps starter, Kyle Lloyd, who was a 29th-round selection just a year ago. Then again, there are unlimited possibilities for teams so sign players as non-drafted free-agents, too, as San Diego did with Eric Yardley.

If nothing else, the TinCaps certainly wouldn’t be opposed to adding another guy named Johnny to Parkview Field.

The original Johnny Baseball.

The original Johnny Baseball.

MUSICAL GUEST

R. Kelly…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

Ronny Baseball, Johnny Football

Hi, there–

Quick post today, as the TinCaps got into town this morning in Bowling Green around 6:30 a.m. I finished up some work in the hotel, went to Cracker Barrel for breakfast, slept until 1, went for a run (note: Kentucky is very hot and very humid) and got chased by some dogs on that run, went back to Cracker Barrel for lunch (I love variety) and now here I am at Bowling Green Ballpark. Last night Fort Wayne won, 14-4…read about it here. River Stevens had the best game of his career as he had four RBI and hit his first professional home run. He led seven different TinCaps who had at least one hit and one RBI.

Here are the headlines for tonight’s game:

A TinCaps Win Would:Be their second in a row…Pull them even in the standings with Bowling Green…Make it three wins in four tries at Bowling Green Ballpark in 2014…

One Dozen For Number 25: First baseman Jake Bauers enters tonight’s contest on a 12-game hitting streak, which is the longest by a TinCaps player this season. On this current tear, which dates to May 24, Bauers is hitting .419 (18-43) with four home runs and 11 runs batted in. A hit tonight would pull Bauers within two of last year’s longest TinCaps streak, a 15-game span by third baseman Gabriel Quintana. The longest-ever regular-season hitting streak by a TinCaps player is 18, done by 2011 Midwest League MVP Rymer Liriano and 2009 MWL champion Blake Tekotte.

Write That Down: In the fifth inning of last night’s game Dustin Peterson took first on a catcher’s interference call on Eric Haase. It was only the eighth time that has happened in the Midwest League this year, and the first time it’s happened to a TinCaps player since Ryan Miller reached in similar fashion on August 30th, 2013 against West Michigan.

One to Remember: After sitting out all of 2013 recovering from a torn labrum in his right shoulder, River Stevens had to wait until May 28 of this season to have his number called from extended spring training. Yesterday, the 2012 draftee hit his first pro home run in the 55th game of his pro career. It was also his first career four-RBI game.

Scoring in Bunches: With a 14-run output Friday night, the TinCaps have put up double-digit runs in eight games this season. Despite having a league-worst 5.00 ERA and having allowed a league-high 366 runs, Fort Wayne has elevated its team average to .267, second-best in the MWL. Their 332 (5.5/game) runs scored in the most in the league and makes them one of just three teams to have scored at least 300 runs.

The broadcast starts at 7:45 PM ET (we are in the Central time zone for the next three days) with first pitch at 8:05. I will be joined by Ronald Herrera, the newest TinCap, on the pregame show. You can hear the broadcast on ESPN Radio 1380 and TheFanIndiana.com everywhere else, including Ogalalla, Nebraska, where our ratings are off the charts.

TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST

Prior to last night’s win, I chatted with River Stevens about his year off due to injury, his draft day memories, and more:

ONE FOR THE ROAD

The Padres drafted Johnny Manziel. Yes, that Johnny Manziel. 

Do with that information what you wish.

MUSICAL GUEST

Nick Lachey (born in Hebron, Kentucky)…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

Series Finale, Baseball Journey, Padres Draft

Yesterday the TinCaps were swept in a doubleheader by Lake County. You can read about that right here. Tonight, after a rain postponement and then  twinbill, is scheduled for ONE FALL, er, nine innings.

Ronald Herrera, who went 6 2/3 last Friday against Bowling Green, will be opposed by Jordan Milbrath, a one-time Midwest League ERA leader, who is still solid with a 2.92 ERA. I’m interested to see Herrera go for the TinCaps, as this will be just his second outing in a Fort Wayne uniform. When he started at Bowling Green, where the team is headed after the game tonight, I was seated up the third-base line (the location of the press box), so it was difficult to see any of his breaking pitches, although I’ve heard plenty of good things about him. Herrera will try and help the TinCaps avoid a three-game sweep here in Lake County, which is what happened the last time Fort Wayne came through.

Here are today’s headlines:

A TinCaps Win Would:End a 2-game skid… Stop a 5-game losing streak at Lake County… Avoid being swept at Lake County for the 2nd time this season and for the 3rd time overall this season.

California Chrome Run: Jake Bauers, of Huntington Beach, California (about 4 hours south of Coalinga, California, where the Triple Crown-chasing California Chrome was foaled), hit his 5th home run of the season during Thursday’s Game 2. Bauers also had a single in Game 1, meaning that he has hit safely in 11 consecutive games dating back to May 24. That ties the longest hitting streak of the season for any TinCaps player. (Fernando Perez hit in 11 straight from April 9-22.)

More on Bauers: During his 11-game hitting streak, Jake Bauers is batting .400 (16-for-40) with a double, a triple, 4 HR, 10 RBI, and 10 runs scored. Since the 18-year-old — and youngest player in the Midwest League — was called up to Fort Wayne from extended spring training on April 25, his .356 batting average is the best in the MWL. It’s also tied for 20th best in all of Minor League Baseball. Rules dictate that to qualify for league-leading stats, a player must have a minimum of 2.7 plate appearances per the number of games his team has played. With 138 plate appearances, Bauers falls 22 shy of the number he’d need to qualify through 59 TinCaps games.

Where They Rank: Mallex Smith stole 2 bases in Thursday’s Game 2, upping his total on the season to 44, or 16 more than anyone else in MiLB (and also 9 more than MLB leader Dee Gordon). Smith also scored a run in Game 2, raising his 2014 tally to 48 — also most in the MWL (7th in MiLB)… Meanwhile, Dustin Peterson racked is 47th RBI of the year Thursday. That, too, leads the MWL (tied for 15th in MiLB).

Tonight’s game will air on ESPN Radio 1380 in Fort Wayne and TheFanIndiana.com everywhere else, including Botswana, where it’s a big hit.

VIVA LAS VEGAS: ERIC YARDLEY’S JOURNEY TO FORT WAYNE For an upcoming edition of the TinCaps Gameday program, I wrote an article on reliever Eric Yardley, who has taken quite an interesting path to get to being in the San Diego Padres organization. Here’s an excerpt:

“The drive from Yardley’s hometown of Richland, Washington, to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he lived in his first stop as a ballplayer collecting a paycheck, runs about 23 hours. Driving a packed Honda Civic, the lanky righthander twisted through Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Colorado, before arriving in New Mexico to start living the dream—or something like that. “I get there and pull up to an old beaten-down house that has like 20 air mattresses in it,” Yardley said. “(The team) had two houses; one was a loft that was an old shop that was two stories, and then this frat house with air mattresses and a TV. I was told we had a home game the next day. A home game was an hour-and-a-half drive.” Welcome to the good life.”

You can read the full story by clicking here.

TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST

PADRES DRAFTING 

With the 13th overall pick last night, the Padres selected shortstop Trea (pronounced TRAY) Turner, from North Carolina State. He draws comparisons with his speed to Jose Reyes and Billy Hamilton, and during his freshman year of college, led all players with 57 stolen bases.

From Padres.com:

“San Diego first-year scout Tyler Stubblefield recommended Turner — even if he thought for a while there was no way he’d get to the Padres’ first pick at 13. “I saw him four times early. You don’t know how things are going to shake up and I didn’t think we were going to get him. But some things went our ways. I saw him six or seven times late … and had a lot of at-bats with him,” Stubblefield said. “I was impressed how he handled himself around people, how he carried himself.” Stubblefield, who covers east Georgia and North and South Carolina for the Padres, didn’t see a single other player who impressed him the way Turner did.”

You’ll remember that just last year, Stubblefield was with the TinCaps helping to replace injured shortstop Stephen Carmon. In subsequent rounds, San Diego has also taken high school outfielder Michael Gettys, Rice University pitcher Zech LeMond, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo outfielder Nick Torres, and University of Mississippi outfielder Austin Bousfield. You can follow all of San Diego’s picks here.

MUSICAL GUEST S

tephen Kellogg and the Sixers..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

Viva Las Vegas: Eric Yardley’s Journey to Fort Wayne

Apparently going to Las Vegas ain’t all it’s cut out to be.

That rings true for down-on-their-luck gamblers in Nevada’s Sin City, and for those going to play baseball in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The other Las Vegas.

That’s where TinCaps reliever Eric Yardley began his pro baseball career.

*****

The drive from Yardley’s hometown of Richland, Washington, to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he lived in his first stop as a ballplayer collecting a paycheck, runs about 23 hours. Driving a packed Honda Civic, the lanky righthander twisted through Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Colorado, before arriving in New Mexico to start living the dream—or something like that.

“I get there and pull up to an old beaten-down house that has like 20 air mattresses in it,” Yardley said. “(The team) had two houses; one was a loft that was an old shop that was two stories, and then this frat house with air mattresses and a TV. I was told we had a home game the next day. A home game was an hour-and-a-half drive.”

Welcome to the good life.

Yardley was playing for the Taos Blizzard in the Pecos League, a non-affiliated circuit in which players sometimes earned $50 weekly paycheck.

“You just didn’t know if you were going to get paid that week or not. If you’re playing in that league, the money really doesn’t matter,” Yardley said. “You’re down there because you’re trying to extend the dream, but there’s a slim to none chance of that happening.”

Making it big is even harder to do when the team folds a few weeks into the season, and when that happens on the road and there’s no team bus to take players back to their frat house.

He ended up finding another Pecos League team in Colorado, the Trinidad Triggers. At least they had a bus.

“It was a school bus, that’s painted our colors because our colors happened to be black and yellow. All they had to do was put a black stripe on it,” Yardley said.

Fortunately for Yardley, who played in Trinidad with current TinCaps reliever Nick Mutz, his stint in Colorado only lasted eight games before he got a life-changing phone call.

*****

Professional baseball, let alone Division-1 college baseball, almost didn’t happen for Yardley. Mostly a corner infielder in high school who pitched on occasion, he had visions of playing at a two-year community college, and ultimately getting a degree to become a math teacher.

“I like that it’s a definite thing…Two plus two equals four, but you can find several ways to get to it,” he says of math.

Yardley pitched fewer than 10 innings his senior year at Richland (WA) High School, but played American Legion baseball over the summer and pitched more there. Somewhere along the line, he caught the eye of Seattle University head baseball coach Donny Harrell, who was reviving the school’s baseball program as the athletic department transitioned back to Division-I.

“Eric was recruited as a 2-way player and as a pitcher – he was competitive – but was not able to put people away with the stuff and strength he had at the time for Division 1 baseball,” Harrell wrote in an email.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be a guy when I got (to Seattle University),” Yardley said. “I wasn’t going to be that guy who was going to come out of the program and play pro baseball. I was going to be a role player, try to be as mature as possible, and use those four years to finish up a baseball career and say I played college baseball.”

He made a combined 15 appearances over his first two seasons, walking 18 and striking out 15 in 30 1/3 innings. Heading into his sophomore year, he had tweaked a muscle in his back, which led to decreased velocity and results, as he puts it, that led him to perform below the level that both he and his coaches wanted. Playing with a collegiate team in Walla Walla, Washington in the summer of 2011, as is common for many high-level players to do, Yardley got a phone call from his Seattle U pitching coach Dave Wainhouse, a former Major Leaguer, who told him it was time for a change. Wainhouse, while watching the College World Series had been inspired by a submarine-style pitcher.

“(The University of) South Carolina had a guy who had dropped down and (Wainhouse) basically said, “If you want to play, this is what you’re going to do.” I thought, “I don’t want to be that weird. I can succeed at what I’m doing.”

Despite a few instances in which Yardley says he might have injured his throwing partner, he started to figure out the whole submarine thing after some practice and realized after getting some swings and misses, “This is a lot better than what I was.”

*****

The baby boomer version of opportunity knocked. After all, that was the polite thing to do. The millennial version of opportunity, however, is an electronic interrupter that waits for no one. And when opportunity comes in the form of a phone call, it’s best to answer.

Fortunately for Yardley, he wasn’t quite asleep when his phone rang with opportunity on the other end.

“As I’m trying to change my alarm for an extra hour of sleep, the guy who scouted me in college calls, and I’m like “Hey, what’s up, Justin?”’

That would be Justin Baughman, a former Major Leaguer, who is the Pacific Northwest area scout for the Padres.

“We’ve got a spot for you if you want it,” Baughman told Yardley.

“Excuse me?” Yardley asked.

“A spot opened up for you. Can you get to Arizona?” was the reply on the other end.

Yardley was no longer living in Las Vegas, but instead was on the roster for the team in Trinidad, which it turns out for him happened to be the true “City of Second Chances”.

“The funny thing about that is he asked if I was in shape. He was still going off my college stuff, he didn’t even know if I was playing,” Yardley said.

When the 2013 MLB Draft rolled around in June, Yardley thought he might have had a slim chance on the second day when rounds three through 10 take place, and his best shot on the third day with rounds 11 through 40. Nothing.

“Eric was a lot easier to scout than you might think.  He didn’t have overpowering stuff, nothing that jumps out at you.  That’s probably the reason he wasn’t drafted,“ Baughman wrote via email. He is a hard guy to sell to your organization because his velocity is below (average) and his (curveball) isn’t all that sharp.   But because he threw from the low slot he automatically has some value.  What made me think that he could have success at the pro level was all based on stats, though.  He was ranked in the top three in division 1 baseball in ground ball rate and he didn’t walk anybody.”

Through the first 60 games of Fort Wayne’s 2014 season, those numbers have continued to prove true. In 13 appearances spanning 17 2/3 innings, Yardley struck out 20, walked four, and averaged 6.2 ground balls outs to every one fly ball out.

Eric Yardley pitches for the TinCaps against the Lake County Captains at Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio, on May 20, 2014. (Photo via PadresPublic.com)

Eric Yardley pitches for the TinCaps against the Lake County Captains at Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio, on May 20, 2014. (Photo via PadresPublic.com)

“Strike throwers who get ground balls from a funky slot can be very good at any level.  Of course, his coaches raved about his character and when I sign somebody after the draft for no money I want to make sure that he is going to be liked by the coaches.  If he isn’t, a coach doesn’t have any incentive to play a kid that an organization hasn’t invested any money in.  Eric just checked all the boxes for me as a guy who could hold his own and represent the Padres well,” Baughman wrote.

In truth, Yardley signed for $1,000 and a plane ticket to the Padres’ facility in Peoria, Arizona.

*****

America’s growing gap of inequality doesn’t just tamper with the minds of trend-hound economists who study income and cable television talking heads. Its effects are also seen in baseball. Players selected on the first day of the draft each year expect to be drafted and have known for some time that they’d be professional baseball players. Their day-to-day existence on a 25-man roster is more certain, in part due to the organization’s financial investment in their careers. To a Major League Baseball team, $1,000 is a pittance.

Yardley’s older brother, Brian, played baseball at Gonzaga University, and Eric travelled with his parents to Brian’s final game of his collegiate career in 2010.

“I remember pretty vividly the 27th out of that game and seeing his reaction and seeing how everything….just kinda…it’s over, “ Eric said.

“There’s no way of fighting back for it. You don’t have the résumé. You don’t have anything to help you. It was tough seeing him end it and then move on but still have, in the back of his head, “What could I have done differently?” I don’t want this to end because I could have done something differently now that I’m in the system. I don’t want to look back and doubt what I could have done.”

Eric Yardley on the hill February 16, 2013, for Seattle University. (Photo courtesy of Seattle University Athletics.

Eric Yardley on the hill February 16, 2013, for Seattle University. (Photo courtesy of Seattle University Athletics.

Yardley is one of few submarine-throwing pitchers in Minor League Baseball, and takes every chance he can to watch those in Major League Baseball who throw the same way. He lists Brad Ziegler of the Diamondbacks and Darren O’Day of the Orioles as two players whose styles he tries to emulate. Even within the Padres farm system he has a sidearm compatriot in Adam Cimber, who currently pitches for the Advanced-A Lake Elsinore Storm.

“I was watching Ziegler when I was down in Arizona, and (the Padres) were facing the Dodgers, and the lineup he had to face for that inning was Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonazlez and Matt Kemp for a giant Dodgers team and he went through it like it was no problem,” Yardley said. “I had to focus on what his thought process was on each pitch. What did the throw there? Why did he throw it? That’s the best way to learn, really in any job, is anyone who is above you that does the same thing as you—what did he do to get there and how can I do it better than he does?”

After finding his way on to a Division-1 baseball roster, where he was twice named the team’s Cam Christian Award Winner, given to the team’s most outstanding citizen on and off the field, and then to independent baseball, Yardley is finally living out his dream, and he’s well aware of the privilege he’s been granted.

“I’ve changed and adapted to make it to this one spot to play Minor League Baseball. I’ve seen guys play for no money, if not pay for what they can do, to play in what is one of the worst leagues you could possibly play in for pro baseball. These guys are fighting to play so they can say they did it. Once I signed the contract with the Padres logo on it, anything and everything I can do to make this last as long as possible is what’s going to happen.”

###

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