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Throwback Thursday

Some social media news for ya today…

Sporting News looked at the number of Twitter followers each organization in Minor League Baseball has, and it turns out the @TinCaps rank No. 4 out of 120 Class A teams. Fort Wayne would even crack the Top 10 of Double-A franchises. This is in addition to more than 31,000 “likes” on Facebook. Not bad.

Social Media Night jerseys from 2013, featuring more than 6,000 handles of @TinCaps followers.

In the spirit of Social Media, we’ll make this something of a Throwback Thursday, or #TBT, if you will.

Last week WBOI (Northeast Indiana’s NPR station), as part of its “Heritage Trail,” aired a story on the history of baseball in Fort Wayne. If you’ve been around these parts before — this blog, that is — then you’ve likely read Mike or myself reference some of it before. In the piece, Tom Castaldi does a nice job of bringing listeners back to when the Fort Wayne Kekiongas hosted the first professional baseball game in United States history in 1871.

Take a listen here: http://nipr.fm/post/heritage-trail-fort-wayne-kekiongas

For the more visually, inclined, do you recognize anyone below?

Burt Hooton and teammates celebrate his no-hitter at Wrigley Field on April 16, 1972. Photo via http://baltimoreorgan.com/

Yesterday was the 42-year anniversary of when TinCaps pitching coach Burt Hooton threw a no-hitter for the Chicago Cubs at the age of 22 in just the 4th start of his major league career. (And remember, Hoot never even pitched in the minors.) Read more on Burt’s no-hitter here by baseball writer Rob Neyer.

“Happy,” as his manager Tommy Lasorda during his Dodgers days would call him, got to “celebrate” yesterday by watching 18 innings of baseball. No, he didn’t go catch another game after the TinCaps played the Bees; rather, Fort Wayne and Burlington played 18 (EIGHTEEN) innings. At 5 hours, 45 minutes, it was the longest game by time in Fort Wayne’s 22 years of existence. The 18 innings tied a record for most frames played.

We’ll have more marathon coverage coming up. Until then, a happy Throwback Thursday to you. Oh and since this had a social media tie-in, a shameless plug to follow on Twitter @John_G_Nolan.

Emptying the Recorder

The snow may have melted at Parkview Field allowing the TinCaps and Bees to play on Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still a frigid night. In fact, according to Fort Wayne President Mike Nutter, it was the coldest in the ballpark’s history. Our temperature at first pitch was 33, and by the end of the night, the temperature was in the 20s with a windchill of 19. Yes, it was April 15.

Nevertheless, the TinCaps had their best offensive game of the season in a 13-3 win. In fact, it was Fort Wayne’s highest output of runs since July 5, 2013. Fernando Perez (who’s the only TinCap to play 3 different positions in the field so far and was last night’s second baseman) keyed the onslaught by extending his hitting streak to 6 games with a pair of hits, including a 2-run homer — his first in a Fort Wayne uniform. Perez finished the freezing night with 5 RBI. Meanwhile, Ryan Miller plated 2 in a 3-hit performance.

And wouldn’t you know our recent guests on the Hupe Insurance Services Pregame Show on The Fan 1380 (#payingthebills) have been Miller, Perez, and their hitting coach Morgan Burkhart?

On Friday evening in Clinton, I caught up with Ryan about how he feels getting to start the year with the TinCaps after coming up last year at the end of August. Among other items, Ryan also shared why he thinks he’s started the season off well at the plate this season, despite missing 6 weeks of Spring Training with a back injury.

Fernando opened up about moving to the United States from Mexico as a teenager, what it was like being drafted by the Padres given that he has family from San Diego, and how he feels about transitioning to the Midwest League.

And here’s Mike Maahs with Burky on returning to the TinCaps’ staff for a second season.

Bonus coverage for Wizards fans who remember first baseman Joe McAnulty from the ’03 squad. McAnulty went on to reach the show and play for the Padres and Angels. Now he’s a hitting coach in the Los Angeles organization (of Anaheim) with Burlington. Mr. Maahs reminisces with Joe about his Fort Wayne days and what he’s been up to since.

Tune in this morning for a chance to hear Mike talk with Burlington broadcaster Michael Broskowski. That comes your way at 10:45 leading up to an 11:05 first pitch on a TinCaps Reading Program Day. Hope you can join us on The Fan 1380. Now it’s time to grab some breakfast…

Baseball in the Snow? Baseball in the Snow

Monday night at Parkview Field was one of those games you had to see to believe. Early in the morning on Monday, the temperature in Fort Wayne was as high as 70 degrees. Now that shouldn’t be all that surprising given that it’s mid-April, but considering the winter here and the start to spring, it felt even more magnificent than usual.

And then this happened.

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That’s a look at Parkview Field last night around 10:30. The TinCaps and Burlington Bees started on schedule at 7:05 without any precipitation — just cold. The temperature at first pitch was 41. But it only continued to dip as the game went on. A misty rain turned into a freezing rain and eventually the field was covered in snow. During the top of the 7th, with Burlington up, 4-2, the game was finally put into a “snow delay” and then called after the mandatory 30-minute waiting period.

Personally, I’d never witnessed a snow delay or snow-shortened game before. Neither had every player I talked to afterward. The ensuing scene was wild.

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There’s TinCaps outfiedler Ronnie Richardson holding a snowball and having Bees pitcher Garrett Nuss take his picture. Both are from Florida and played together at UCF. The climate’s a bit different in Orlando. (By the way, in the 6th when the snow was starting to pick up, Ronnie drew a walk. Gotta admire that discipline.)

How about this below: Once the game was put into a snow delay and Fort Wayne’s staff was bringing the tarp out, Burlington’s team didn’t sprint to the clubhouse to get out of the cold. Nope. They took a team photo together on the field!

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The only times I’ve ever seen a team pose for a postgame picture have been after championships or major milestones. Snow? I guess why not. It was certainly unique.

On the other side, the reaction of TinCaps players was different than usual, too. Not to say the team wasn’t disappointed to lose, but given the circumstances, most guys weren’t necessarily sulking as much as they were trying to embrace the moment. Fort Wayne’s roster is primarily comprised of players from the Dominican, Mexico, Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas. Some had literally never seen snow before, let alone played in it.

So here’s what the yard looked like when we arrived this morning around 9:00. And below is what it looks like right now as we get set for a 7:05 first pitch.

Even Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney is impressed. TinCaps Head Groundskeeper Keith Winter, Assistant Groundskeeper Andrew Burnette, Scott Rhodes, Jake Sperry, and crew are as good as it gets in Minor League Baseball.

So now the snow is gone, though unfortunately the cold is not. It’s 33 right now and feeling like 23 with the wind… But we will play ball!

Hope you can join me with Mike Couzens on XFINITY Channel 81 in the local viewing area or Mike Maahs over on The Fan 1380.

Have you ever seen a baseball game played in the snow? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan.

Weekly Readings

This post was initially titled “Sunday Readings” but alas, after the TinCaps were rained out in Clinton yesterday, we were unable to post this during the team’s 6-or-so-hour ride back to Fort Wayne. Our bus didn’t have any outlets and our team laptop doesn’t work unless it’s plugged in. Talk about #FirstWorldProblems.

Anyway, here are some things we read during the week that seemed worth passing along…

Reggie Hayes of The News-Sentinel talked to perhaps the only person in Fort Wayne who knows what Josh VanMeter is experiencing right now: the Komets’ Kaleigh Shrock. Like VanMeter, who graduated from nearby Norwell High School and is now playing for his hometown team, Shrock went to Fort Wayne’s Snider High School.

“When you screw up, everyone knows it,” Schrock said. “But, at the same time, when they’re there, they give you that little extra confidence and keep you more mentally aware of what you’re doing out there. You don’t take things for granted when you’re playing in front of your family.

“That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned in five years: For me, it’s a lot easier to play at home because I know people are watching and I have to make sure I’m at my best.”

The ECHL is different than the Midwest League. It’s almost inconceivable to envision a scenario in which Josh would play for the TinCaps for 5 seasons. Still, it’s an interesting perspective to hear.

* Last week, the New York Times reported on how Major League Baseball has created a diversity task force to address the declining number of African-American players in the game. The number of African-American players in the majors is down to 8.3 percent. Tigers President Dave Dombrowksi is head of the force and has appointed former big league player and manager Jerry Manuel to lead the charge on a daily basis.

Former Fort Wayne Wizard LaTroy Hawkins is quoted on the issue of the lack of college baseball scholarships.

Top-level college football programs offer 85 scholarships, all full rides. Division I basketball programs offer 13 full scholarships, also full rides. Division I baseball programs offer 11.7 scholarships, but those are often divided among many players.

“Kids in the inner city play basketball and football, because they give out full scholarships and parents don’t have to worry about anything,” Hawkins said. “In baseball they give out quarter scholarships. That’s what needs to change.

“In the inner city, you need to get a scholarship because most families can’t afford to send a kid to school, especially when you’ve got more than one. You need to get a scholarship, and baseball doesn’t provide that luxury.”

I have to say, it was news to me DI baseball doesn’t offer more free rides. I also didn’t know that apparently C.C. Sabathia would’ve played football in college (he committed to Hawaii) if not for being drafted high enough out of high school that it made the most economic sense for him to sign with the Indians.

Glad to see baseball being proactive here, though I don’t think it will be an easy problem to fix by any means.

* Speaking of college football… This SB Nation story by Steven Godfrey on “Bag Men” in SEC recruiting is just — wow.

* Also on a non-baseball note… Bill Simmons penned a column about Hoosier-bred David Letterman’s “last great moment.”

* Now, if your’e tired of reading, how about an image that will make your heart melt?

Batkid and Matt Cain. Credit: Michael Macor of the San Francisco Chroncile (@michaelmacor)

* Ok, finally, again not printed words, but try not to laugh watching Kenan Thompson impersonate Big Papi.

Feel free to share your reading recommendations in the comments or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan. Thanks for stopping by.

Better Know A Midwest League West Division City: Geneva, Illinois

Tip of the cap to Stephen Colbert, who during the week was named the next host of The Late Show on CBS after Indianapolis native and Ball State alum David Letterman retires next year.

I still remember the first time I ever saw Mr. Colbert’s show in 2006. It had been on for a few months at that point but I had never heard of it before. Then one night while on vacation in Rhode Island I was flipping through channels and came across The Report. Watching alone, I found myself laughing out loud. And ever since, every time I watch, the show makes me literally “lol.” I can’t think of many other forms of entertainment that deliver with such consistency.

Anyway, I recall in the first episode of The Colbert Report that I ever saw, Stephen did one of his “Better Know A District” interviews with Congressman Robert Wexler from Florida’s “Fightin’ 19th.” That had me in stitches.

As much fun as it could be to do satirical interviews with representatives from Midwest League West Division clubs, we won’t try for that here. However, we will use the powers of the Internet to get to “better know” the teams the TinCaps only see once a year, and only visit every other year. First up…

GENEVA, ILLINOIS (KANE COUNTY COUGARS)

GENEVAPopulation as of ’11: 21,707 (Kane County’s population is 515,000+)

Proximity To Larger City: About 40 miles west of Downtown Chicago

Person You’ve Heard Of From Here: Bob Woodward, of Watergate reporting fame

Demographics: 96% White, 2% Hispanic or Latino, 1% African American, 1% Asian

Median Household Income as of ’11: $95,467

History: According to the town’s official website, “Two Indian trails passed through Geneva, long before the first white settlers entered the area. The first was the Waubonsee trail, which roughly ran along the lines of modern day Route 31, following the springs between Aurora and Geneva. The second roughly followed the route of State Street. The Pottawatomi called the Geneva area home for many years. Their primary chief in the area was Waubonsee, whose people congregated just north of Aurora. Christian Bowman Dodson and Archibald Clybourn were also among the early settlers in the area, opening a trading post at the mouth of Mill Creek in 1834 to trade with the Pottowatomi and settlers. Their establishment included a saw mill and general store and they traded goods for furs.” More here.

Top Employers: Kane County Government (1,260), Cadence Health/Delnor Hospital (869), Geneva School District (654), the Cougars (370) — per Geneva, IL Official Website

Point of Pride: In addition to boasting the Fox River Bike Trail and operating more than 50 public parks, Geneva seems to take pride in its history. The Fabyan Windmill is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The City’s Pitch: “Geneva’s population is rapidly approaching 25,000. The city has grown from a quaint river town to a flourishing community. Household incomes in Geneva are nearly double those found nationwide and the community boasts one of Illinois’ strongest school systems. Unlike most Illinois’ communities, Geneva still has a vibrant downtown and well-maintained historic homes and businesses, which charm residents and visitors alike. It is little wonder that so many individuals consider Geneva a desirable place to live and work.”

My Lasting Impression: Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend much time in Geneva. Arrived Tuesday afternoon, essentially went right to the park for a 12-inning game. It was up early Wednesday morning for a nooner, then a morning game Thursday, and we were on our way to Clinton after that. So that provided just enough time to walk to Chipotle (where else) for dinner on Wednesday. So I’m left with the irony of where we stayed, Pheasant Run Resort, having a “Bourbon Street” that was a ghost town by 10 (maybe even earlier).

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See, it looks nice, right? But even on a weeknight, I believe the real Bourbon Street would still be open for business when the local news comes on. Sigh.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Better Know A Midwest League West Division City when we explore Clinton, Iowa. Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan if you have any suggestions for other information we should include in this series. Thanks for stopping by.

Mutz Listen, Anna’s on the Dean’s List, & Shorter Games?

The TinCaps are 2 and 5 after a 7-5 loss at Kane County yesterday in the rubber game of that series. Fort Wayne fell behind 6-0 after 2 innings, and showed some resiliency in clawing back to within a run at 6-5, but eventually came up short. Again, defense was an issue for the TinCaps. A pair of early errors led to a pair of unearned runs. Fort Wayne has now committed 15 errors in its first 7 games — 2 in 5 games, 5 in another, and only 1 game without any.

Among the bright spots, though … 18-year-old Franmil Reyes — the youngest player in the Midwest League — hit his 1st home run of the season. Ryan Miller highlighted a 4-run 6th inning with his second double in as many games; it plated 2 runs. Mallex Smith stole his Minor League Baseball-leading 9th base of the year.

With the loss, the TinCaps didn’t need to call on the services of their closer Nick Mutz, who recorded his first save of the season in Wednesday’s win. We, however, did call upon Nick’s services for our pregame interview. Listen below to hear what it was like for Nick to be released by the Angels organization last year and what it took to get signed by the Padres. He also shares his thoughts on being Fort Wayne’s closer, and even throws in a Masters prediction.

ANNA’S ON THE DEAN’S LIST

In case you missed it, during the first week of the MLB season, 2 more TinCaps joined the ranks of those who’ve gone from Fort Wayne to fruition: Dean Anna made the Yankees’ Opening Day roster and Vince Belnome was called up to Tampa Bay for a night when a Rays player went on paternity leave. This brings the count of former TinCaps and Wizards who’ve made the bigs at 120.

And last night at Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox, Dean — who reached base for the first time last week when he was walked by former Wizard and current Blue Jays All-Star Steve Delabar — hit his first big league home run. Enjoy it below before MLB pulls it off YouTube.

This is why we love sports, right? Here’s a guy who’s 26 and had played 554 games in the minors (including 97 as a TinCap). He started last season as a backup for the Triple-A Tucson Padres, who averaged a whopping 2,818 fans a game. And now here he is playing for the most famous organization in sports. Playing next to the game’s biggest star in Derek Jeter. And shining. Here’s what he told MLB.com afterward:

“It’s kind of like, ‘Am I really running around these bases right now?’” Anna said. “It was a great feeling. I’m just happy to get the win. That’s really what it’s about around here. It feels really good to hit a homer in Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox.”

“Words can’t explain it, honestly. They really can’t,” Anna said. “All the history with these two teams and that happens. Again, I’m just happy to get that win. I got a good pitch to hit, and I hit it good. It was a great moment.”

Dean’s shot earned even more attention thanks to the call of Yankees (in)famous radio play-by-play broadcaster John Sterling. Infamous at least for the nicknames and puns he comes up with when Yankees hit homers. Case in point:

So now a guy from Illinois who played at Ball State and in Fort Wayne is a household name in New York. Gotta love it. Congrats, Dino!

MAD DOG

On the subject of media personalities from New York who can be absurd, we present Chris “Mad Dog” Russo. Mad Dog rose to national prominence as Mike Francesa’s afternoon co-host on WFAN Radio for nearly 20 years. Now you may hear him in Fort Wayne or around the country on XM Radio. This year he’s also doing a 1-hour daily show on MLB Network. Here’s his reaction to the recent talk of baseball considering shortening games to 7 innings.

MUSICAL GUEST

Fleetwood Mac, take it away…

As always, thanks for reading and following on Twitter @John_G_Nolan. We’ll be on the air from Clinton, Iowa, tonight starting at 7:15 EDT for the first of three between the TinCaps and LumberKings. Hope you can join.

Great Dane, Smitty’s Speed, Extra! Extra!

The TinCaps were error-free for the first time in a game in 2014 on Wednesday, and it helped Fort Wayne get over the hump in a 7-4, 10-inning victory at Kane County. A night after the TinCaps committed 5 errors, including 3 in the 12th inning of a 4-3 loss, it was the Cougars’ defense that let them down yesterday. Tied 4-4 in the top of the 10th, with one out, Franmil Reyes lifted a fly ball to center field that Jake Hanneman appeared to be in perfect position for. However, Hanneman (who had made a diving catch one batter prior) lost the ball in the sun and it plopped to the grass, allowing Reyes to reach second base. Fernando Perez then drove him home with an opposite-field single to left. Luis Tejada was hit by a pitch. And then Dane Phillips did a Dane Phillips Thing by doubling Perez and Tejada home. Just like that, Fort Wayne was up 7-4 and had its first comeback win of the season.

GREAT DANE

Dane finished the day 4-for-5 with 3 RBI, and most notably, a game-tying home run in the 9th. In the 145th game of his young career, it was the Texan’s 3rd 4-hit game. Last year with Fort Wayne, Phillips accomplished the feat twice, most recently on July 8th at Parkview Field against Great Lakes. It’s early, but Phillips enters the day with the Midwest League’s 2nd best batting average (.467), 4th best on-base percentage (.500), and 2nd best slugging percentage (.867).

Prior to his big performance, Dane sat down with Mike Couzens to discuss returning to the TinCaps for a second season.

SMITTY’S SPEED

Dane wasn’t the only second-year TinCap to impress yesterday. Center fielder Mallex Smith stole 3 bases to up his tally on the season to 8. That’s more than anyone else in Minor League Baseball (or Major League Baseball for that matter). You may recall, a year ago, Mallex led the Midwest League in stolen bases with 64 — 1 shy of Fort Wayne’s franchise record shared by Rymer Liriano (2011) and Jeremy Owens (1999).

EXTRA! EXTRA!

Prior to this series at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, the last time Fort Wayne played consecutive extra-inning affairs was nearly 2 years ago. In 2012, the TinCaps lost to the West Michigan Whitecaps, 2-1, in 11 frames on May 3. Then on May 4, the TinCaps topped the Whitecaps, 3-2, in 12. Both games were at Fifth Third Ballpark. Go figure.

TINCAPS PRESSBOX

If you enjoy “nuggets” like these, then make sure you’re checking out the brand-new online TinCaps Pressbox. There you can find a one-stop shop to our Game Notes, Media Guide, stats, standings, and more.

MUSICAL GUEST

Since we’re just 40 miles west of downtown Chicago, Blues Brothers, take it away…

The TinCaps conclude their stay in Kane County today with another matinee. Hope you can join me on The Fan 1380 at 12:00 EDT and follow along on Twitter @John_G_Nolan.

Kerouac-ing, Smitty’s Speed, & The Need To Stop Selfies

The TinCaps are on the road for the first time this year. Last night’s road opener didn’t go so swimmingly. Fort Wayne fell to Kane County, 4-3, in 12 innings. All 4 Cougars runs were unearned due to 5 TinCaps errors, including 3 in the fateful 12th.

Fort Wayne has now committed 13 errors in its first 5 games. Related: The TinCaps are off to a 1-4 start. Of the 120 MiLB teams playing right now, only the Midland RockHounds (Double-A Texas League Oakland A’s affiliate) have made more miscues defensively with 14. The Winston-Salem Dash (Advanced-A Carolina League Chicago White Sox affiliate) have also committed 13 errors.

Speaking of defense, Mike Couzens caught up with TinCaps center fielder Mallex Smith before last night’s game and among their points of conversation was how Mallex hopes to be a more consistent fielder this year. You can also hear about how Mallex trained with the University of Florida’s track & field team in the offseason, experienced snow for the first time (not in Gainesville), what he thinks about analysts projecting him to lead all of Minor League Baseball in stolen bases, and more.

So while yesterday was Fort Wayne’s first road game of 2014, it was also Kane County’s home opener at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva, Illinois. The Cougars lucked out with better weather than the TinCaps had last week — mostly sunny and the temperature around 50 degrees most of the game. Here’s a panoramic look at the park from center field.

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As part of the Opening Night celebration, fans were given free hats upon entering the gates. (No one asked us, but the Texting Gloves given out at Parkview Field last Thursday were cooler.)

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Per tradition, both teams were introduced onto the field prior to first pitch. This was our view from the pressbox.

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Nothing’s more classic than baseball’s opening day, right? The smell of hot dogs and hamburgers wafting in the air. The crisp feel of early April air. All that jazz. But I had to simultaneously laugh and shake my head at what I suppose is now also customary in 2014. Before the game started last night, I spotted multiple fans sitting below who were taking “selfies.” Ugh. Color me anti-selfie. I love Ellen, but gosh darnit, as if we didn’t already have a selfie epidemic, she gon’ made it even worse with that stunt at the Oscars. Please, just no. (I have more on this but will leave it here for now.)

MUSICAL GUEST

I may loathe you selfies, but heck if this song doesn’t get stuck in your head. The Chainsmokers, take it away… (But really, everyone, take away selfies from our lives!)

Mike Couzens and I will most definitely not be taking any selfies this afternoon, but we will be describing the actions in front of us between the TinCaps and Cougars. Early first pitch set for 1:00 EDT. Hope you can join us on The Fan 1380. Either way, follow along on Twitter @John_G_Nolan or leave a comment below.

Mustaches, Musings, & More

The first weekend of the season is in the books at Parkview Field. The TinCaps didn’t fare too well, dropping 3 of 4 to the Great Lakes Loons. Fort Wayne was outscored 34-14.

As we wrote Sunday morningit’s early. And right on cue, we read Mallex Smith’s comments in The Journal Gazette. Said the TinCaps center fielder:

“It’s still early. Still early. It’s nothing to be down about. We’ve got a long ways to go.”

And that still applies, even after Sunday’s 10-5 loss, which at one point saw Fort Wayne behind 10-0. So let’s stick to baseball but get our minds off the losses…

FAMOUS FACIAL HAIR IN BASEBALL HISTORY

Friday was the first Theme Night of the season at Parkview Field. The TinCaps hosted a Salute to Facial Hair Night. Check out the video below that highlights famous facial hair in baseball history.

Credit Mike Couzens for writing the script for that video and Jared Law for putting together the video together. Additionally, Friday night featured Musical “Barbershop” Chairs, a whipped-cream shaving contest, and more. Some of that more? Well, fans, TinCaps players, and even staff members sported their finest facial hair. Regrettably, we don’t have pictures of some of the better beards and mustaches in the office.

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I said we didn’t have pictures of the better beards and mustaches. But we did have this picture of TinCaps Director of Promotions and Community Relations Abby Naas with yours truly. So the question is… Who wore it better?

HITTING THE LINKS

Today actually would’ve been one of the finer days to get out on the golf course so far in 2014 — albeit a bit soggy after yesterday’s rain. Nevertheless, here are some links worth checking out…

* In case you haven’t seen it yet, Nate Silver — he of correctly predicting Presidential Election results for all 50 states in 2012 and 49/50 in 2008 — has launched a new website called FiveThirtyEight (that’s the number of electors in the electoral college). But in addition to covering politics and economics, 538 is also covering sports. The site’s only 3 weeks old, but it’s already safe to say that if you enjoy taking a statistical approach to baseball, you’ll like 538. Here writer Neil Paine analyzes how Baseball America‘s ranking of an organization’s farm system tracks with future team performance. (FYI: The Padres’ system is ranked No. 7 in 2014.)

Another FiveThirtyEight story by Paine examines the sabermetrics of managing.

* The New York Times recently ran an entertaining story on ballplayers and their signatures. The days of clearly legible John Hancocks are all but gone. It’s understandable. As veteran Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson puts its:

“As you’re sitting there signing, your thought process is, ‘How do I get out of here as quick as possible?’ ” Granderson said. “That’s how things start to shorten and shorten and shorten. And that translates to, ‘Hey, I’m down by the bullpen signing, I need to get to the dugout, I’ve got five minutes — how can I get through as fast as I can and still make everybody happy?’ A lot of people just want the fact that you signed it. They really don’t care how it looks.”

Talking to TinCaps players about this last week on Meet the Team Night — which included an autograph session — they echoed Granderson’s sentiments.

Torii Hunter as a Fort Wayne Wizard in 1994.

Still, though, it’s interesting to learn that some still do take pride in their penmanship. In fact, the article highlights a number of the first Fort Wayne Wizards (who are disciples of Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew), like Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, and LaTroy Hawkins. Hunter tells a classic story from the former Twins legend:

“Think about this: 150 years from now, you’re dead and gone, and kids are playing in a field,” Hunter recalled Killebrew saying. “A kid hits a home run, hits the ball in the weeds — far. They’re looking for the ball, they find it, and it says, ‘T, line, dot dot, H.’ They don’t know who it is. They’re like, ‘Oh, we found another ball to play with,’ because they can’t read it.

“But just rewind that. A kid hits a ball, hits it in the weeds, they’re looking for it, they pick it up and they can read it. It says, ‘T-o-r-i-i H-u-n-t-e-r.’ And they’re like, ‘Wow.’ So they go and look it up and they see this guy was a pretty good player, and they put it on the mantel and cherish it.”

Killebrew said, “You didn’t play this long for somebody to destroy your name,” Hunter recalled.

Anyone out there have a ball signed by Hunter, Hawkins, Cuddyer, or other former Wizards that is easy to read? If so, let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan.

GO WEST, YOUNG MEN

The TinCaps are in Geneva, Illinois, tonight to begin a three-game series with the Kane County Cougars, as inter-division play begins early this season in the Midwest League. Hope you can join Mike Couzens and me on The Fan 1380 for a 7:30 start.

MUSICAL GUEST

In the spirit of visiting the West Division, Tupac, take it away… On second thought, can’t find a “clean” version. So, when in Rome, or the suburbs of Chicago, cast of Broadway’s Chicago, take it away…

P.S. Has anyone ever transitioned from Tupac to showtunes before? If so, hit me up.

First Four

How about that Wisconsin-Kentucky game, huh? In TinCaps Land that was a battle pitting group salesmen Brent Harring — a native of America’s Dairyland — and Justin Shurley, who hails from the Bluegrass State. I suppose this means Mr. Harring now owes Mr. Shurley some cheese or a braut, or more likely… an adult refreshment. (If you’ve seen Mr. Harring lately, though, this could mean the end of his red beard — you can make your own judgement on whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing…) By the way, TinCaps Director of Facilities, Tim Burkhart, is a big, big UK fan, too.

Anyway, what a swing of emotions for both sides during the game, especially the final 20 seconds. The first three games of the TinCaps season have also been like a seesaw — just minus the national coverage and crowd of 79,444. Before we get into that, though, let’s stick with hoops for one more moment…

MIKE MAKES IT TO THE MECCA

If you’ve tuned in to XFINITY Channel 81 over the course of the first three TinCaps games of the season, you may be wondering: Where is Mike Couzens? Well, if you flipped the channel over to the ESPN family of networks at some point Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, you may have found your answer. Mike was calling play-by-play for the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School National Tournament in New York City.

The quarterfinals and semifinals of the tournament were played at Christ the King High School in Queens — alma mater of Lamar Kardashian, among other basketball standouts — and aired on ESPNU and ESPN2, respectively. Saturday’s championship game, though, was played at Madison Square Garden and aired on ESPN. If you’ve been keeping up with IAR over the last couple of years, then you know by now that being on national TV is nothing new for Mike. However, having grown up in the Manhattan suburb of White Plains, N.Y., this was an extra-special assignment. You can read more about it here in this ESPN Front Row feature article on Mike. And from MSG to PVF, Mike is scheduled to rejoin the TinCaps’ TV broadcast this afternoon (Sunday).

JUST A THOUGHT

To steal a line from Bill Simmons, if I was Sports Czar… I’d find a way to prevent the overlap of the Final Four and baseball’s Opening Day. Both are special events, why have them take away from each other? Who’d complain about having the National Championship one night — I wouldn’t mind moving it from its traditional date on Monday to Sunday — and then the next afternoon, or preferably two days later, it’s baseball season. In some recent years, the National Championship game and Opening Day have been the same day. The sports calendar only has about a dozen or so “major” events. Why have two of them occur together. (Won’t even get into how baseball has bastardized Opening Day like this year beginning in Australia.)

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

THAT’S BASEBALL

During the 2013 season, the TinCaps only lost by 9 or more runs in a game once. (That was an 11-0 loss on June 12 against Lake County. On June 11, Fort Wayne clinched the East Division’s first-half wild card.) Through 3 games in 2014, it’s already happened twice.

In between the lop-sided losses, though, TinCaps fans had to like what they saw in a 5-2 win over Great Lakes on Friday. For an assessment on the opening two, here’s Mike Maahs’ pregame interview on Saturday with third baseman Dustin Peterson.

One thing you’ll hear a lot of for the rest of the month, if not longer, is that it’s early. That cautionary phrase is a defense against overreaction. It goes both ways — to hold off on panic over struggles, and also to refrain from hyperbole over initial success. So, it’s early, but Peterson has been fantastic at the plate to start the season. The 19-year-old from Phoenix, Arizona, is 5-for-12 with 3 doubles and a triple. His 10 total bases are third most in the Midwest League after three days.

Despite Peterson’s prowess offensively, though, Fort Wayne is 1-2 because of a few big innings. The Loons put up 4 runs in the 3rd inning of Thursday’s opener. On Saturday, it was a 7-run 5th that swung the game and a 5-run 6th that turned it into a route. The TinCaps have yet to score more than 2 in a given frame. But of course, it’s early.

COMING UP

We have plenty more to get to here on IAR as the season begins to roll along. Luckily, it’s early, so there’ll be time to catch up. Stay tuned later today for some Sunday reading and our first Sunday conversation with TinCaps manager Michael Collins.

MUSICAL GUEST

CertiFLYYed & Better Fort, take it away…

Thanks for reading. Be in touch in the comments or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan.

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