It feels like just a few weeks ago that I left Burlington, Vermont, with everything I owned crammed into my 2001 Honda CR-V to make the two day drive to Fort Wayne. It’s been much longer than that, two-and-a-half years, in fact, that I’ve worked for the TinCaps and called Fort Wayne home. And now, it’s time to say so long.
Today is my last day with the team, as I am moving on to pursue other TV broadcasting opportunities.
It brings so many feelings for me to write this—to move on. In so many ways I won’t “leave” Fort Wayne, because I’ll have the great memories I formed at Parkview Field and at ballparks around the Midwest League, and most importantly, I’ll have the great relationships that I formed with people around the world of baseball, as well as with the great TinCaps staff I’ve called not just my co-workers but my friends during my stay. Minor League Baseball is what you might call a young person’s game—long hours, long season, long days—and a lot of turnover is expected. As is the case with almost everything the TinCaps do, they differ from the norm, and in the best way. Fewer than five full-time employees left while I was here, meaning that the vast majority of my coworkers became close friends, people you knew you’d see season after season, and I think for the fans, that’s certainly what makes the ballpark a special place—knowing that the same friendly, familiar, smiling faces who know you well will be there game after game, year after year.
In other ways, though, I will leave Fort Wayne. I’ll be away from the day-after-day experience of working in Minor League Baseball, which consists of 140 games in 152 days. Gone are the times spent hanging out at the batting cage, in the dugout, the clubhouse, and the bus. I’ll leave a city that I’ve grown to love, and the only place that I’ve lived longer than six consecutive months since I left for my freshman year at Syracuse University. I’ll miss the places around my neighborhood: the gym, Kroger, the bank, the dry cleaner, the pharmacy, the gas station. Those are all places that, for someone who needs a GPS to find his front door, all became second nature in my head to navigate to. It’s a goodbye to a city of kind people, phenomenal restaurants, and a seemingly never-ending cycle of festivals throughout the summer. It’s a goodbye to familiarity.
There is an incredibly long list of people to thank, and I don’t want to start the list, because I’ll inevitably forget some folks, but I do need to name two: TinCaps President Mike Nutter and TinCaps VP – Marketing and Promotions, Michael Limmer.
First, Mike Nutter, who has been and continues to be an exceptional servant leader. From my first day with the team, when Mike invited me into his office and we chatted for 30 minutes, through every time the tarp was pulled on the field and he worked with the crew, to his encouragement of my pursuit of calling college basketball and football games, I’ve been nothing but inspired and motivated to work hard for Mike. Having worked at a variety of businesses before coming to Fort Wayne, the vibe given off by a president or a superior was one of superiority and ego-inflated importance, and that is never the case with Mike. He’s always in the trenches fighting with and for his employees, and my respect and admiration grows for him each day.
And Michael Limmer, with whom I worked most closely during my time with the TinCaps—I say thank you for always being open-minded, supportive, and responsive. The line between “boss” (I know you don’t like that word) and friend is hard to find, but you walk it with ease, and I know we’ll remain friends for a long time.
British philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote, ”In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted”, and my time spent here has helped me do that. I’m no longer who I was when I arrived here two-and-a-half years ago, neither as a broadcaster nor as a person. Now, I must do it again as I move to a new area, embark on the next leg of my career, and forge new relationships, while still maintaining those which made my time in Fort Wayne great.
For some time I’ve said there are three things that I love about working in sports: the games, the travel, and the people. And it’s the people that always top the list. Thinking about Fort Wayne I think about the great cast of guys who do the official scoring and run the scoreboard, the beer vendors, the TV and newspaper reporters, the bus drivers, the security guards…and those are just at Parkview Field. On the road there’s the other team’s broadcaster, that club’s full-time staff, the group of guys in Midland, Michigan, I’ve come to know by playing 6 a.m. pickup basketball, and so on. Those people can’t be replaced, but they do make reminiscence enjoyable.
Working with the Padres organization has been enjoyable, too. Getting to learn from some great baseball minds, whether managers, hitting and pitching coaches, roving coordinators or farm directors, has made me appreciate the game like I never had before. Going from the kid begging for a ball at batting practice at Shea Stadium and then working for two years with Jose Valentin was something special, and interviewing Omar Minaya, the architect of the Mets teams I rooted for in high school, is a lasting memory as well. Everyone I’ve encountered with the Padres has been first class, and I thank them for being a great affiliate to work with in Fort Wayne.
Lastly, a thanks to those who have listened and watched over the last few years, with special gratitude for those who have turned email and Twitter relationships into real ones. Knowing that there are listeners (outside of my mother) who tune in each night, follow the story of the team, email with questions, and stay up late on too many summer nights along for the ride, makes it all worthwhile.
The broadcasting and media relations department now rests in the hands of John Nolan, who is in his second season with the team. John, like me, is a graduate of Syracuse University, and also got his start in baseball where I did, with the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod Baseball League. Over the last two seasons I’ve been happy to not only call John a colleague, but a great friend. He’s someone who cares about the craft of broadcasting, and has a passion for baseball and the TinCaps organization. I have no doubt he will succeed greatly in this position, and look forward to watching him grow as I did during my time in Fort Wayne.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not”. I’ve found the beautiful in Fort Wayne and with the TinCaps, and will continue to carry it with me. But now, on a new path, my travel continues.
Listening to last night’s TinCaps win with Max Fried on the mound once again in a Fort Wayne uniform, I thought to myself, “Wow. This team has changed a lot over the course of the season.” And it certainly has. Fried, the starting pitcher, wasn’t on the roster until Monday, and Jake Bauers, one of the team’s best offensive assets, wasn’t on the Opening Day roster. Here’s what the group of 25 looked like back in April:
2014 OPENING DAY ROSTER (April 3, 2014)
P (13): Payton Baskette, Jimmi Brasoban, Erik Cabrera, Matt Chabot, Adrian De Horta, Tayron Guerrero, Pete Kelich, Walker Lockett, Nick Mutz, Genison Reyes, Josh Richardson, Tony Rizzotti, Walker Weickel
C (2): Ryan Miller, Dane Phillips
INF (6): Rey Bruguera, Franchy Cordero, Fernando Perez, Dustin Peterson, Luis Tejada, Josh VanMeter
OF (4): Henry Charles, Franmil Reyes, Mallex Smith, Jose Carlos Urena
From that opening day roster, the players currently with Fort Wayne are the following 12: Baskette, Brasoban, Cabrera, Richardson, Rizzotti (DL), Miller, Bruguera, Perez, Peterson, Tejada, VanMeter, Charles, and Reyes. Among those, Baskette has gone from starter to reliever, Brasoban from Fort Wayne to Eugene to Fort Wayne, Cabrera has alternated between starter and reliever, Bruguera made an extended trip to Lake Elsinore, and Tejada went to both Lake Elsinore and San Antonio, and has transitioned from first base to the outfield.
As for the rest of the opening day roster:
Chabot – DL
De Horta – Eugene
Guerrero – Lake Elsinore (and the Futures Game)
Kelich – Tommy John surgery
Mutz – Today moved up to Lake Elsinore
Reyes – Lake Elsinore
Weickel – Arizona League
Phillips – Lake Elsinore
Cordero – Eugene
Smith – Lake Elsinore
Urena – Eugene
Now, here’s the roster as it stands today:
2014 TINCAPS ROSTER (AS OF JULY 17th)
P (13): Payton Baskette, Yimmi Brasoban, Ryan Butler, Erik Cabrera, Jeffery Enloe, Max Fried, Jorge Guzman, Cody Hebner, Ronald Herrera, Justin Livengood, Kyle Lloyd, Josh Richardson, Eric Yardley
C (2): Ryan Miller, Adolfo Reina
INF (6): Jake Bauers, Rey Bruguera, Fernando Perez, Dustin Peterson, Trea Turner, Josh VanMeter
OF (4): Henry Charles, Franmil Reyes, Ronnie Richardson, Nick Schulz
The new faces include:
Butler – Selected out of UNC Charltote in the seventh round of the 2014 draft
Enloe – Selected in the 37th round of the 2013 draft, sent from the Arizona League to Fort Wayne on July 1st
Fried – Selected seventh overall in the 2012 draft, pitched with the TinCaps in 2013, sent from the Arizona League to Fort Wayne on Monday
Guzman – Signed as a free agent in 2008, pitched with the TinCaps in 2013, sent to Fort Wayne from Eugene on June 19th
Hebner – Selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, pitched with the TinCaps in 2012, sent to Fort Wayne from Lake Elsinore July 2nd
Herrera – Acquired in late May via trade from Oakland and assigned to Fort Wayne
Livengood – Selected in the 10th round of the 2013 draft, sent to Fort Wayne from extended spring training on April 13th
Lloyd – Selected in the 29th round of the 2013 draft, sent to Fort Wayne from extended spring training on April 13th
Yardley – Signed as a free agent in 2013, sent to Fort Wayne from extended spring training May 5th
Reina – Acquired in the Rule 5 draft in 2013, sent to Fort Wayne from extended spring training May 1
Turner – Selected 13th overall in the 2014 draft, sent to Fort Wayne from Eugene July 12th
Richardson – Selected in the 16th round of the 2012 draft, sent from extended spring training to Fort Wayne on April 8th
Schulz – Signed as a free agent on May 7th, 2014, sent to Fort Wayne from Eugene on June 27th
To think that if a player has been in Fort Wayne all season, he’s seen the following–
A game get called due to snow:
A “geyser” (or busted sprinkler valve) delay a game for 20 minutes:
and a bird get hit by a pitch:
And now at this point there have been 83 different moves (see them all below) with players going up, down, sideways (on the DL) or to rehab assignments while on the DL (diagonally?). It’s certainly more than the TinCaps have had in either of my first two seasons with the club, but this was a younger team than in either of those seasons, too.
The funny thing about winning in Minor League Baseball is that a lot of it has to do with luck? How old/experienced was the last year’s draft class? Who’s injured and who’s healthy? And very little of that rests on a manger’s shoulders. Just look at Lake County, for example. In the first half the Captains were 27-43, the worst team in the league. Now, in the second half, they’re 15-10 and in contention for a playoff spot. With almost 50 games to go, they’re within 12 wins of their first-half total. Did Mark Budzinski go from being a bad manager to a playoff-caliber manager? No, he just had a young team that needed to go through some tough times and learn. From my conversations with him, I’ve observed him to be a great manager and leader of people all along. Did his team learn and get better? Yes. And the same goes for Michael Collins, whose team finished seventh in the first half, and has endured a 13-game losing streak in the second half. It’s not like he can drastically change the lineup from day to day and all of a sudden the team will win 13 in a row. In the minors, especially at the lower levels, a manager doesn’t have a lot of control over his lineup to begin with. There’s an edict of who will lead off and who will bat in the middle of the lineup, and who will play short every day.
As the TinCaps have made the playoffs over each of the last five seasons, which is the longest active streak in the Midwest League, they’ve had some great teams like the 2009 squad that won 101 games and set a bevvy of records. But there’s also some luck involved, too. As is the case for any team. The format of the league doesn’t hurt, either, in that half of the teams in either division qualify for the postseason each year.
There’s a long way to go with this season, and a lot can happen for the TinCaps. They’ve got a new leadoff hitter who’s gone 5-for-14 with a pair of stolen bases in his first three games. Not to mention, he’s the best defensive shortstop the team has had since Jace Peterson in 2012. Power hasn’t necessarily been something that you could’ve assosicated with the TinCaps over the last few years, but look at the homer distribution around this team–Miller (9), Peterson (9), Perez (7), Reyes (7), Bauers (6), Reina (4)–and look back at last year to realize only one player, Alberth Martinez, hit double digits and he had 10 home runs. Their starting pitching is starting to look better with Kyle Lloyd striking out 13 batters in a game, becoming the first Fort Wayne player to do that since 2003. Ronald Herrera has been nothing but sharp, as has Jeffery Enloe. And now with the addition of Butler, a college starter, in the bullpen, there’s a viable, flame-throwing option to replace Nick Mutz as closer. All that this concoction of talent needs now is a little consistency. That’ll be the biggest question heading into the final stretch of the season.
Full List of Season Transactions
April 8: INF Rey Bruguera transferred from Fort Wayne to Advanced-A Lake Elsinore. OF Ronnie Richardson transferred from extended spring training to Fort Wayne. RHP Matt Chabot placed on the disabled list.
April 9: RHP Cory Bostjancic transferred from extended spring training to Fort Wayne.
April 12: RHP Walker Lockett placed on 7-day disabled list (retroactive to Thursday, April 10).
April 13: RHP Josh Richardson transferred from Fort Wayne to extended spring training. RHP Justin Livengood transferred from extended spring training to Fort Wayne. RHP Kyle Lloyd transferred from extended spring training to Fort Wayne.
April 15: RHP Adrian De Horta placed on the disabled list. RHP Coby Cowgill transferred from extended spring training to Fort Wayne.
April 22: RHP Adrian De Horta reinstated from the disabled list. RHP Cory Bostjancic placed on the disabled list.
April 24: RHP Yimmi Brasoban transferred from Fort Wayne to Eugene. RHP Bryan Verbitsky transferred from Advanced-A Lake Elsinore to Fort Wayne.
April 25: INF Luis Tejada transferred from Fort Wayne to Double-A San Antonio. INF Jake Bauers transferred from extended spring training to Fort Wayne.
April 28: RHP Tony Rizzotti transferred to Eugene. RHP Wilson Santos transferred from extended spring training to Fort Wayne.
May 1: RHP Justin Livengood transferred from Fort Wayne to Eugene. RHP Tony Rizzotti transferred from Eugene to Fort Wayne. INF Franchy Cordero and OF Jose Carlos Urena transferred from Fort Wayne to extended spring training. INF Chase Jensen and C Adolfo Reina transferred from extended spring training to Fort Wayne.
May 3: RHP Justin Livengood transferred from Eugene to Fort Wayne. RHP Pete Kelich placed on the disabled list.
May 5: RHP Erik Cabrera and C Ryan Miller transferred to Eugene. RHP Eric Yardley and RHP Tony Wieber transferred from extended spring training to Fort Wayne.
May 10: RHP Erik Cabrera transferred from Eugene to Fort Wayne. RHP Genison Reyes placed on the disabled list.
May 12: C Ryan Miller transferred to Fort Wayne from Eugene. RHP Bryan Verbitsky transferred from Fort Wayne to extended spring training.
May 14: INF Luis Tejada transferred from Advanced-A Lake Elsinore to Fort Wayne. OF Ronnie Richardson placed on the disabled list.
May 15: RHP Justin Livengood transferred to Short-Season Eugene. RHP Genison Reyes reinstated from the disabled list.
May 22: RHP Justin Livengood transferred from Short-Season Eugene to Fort Wayne. RHP Tony Wieber transferred from Fort Wayne to Short-Season Eugene.
May 28: INF Chase Jensen placed on disabled list. INF River Stevens transferred to Fort Wayne from extended spring training. RHP Ronald Herrera acquired by San Diego from Oakland / Beloit as the PTBNL in the trade for INF/OF Kyle Blanks (assigned to Fort Wayne).
May 29: RHP Coby Cowgill placed on disabled list (retroactive to May 27).
June 1: C Dane Phillips transferred from Fort Wayne to Advanced-A Lake Elsinore. OF Ronnie Richardson reinstated from the disabled list.\
June 11: RHP Coby Cowgill reinstated from the disabled list. RHP Wilson Santos transferred from Fort Wayne to Short-Season Eugene.
June 13: RHP Adrian De Horta transferred from Fort Wayne to Short-Season Eugene. RHP Walker Lockett reinstated from Fort Wayne’s disabled list and transferred to Short-Season Eugene. RHP Walker Lockett reinstated from disabled list and transferred to Eugene.
June 19: OF Mallex Smith, RHP Coby Cowgill and RHP Tyron Guerrero transferred from Fort Wayne to Advanced-A Lake Elsinore. RHP Josh Richardson transferred from Advanced-A Lake Elsinore to Fort Wayne. RHP Jorge Guzman and LHP Jeffery Enloe transferred from Short-Season Eugene to Fort Wayne.
June 24: INF Chase Jensen (DL) transferred to Eugene rehabilitation assignment.
June 26: INF Fernando Perez placed on disabled list retroactive to Wednesday, June 25.
June 27: OF Nick Schulz transferred from Short-Season Eugene to Fort Wayne.
June 28: RHP Jason Jester transferred from Arizona League Padres to Fort Wayne. LHP Jeffery Enloe transferred from Fort Wayne to Double-A San Antonio.
June 29: INF Luis Tejada placed on the disabled list. INF Rey Bruguera and OF Edwin Moreno transferred from Advanced-A Lake Elsinore to Fort Wayne.
July 1: LHP Jeffery Enloe transferred to Fort Wayne from Double-A San Antonio. RHP Walker Weickel transferred to Arizona League Padres.
July 2: RHP Cody Hebner transferred to Fort Wayne from Advanced-A Lake Elsinore. RHP Genison Reyes transferred to Advanced-A Lake Elsinore.
July 4: RHP Tony Rizzotti placed on the disabled list. RHP Yimmi Brasoban transferred from Short-Season Eugene to Fort Wayne.
July 6: INF Fernando Perez reinstated from the disabled list. INF River Stevens transferred from Fort Wayne to Advanced-A Lake Elsinore.
July 7: RHP Eric Yardley transferred to Double-A San Antonio.
July 8: OF Luis Tejada reinstated from disabled list.
July 10: OF Luis Tejada transferred to Advanced-A Lake Elsinore.
July 12: RHP Tony Rizzotti placed on disabled list. OF Edwin Moreno placed on disabled list… INF Trea Turner transferred to Fort Wayne from Eugene… RHP Ryan Butler transferred to Fort Wayne from Eugene.
July 14: LHP Max Fried reinstated from disabled list at Advanced-A Lake Elsinore and transferred to Fort Wayne…RHP Jason Jester placed on disabled list.
July 16: INF Chase Jensen returned from Eugene rehabilitation assignment, reinstated from Fort Wayne’s 7-day disabled list and transferred to Eugene…RHP Tony Rizzotti (Fort Wayne 7-day DL) Eugene rehabilitation assignment…RHP Nick Mutz transferred to Lake Elsinore
Ellie Goulding…take it away!
The 2013 Fort Wayne TinCaps opening day roster was a highly touted one, featuring four first-round or supplemental first-round picks: Zach Eflin, Joe Ross, Walker Weickel, and Max Fried. Both Eflin and Ross had successful seasons here, with Eflin becoming the first Fort Wayne pitcher to lead the league in ERA since LaTroy Hawkins in 1993, and Ross putting together a full year after an injury-shortened 2012. Both are in the rotation at Advanced-A Lake Elsinore this year. Weickel, meanwhile, returned to Fort Wayne this season, but after going 1-8 with a 6.32 ERA in 15 starts, he was jettisoned back to Arizona to refine his craft without the pressure of crowds and meaningful games. And then there was Fried.
The lefthanded pitcher was selected seventh overall in the 2012 draft by San Diego, and signed for $3 million. He pitched a total of 17 2/3 innings with the Arizona League Padres that year–following his senior year at Harvard-Westlake High (CA) High School–and in 2013 worked as a member of the TinCaps starting rotation. Last season he went 6-7 with a 3.49 ERA, striking out a team-leading 100 batters in 118 2/3 innings. Although his strikeout numbers were high, he battled himself some nights, walking at least four batters in eight of his 23 starts. He showed, at times, a curve ball that was devastating to opposing hitters, but there were several nights that it fluttered high from his hand, unable to find the zone in a two-strike count. In short, it was a good Midwest League season, but not a great one.
He was expected to open the 2014 season with the Advanced-A Lake Elsinore Storm of the California League, but news came in February that his arm had gotten sore.
“Left-handed pitcher Max Fried, regarded by MLB.com as the top prospect in the Padres’ Minor League system, will be shut down for two weeks with soreness in his left forearm.
Fried, the seventh-overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, had been expected to participate in the team’s annual prospect minicamp, which began on Wednesday.
“He experienced some soreness during his offseason throwing,” said (then) San Diego general manager Josh Byrnes. “We examined him in San Diego and again in Peoria and have decided to shut down any throwing until the symptoms are completely resolved.”‘
According to Corey Brock’s MLB.com report, Fried had undergone an MRI exam in San Diego on February 11th, and it showed no damage to his elbow ligament.
This year Fried first appeared in a game on July 6th with the rookie-level Arizona League Padres, throwing two innings. He again threw a pair of frames on July 11th. In total he allowed five hits, two earned runs, walked three and struck out seven. He is scheduled to start again tonight for the TinCaps as they take on the Quad Cities River Bandits at Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, Iowa.
My guess is that Fried’s pitch count will be limited and he’ll throw somewhere in the neighborhood of 45-60 pitches, and even that may be high. As the Padres try to work him back to full strength, they’ll be very cautious in doing so. After an off day yesterday and a not-so-strenuous load on the bullpen the day before, the team should be in good shape.
Injury, or really soreness in this case, is any pro athlete’s worst nightmare. Fried has had it hit him early, but the expectations are certainly still high–as they were last year from those who have known him for a long time.
“Fried…said his older brother by nine years, Brandon, was a tremendous influence during his formative years as a pitcher. He also credited 17-year Major Leaguer Reggie Smith, who runs a baseball academy in Encino, with being a valuable instructor.
“I think Max has a tremendous future,” said Smith, who has produced several first-rounders as well as Stanford’s Austin Wilson, who is projected to be a top selection in 2013. “You always worry about pitchers being injured, but what I see in [Fried] is possibly being in the bigs by late 2014, 2015 for sure. With Max, you’re going to see a staff ace, because he knows how to pitch and he’s not afraid.”
A strong and experienced arm is something that TinCaps Manager Michael Collins would welcome right now. The TinCaps enter play today 10 games under .500 in the second half and five games out of a playoff spot, with a franchise-record 13-game losing streak in the rear-view mirror. Fried will be the 15th different pitcher to start a game for Fort Wayne this season, as the carousel of pitchers has continued to spin, with former Beloit Snapper Ronald Herrera and mid-season addition Jeffery Enloe having proved the most consistent over the last few weeks.
The TinCaps are a team that’s built to score, as they lead the league in runs and hits, and now if the pitching comes around, the Eastern Division could see a sleeping giant rise.
Make sure to listen to tonight’s TinCaps game with John Nolan on ESPN Radio 1380 and on TinCaps.com.
The TinCaps won on Saturday night. The TinCaps lost on Sunday afternoon. And it’s about to rain on this Monday afternoon. (But don’t worry, the forecast looks good to play tonight.) Also, sometimes we quote Bull Durham. Let’s break it down…
SOMETIMES YOU WIN
It was a long time coming for Fort Wayne. However, the 13-game losing streak, the longest one in franchise history, finally came to an end on Saturday at Parkview Field. It took a night with a supermoon for it to happen, but the TinCaps got back in the win column. And forget about lunar oddities, Saturday night was about Kyle Lloyd, who became the first Fort Wayne pitcher since 2003 to strike out 13 batters in a game in the 6-1 win over South Bend.
You can see our postgame interview with Kyle below and read more about his performance and the complete team win here and here.
By the way, in case you don’t watch the video, we must share the best part of the interview…
SOMETIMES YOU LOSE
With the losing streak in the rear-view mirror, the TinCaps were unable to begin a winning streak Sunday. Fort Wayne fell to South Bend, 10-7, after once leading 7-3. One of the highlights of the game, though, was seeing Framil Reyes hit his first home run since May. After some struggles in May and June, July has been favorable for the recently-turned-19-year-old. From our Game Notes…
Franmil Reyes hit his seventh home run of the season on Sunday, and his first since May 27. Reyes, who also had a pair of singles yesterday and finished with three runs batted in, enters the game with his season batting average at .269 — the highest it’s been in an exactly one month. The right fielder had a strong April (.300 / 4 HR / 11 RBI) before seeing his productivity decline in May (.264 / 2 HR / 17 RBI) and June (.227 / 0 HR / 9 RBI). In July, though, Reyes is trending upward again, hitting .306 and now has 1 HR and 5 RBI.
On the subject of home runs, and since Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby is tonight, we ask: What is the record for most home runs hit by a Fort Wayne player in a season? You can find the answer at the end of the post.
SOMETIMES IT RAINS
We had rain earlier, but the tarp is off the field and the sun is even peaking through with first pitch around the bend. *Knocks on wood.*
Not only did Kyle Lloyd strike out 13 and only allow one run in six innings on Saturday night, he did it with this as his walkout song. Michael Jackson, take it away…
We’re about to go on air. But first, our trivia answer: 20, Jake Patterson (1997). Thanks for reading, and please be in touch in the comments section or on Twitter.
Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. And for the TinCaps on Friday night, the fear of losing their 13th consecutive game became a reality, as Fort Wayne fell to South Bend, 9-2. In spite of the result, the ballgame was enjoyed by a Parkview Field crowd of 6,957.
And for more on that, we turn it over to Mike Couzens and Javi DeJesus…
THREE RIVERS FESTIVAL PARADE
Props to outfielder Ronnie Richardson who joined members of the TinCaps’ front office staff this morning in the Three Rivers Festival Parade. No matter if the team is winning or losing, Ronnie has been one of the most active guys volunteering all season long. And fans love him.
This was my first Three Rivers Festival Parade experience, and it was a lot of fun — a much bigger turnout by the Fort Wayne community than I could have imagined.
HELP IS ON THE WAY
As the TinCaps attempt to snap the longest losing streak in franchise history, they have some new faces on the way…
We’ll have more on Trea and Ryan, the Padres’ first and seventh round selections in this year’s draft, respectively, once they arrive.
Jimmy Fallon Neil Young featuring Crosby, Stills & Nash, take it away…
The TinCaps continue their series with the Silver Hawks tonight at 7:05 (XFINITY Channel 81, ESPN Radio 1380, TinCaps.com, and TuneIn Radio). Thanks for checking in. Enjoy your Saturday. And keep in touch on Twitter @John_G_Nolan.
The undisputed major sports news of the day is LeBron James’ decision to return home to Northeast Ohio. We’ll assume you’ve heard that by now, but if you haven’t also read LeBron’s essay — as told to Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins — we highly recommend that you do.
In an overly sentimental sports sense, it’s genuinely touching to see someone’s dedication to their home region. It’s also a lesson for all to see how the country’s biggest sports star is mature enough to forgive the Cavaliers’ billionaire, Comic Sans-writing owner. We could all use that reminder not to let our pride stop us from achieving happiness.
On a far-less talked about note, the TinCaps are coming home to Northeast Indiana tonight after a three-game series at Great Lakes. Fort Wayne will host South Bend for four, beginning tonight at 7:05. Check out the homestand highlights below.
The TinCaps have now lost 12 in a row, and as you can see in our Game Notes, it hasn’t been pretty. But with that said, Fort Wayne is only six games out of a playoff spot with 50 games to go. So far in the second half, the TinCaps have played road 14 games, while no one else in the East Division has played more than 11 away from home. Fort Wayne is three games better than .500 at Parkview Field on the year.
There’s no doubt the TinCaps have a loyal fanbase — even during a losing streak such as now. Chris Goff of the Journal Gazette showcases two such Fort Wayne fans in this story on Andrea Hetrick and Ethan Wilkins.
Hetrick is an amazing amateur artist who in her free time has drawn portraits of more than 10 TinCaps players. Here she is with Mallex Smith before his promotion.
Wilkins, aka EWay, has produced a song called “Johnny TinCaps.” Take a listen below.
Hopefully the TinCaps can give their loyal fans a win this weekend. Or four wouldn’t be bad either. You can catch us on both TV and radio tonight. For the local, visually-inclined audience, The Leadoff Spot starts at 6:30. Audio coverage commences at 6:45 on ESPN Radio 1380 and TinCaps.com.
You can follow John Nolan on Twitter for HOT SPORTS TAKES on LeBron James and just room temperature takes on the TinCaps.
There’s no denying, things have been tough for the TinCaps of late from the perspective of wins and losses. Fort Wayne hasn’t won since June 27 at South Bend.
While there hasn’t been much to smile about regarding results, we dare you not to laugh at relief pitcher Justin Livengood impersonating country music star Luke Bryan.
For the record, that video was shot during the Midwest League All-Star break last month — not during this losing streak. Also note, we searched the team’s clubhouse the other day and couldn’t find any beer or friend chicken. But wouldn’t you know, beer and fried chicken are two of Luke Bryan’s favorites (we assume).
Back on June 27, we sat down with Justin to talk about the success he’s had on the mound with the TinCaps this season and how’s he developed both physically and mentally. Justin also shares his unique story — stepping away from baseball after high school only to turn back to the game a few years later, walk on at UNC Wilmington, and eventually get drafted by the Padres.
As fascinating as our conversation with Justin was, though, we had to cut it short when — of all people — Luke Bryan made a surprise appearance at the park. If that wasn’t wild enough, Harry Caray was there, too, and introduced the TinCaps starting lineup.
Our thanks to Justin for his time and for being hilarious. That’s as much fun as we’ve ever had during a pregame interview. Thanks to Luke Bryan and Harry Caray for their time as well.
Justin and the rest of the TinCaps hope to get back in the win column with a laugh tonight in their series finale at Great Lakes. Mike Couzens has the call of the 7:05 contest on ESPN Radio 1380 and TinCaps.com. For a preview of the matchup, check out our Game Notes here. And then get set for a BIG FUN weekend at Parkview Field with the South Bend Silver Hawks coming to town for a four-game set. Hope to see you Downtown.
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A parent’s favorite aphorism is that nothing good happens after midnight. But what about in those moments right before—the sun is long set, dogs have started to wail at the moon, and when the late-night talk shows are in full swing lampooning Justin Bieber? When most days are ending that’s when the night, or at least the appetite, for many players in Minor League Baseball begins to churn into full gear, and these guys are hungry.
The baseball fan might not feel like he or she has a lot in common with the player on the field, but there is an important trait they all share, and it’s that both fan and player need to eat. While the player, burning calories through exercise throughout the day might require more food, the commonality remains. Baseball players at all levels from the steaming heat of the fields at academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela all the way to the Majors spend countless hours learning how to better hit, throw, and field a baseball. They learn to command their pitches, angle their bats, and tailor their baserunning to minimize their time between bases. But without a healthy and well-fueled body, how can a player perform at his best?
Any radio broadcaster throughout Minor League Baseball can share stories of seeing a player, and many times multiple players, coming on to the team bus after a game with pizza/soda/cheeseburger/name your greasy food option in hand.
The 30 Major League Baseball clubs invest so much time in refining players on-field skills, but how much time is spent helping them shape their knowledge of how they feed and hydrate themselves?
I reached out to the farm directors of the 16 teams in the Midwest League to ask about what their organizations do along the lines of nutrition education and helping their players make informed decisions. Eight teams responded, and all indicated a good portion of their educational process takes place during spring training, when all of the players are together in one complex.
Doug Jarrow, the Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for the Chicago Cubs wrote via email:
“Our players have 365 access to our organization’s Sports Dietician/Nutritionist. Our nutritionist is present during Spring Training and also during our off-season camps. The players are provided group educational segments during these times while also meeting individually (one-on-one) to discuss their personal Nutritional plans. Also, the nutritionist makes trips to our Academy in the Dominican Republic for the same reasons.
During the season the players have the ability to contact the nutritionist to speak about nutritional plans and how they can be adjusted around the in-season variables (e.g.-travel). Also, at our minor league affiliates we have the individual Strength & Conditioning coach working with the players day by day. Every member of the S&C staff has a degree or degrees in Exercise Science and the necessary Strength & Conditioning certifications which allow them to be and stay knowledgeable in the field of sports nutrition.”
Within Minor League Baseball, each team is a group of 25 players, at least three coaches, an athletic trainer, and a strength and conditioning coach. A decade ago, it would have not been quite as common to see a strength and conditioning coach listed on a team’s roster; now, no team is without one.
TinCaps Strength and Conditioning Coach Dan Byrne, in his second season with the Padres organization, earned his master’s degree in exercise physiology from Loughborough University in England, also has a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Illinois-Chicago. He’s studied the correlation between nutrition and athletic performance, and helped to train Olympic athletes during the 2012 Summer Games. As with the Cubs system, Byrne says most players get their advice from the strength and conditioning coaches.
Acting as the players’ sustenance Sherpa, he finds he can help players out sometimes just by being there to give a disapproving look when they’re eating something they know they shouldn’t be, like a post-game pizza…for one.
“Usually I’ll give them a hard time and they’ll know. They’ll put their head down and keep walking if I’ve said something to them before. If I can get into their head, and they’re thinking ‘Maybe this isn’t the best thing to do,’ then I’ve started down the right road.”
That uphill battle is being fought in organizations across baseball. Chris Dunaway, the Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for the Los Angeles Dodgers wrote via email that the franchise’s minor league players have started to pay more attention to what they’re eating.
“We are seeing a shift in the players requesting and expecting more healthy eating choices. Fifteen years ago, players wanted pizza, hot dogs, and burgers. Now, players are asking for lean meats, vegetables, and fruits. The culture and expectations are changing.
“One of the major ideas we have discussed is eating whole foods, incorporating fresh vegetables, fruit, healthy fats, and lean meats into our pre-game meals. The idea has been described as shopping from the perimeter of the grocery store and avoiding the overly processed foods which are often found in the center of the store,” he wrote. “We have also made an effort to reduce sugar and starch from our diet. Foods high in sugar and starch lead to water retention, weight retention, and can contribute to inflammation response in the body. By focusing on vegetables, fruits, and lean meats we are able to help increase energy levels, decrease inflammation responses, and help reduce excess body fat.”
The approach to diet and nutrition, though, remains mostly reactive rather than proactive, Byrne says.
“I think that’s the way it is in baseball. From an energy standpoint, baseball isn’t the most demanding compared to other sports, but nutrition plays a huge factor in how athletes perform mentally and physically.”
Unlike with America’s other most popular pro sports, basketball and football, there isn’t the same demand on the body for oxygen or calories. Nor is baseball like distance running, where many athletes will “carb load” the night before a race, packing their body with pasta and other carbohydrate-rich foods that the body will store and turn into energy.
Regardless of sport, a little bit of education can have a big impact on the choices players make.
“You’ll see a lot of players at this level, 18, 19, 20 years old. If you remember where you were at that age, you were in college, had a terrible diet, and sadly that’s where these guys are at,” Byrne says. “So it’s my job to educate them on making better choices, especially when we’re on the road and it’s 11 or 12 at night and all that’s open is Burger King next to the hotel. It’s all about trying to teach guys to make better decisions as to how they can prepare nutritionally before they get to the field, so they can hopefully not be sluggish before game time.”
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Director of Player Development Bobby Scales was a 14th-round pick of the Padres in 1999, and not only played with the Fort Wayne Wizards in 2000, but also spent time playing in Japan, where the food choices became even more difficult to make because of the language barrier.
“I had a BlackBerry when I played there, and my wife and I would take pictures of the stuff we thought was red meat and would send it to our translator, who would say ‘Buy this….Don’t buy that,’ because we couldn’t read the labels on the packaging.”
Now overseeing the Angels farm system, Scales understands the plight of foreign-born players who come to live in the United States and speak little to no English.
“Going to a grocery store can be hard (for players in the United States) when you’re 16, 17, and 18 with limited resources. Some players will order a hamburger, French fries, and a milkshake because it’s the only thing they know how to say,” he said.
Each team’s strength and conditioning coach can’t be a helicopter parent, lording over a player’s every meal. Think of them more as a guidance counselor in high school—there to let a player know when he’s in danger of failing, and to get him back on track.
“There have been some players who have not taken their nutrition seriously, and you can see that with either weight loss or weight gain,” Byrne said. “I sit them down and say ‘We need to be a little bit more serious, here are some things you can do,’ and try to make them a little more conscious of what they’re putting into their body.”
It’s nighttime after a game and TinCaps pitcher Payton Baskette is hungry. He’s riding the bus back to the team hotel, trying to figure out what his next meal will be. Players on the team are given $25 per day in meal money by the Padres. Each player makes approximately $1,100 per month before taxes.
The team is staying in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and there are more food options around this hotel than most; there’s a Bagger Dave’s Burger Tavern, an American restaurant in the hotel, a Qdoba Mexican restaurant, a Burger King, and even a Meijer grocery store, which stays open until midnight.
Baskette chooses the hotel restaurant, certainly a convenient option, and orders an artichoke spinach dip, chicken fettuccine alfredo, and a Coke.
The 20-year-old pitcher did not stray far during his visit to Grand Rapids when it came to food choices, keeping close to the hotel and alternating between nearby restaurants like Burger King for breakfast and Bagger Dave’s for dinner.
Baskette exemplifies the norm among most players on the TinCaps, who choose convenience and proximity over anything else. But the Fort Wayne roster has a handful of players like roommates Justin Livengood and Kyle Lloyd who avoid the late-night grease-traps of Minor League Baseball and bring their own pre-made food on the road.
“We have a cooler full of food and a cooler full of drinks. Lloyd drinks water like a camel,” Livengood says with a laugh of his always well-hydrated teammate. “We feel like our bodies are in a pretty good spot because of how we prepare things and how we try and take care of ourselves. I know it’s a little bit more expensive to do what we do, but it’s better than putting crappy pizza in your body. Anything that’s going to be a positive alternative rather than fast food is what we try and go for. You spend a little more on the front end, but it’s worth it.”
Both Livengood and Lloyd are college graduates, and pitched together last year with the Short-Season Eugene Emeralds, where as first-year pros they both admit they were not as diligent with their nutrition or hydration. Now they’ll pack pre-made burger patties (although Livengood usually skips the bun), grilled chicken, grilled vegetables, granola bars, water and Vitamin Water. Livengood says an off-season program established for him by Byrne helped make a big difference.
“They are nutritionally the best ones on the team,” Byrne said. “They have great aerobic capacities. They take their nutrition, their intake, their hydration pretty seriously, and I think it shows on the field with their ability to recover.”
The dual-cooler duo is the exception to the rule among players at this level where many players don’t have the necessary education, or a slow enough metabolism, to want or need to make a change in how they eat.
“Everybody gets into their bad moments, and you just do what’s easier,” Lloyd said. “That’s how all of America is now, and what’s easier is the unhealthier option. You have to want to do eat healthier.”
As for the argument that eating healthy is too expensive, which is a common refrain, and not just among the ranks of Minor League Baseball players, that’s not stood in their way.
“A lot of the stuff we have is the store-brand stuff. A granola bar doesn’t have to be a Clif bar. I think you can do it. It’s pushing it, but you can get by with it. You have to stretch the dollar more and look for deals, but the question is how worth it is it to you to go the extra step?” Livengood said.
Kathy Wehrle knows all about what it takes to eat well, and do it on a limited budget. As the Community Outreach Dietician with the Parkview Health LiVe Wellness Campaign she works with all different members of the community, including low-income families and individuals, trying to educate and promote about the benefits of an active and healthy lifestyle.
She says that the lifestyle of a professional athlete can be conducive to quick meals, which a lot of times end up being fast food, simply because of convenience.
“With athletes, they’re a captive audience. They’re hungry and they want it to taste good,” Wehrle says.
“Most fast food restaurants do have some healthy options, whether it be a main-dish salad, grilled chicken with all kinds of spinach on it, wraps with grilled chicken, soups or some kind of sandwich that doesn’t have five ounces of meat on it. Most people don’t pick those options, but they are there,” she adds.
The age and educational background of the average player in the Midwest League varies, with most players falling between 18-24 years old. Most usually having a high school degree, if from the United States, and some college education. Few players have a four-year college degree. Those educational factors, combined with what Wehrle says is a decline in culinary knowledge from the millennial generation, make Minor League Baseball players a demographic very susceptible to eating poorly.
“Being in sports, they want their body to perform and be at peak performance. I would think they would be really thirsty for that information. What you eat affects not only how you do in your sport, your immunity right now, your reasoning and thinking power right now, and your health now and in the future.”
Wehrle endorses the idea of packing food, saying that players, like Livengood and Lloyd of the TinCaps, can make healthy choices while on a budget, just like families have to do every week when grocery shopping. A sample meal she says players could pack and take on the road could be yogurt or fruit along with 100% whole grain bagel thins with peanut butter for breakfast, a stuffed whole grain pita with vegetables or beans for lunch, along with a piece of fruit and a couple pieces of dark chocolate, and for dinner a chilled container of pork or chicken with steam-in-a-bag vegetables that can be microwaved in the clubhouse.
But if players can’t pack, she says, then it’s ok, every once in a while, to eat at the favorite restaurant of ballplayers across the country—Chipotle.
“The best choice is chicken with brown rice instead of white rice. They’ll have to coach their server on adding more peppers to a wrap or a bowl, and the mild salsa is OK,” she advises. “Keep it light on the cheese, light on the sour cream, and modest guacamole is OK.”
Minor League Baseball players everywhere, famously fond of Chipotle, rejoice at that news. It’s a small piece of information that she believes fits into a larger base that remains untapped by not just athletes, but the public.
“Even though we feel like, ‘Gosh, there’s so much good health information out there,’ I feel like not everyone is getting that health information filtered down to them.
Eating healthy can taste great. A common copout is eating healthy is boring and bland, or that it’s too expensive or complicated. It’s not weird or fanatical to eat healthy.”
If Sam Cooke was right, and “A Change is Gonna Come” to the way baseball players eat, it seems it will be a combination of trickle-down knowledge from parent clubs, combined with a desire to do so from players. More and more teams are investing in the food they purchase and prepare for their players at their home ballparks and spring training facilities, and in the amount of education and resources the players receive.
“We can preach healthy choices all day, but until we provide the foods for these young men, chances are they won’t make the healthy choice. The time and money investment in the health of our players has the biggest impact,” says Vaughn Robinson, the Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for the Arizona Diamondbacks, wrote via email.
“We are a whole foods organization. We have supplements available for the players, but we are about eating a well-rounded healthy diet, high in fruits, vegetables and lean meats. We also have Vitamix blenders at all of our affiliates to provide veggie shakes for the players.”
The Padres’ Byrne acknowledges that given the age and knowledge level of the players, it’s a difficult, but worthwhile, effort.
“It’s about can you teach these guys and are they willing to listen to what you have to say. It’s a lifestyle change that would require them to alter things in their daily routine. This young they’re pretty stubborn in their daily routine,” he says.
The Angels’ Scales, drafted at 21, and a big-leaguer by 31 four different organizations later, knows the responsibility is shared between player and club.
“Guys are playing so much longer now and part of that is putting proper fuel in your system. If you ingrain those habits early, you give yourself every opportunity to get to the big leagues.”
A horse, it’s said, can be led to water, but not forced to drink. In similar fashion, Major League Baseball teams can educate their minor league players and provide them not only with the right educational information, but also give them the food they want them to eat.
“What your nutrition status is like when you’re in sports can really get you to the top of your game or it can hold you back,” Wehrle says.
The stakes, too, are much higher for the player. After all, a horse can only hope to retire to a pasture; a baseball player aspires for greatness.