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Summer Is Gone

The 2014 TinCaps’ season ended Sunday night in Eastlake, Ohio. Fort Wayne lost Game 2 of the best-of-three Eastern Division Championship Series to the Lake County Captains, 5-4. So it’s the Captains, not the TinCaps, who will play the Kane County Cougars in the Midwest League Championship Series starting Wednesday.

We plan to take a look back at the year that was in the coming days. But for now, we borrow a tradition from the Red Sox. Boston play-by-play broadcaster Joe Castiglione closes out every Sox season on WEEI by reading a passage from “The Green Fields of the Mind,” an essay by former MLB Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti:

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.”

Technically, fall begins on September 23. But with school being back in session, football season beginning, and now the end of baseball, it just doesn’t quite feel like summer any more in Fort Wayne. The TinCaps fell five games short of bringing the city its second baseball title in six years.

Considering where the team was in the MWL Eastern Division standings with just a week to go in the regular season, it’s hard to say that falling short of a championship is a disappointment. Alas, as Giamatti poetically puts it at the end of his essay, it is:

“That is why it breaks my heart, that game–not because in New York they could win because Boston lost; in that, there is a rough justice, and a reminder to the Yankees of how slight and fragile are the circumstances that exalt one group of human beings over another. It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered-for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised.

“Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.”

You can read the rest of “The Green Fields of the Mind” here or listen to Giamatti recite his words here.

Though it’s sad to see the season end, thanks to the work of the TinCaps’ Video Production Team of Melissa Darby and Jared Law, we can look back at how much BIG FUN there was in 2014. If you haven’t seen it already, this end of year video has our highest recommendation.

Special credit also goes to photographer Jeff Nycz (Mid-South Images), who used a drone to capture those over-head shots.

Anything you’d like to see us recap now that the year is done? Let us know in the comments below, by email, or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan.

Like Mike

Tonight is Fan Appreciation Night at Parkview Field. If 6,023 fans come out, it’ll be a new Fort Wayne franchise record for regular season attendance. The number would exceed 405,000.

Of course I’m very appreciative of the fans who make working for the TinCaps the awesome experience that it is, but I’d also like to express my appreciation today for Mike Couzens. In case you haven’t heard, Mike left his role as play-by-play broadcaster of the TinCaps on August 1 to pursue national TV play-by-play opportunities. I’ve replaced him. And I have him to thank for that.

It wasn’t quite Johnny Carson flashing an “OK” sign to a new comedian on The Tonight Show, but it was something.

I was a freshman at Syracuse University — one of the dozens in my class who sojourned to Central New York with the goal of becoming the next Bob Costas or Mike Tirico. Mike Couzens was a junior — one of the few in his class who had already established himself as one who seemed to be well on his way to becoming the next Bob Costas or Mike Tirico.

On a Tuesday morning in April 2010, Mike sent me a Facebook message. “yo,” (sic) it began.

“forgot to tell you hell of a job with the int. really funny, very well produced. awesome job. that’s a fun piece to put together.

keep it up.

couzens”

Aside: For anyone who knows Mike well or follows him on Twitter @MikeCouzens, his lack of proper spelling and grammar in that message is unintentionally hilarious to read back almost five years later.

The “int,” or interview, was with a women’s lacrosse player. (Yes, at Syracuse, we not only do play-by-play of women’s lacrosse games, there’s also a pregame, halftime, and postgame show full of content.) This interview was for a light-hearted segment with audio clips edited in called “Getting to Know the Orange.” The questions I asked during the interview included, “Jersey Shore: Great reality TV show or greatest reality TV show?” and “Do you have Bieber fever?”

Suffice to say, it was a different time. Also suffice to say, we share an appreciation of sacrasm/pop culture. And suffice to say that brief Facebook message made me feel good about myself.

Ok, it wasn’t quite the thrill of getting to go over to the couch with Johnny. But for me at the time, it was a confidence booster. Someone who I looked up to — and I don’t just mean that literally because Mike is about seven inches taller than me — showed an interest in my future.

There’s a lesson here about how we often forget the smallest of actions, like sending a poorly crafted Facebook message, can impact others. But I’m not here to moralize.

So if he wasn’t already before sending me that message, then certainly after it, Mike became someone I attempted to model myself after. From working at both WAER and WJPZ while on campus at Syracuse, to spending a summer calling baseball in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, to working under Jason Benetti with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs another year, I tried to put myself in a position to be like Mike.

And when I say “like Mike,” (no, Gatorade is not paying me) I don’t just mean being a talented broadcaster. I also mean being smart. Being a disciplined worker. Being sociable. Being a person who conducts himself with class. And much more.

That’s why when I finished school a semester early, like Mike, in December 2012 and sought out a job for the spring in Minor League Baseball, like Mike, I seized the opportunity to work for Mike with the TinCaps. Having grown up in New Jersey and having attended college in New York, I didn’t know a soul in Fort Wayne besides Mike. When I committed to coming out to the Midwest, I had little understanding of the fact that the TinCaps are one of the best-run organizations in Minor League Baseball and play in one of the country’s finest ballparks in Parkview Field. I just had an inherit belief that if I followed Mike, I’d be going the right way. Now with nearly two seasons under my belt in Fort Wayne, I’d say I was.

Working with Mike on a daily basis made me a better broadcaster. That was in part by mere osmosis. But also, he has challenged me “to do the hard things.

Taped to the wall in front of his desk at Parkview Field, Mike had the words of Dan Waldschmidt, who wrote:

“The simple truth about how ordinary people accomplish outrageous feats of success is that they do the hard things that smarter, wealthier, more qualified people don’t have the courage — or desperation — to do.”

While it takes inherent talent and some stroke of fortune to “make it” like Mike has by the age of 25, his success has been earned. He has done the hard things.

Perhaps you’ll laugh at this following anecdote, but I really don’t think you should: Yes, Mike has an acute ability to weave stories and information into the fabric of a game and provide vivid descriptions that sound like they’ve been lifted from the pages of a poetry book. But for my money, that’s not the most impressive thing Mike did during his time in the pressbox at Parkivew Field. To me, what is most astounding is that over the course of three seasons, he never once had a sip of soda.

That might not sound like much, but literally seven steps away from the broadcast booth is a fountain machine with Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and Sierra Mist. The temptation was always there. Yet, he had the discipline to stick to drinking water. And though it would be a lie to say Mike never enjoyed one of Parkview Field’s devilishly good desserts, he most often passed on the rest of the ballpark food at home or on the road and stuck to the healthiest option available (usually grilled chicken and some fruit/vegetables).

Again, you may think this is silly to point out, but it matters. If you can restrain yourself from enjoying a cup of soda — if for not other reason than to get some caffeine to stay energized over the course of a long season — you’re also going to have the discipline to take the time to make sure you’re fully prepared to call a game.

Another thing Mike did while in Fort Wayne that I envy: Conduct live, on-field postgame interviews with players in Spanish. Unlike Pedro Gomez, Mike didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. Like most of us, he took it in high school and a couple semesters in college. But unlike most of us who can’t retain much beyond “hola,” Mike’s recall is simply better.

With that said, the real reason to admire Mike? The way he treats others. He’s not necessarily the friendliest guy in the room and his sarcasm isn’t for everyone, but Mike made a lot of friends in Fort Wayne in a short time. Whether it was welcoming in high school or college students to shadow him in the booth, or getting to personally know gameday employees and fans, Mike — and not to sound like tired sportswriters who say athletes play the game the right way – is just a good-hearted guy. And that hasn’t changed, even with his professional ascension. Same dude. (Although I will say he now wears striped and polka-dot socks much more often. But that probably has more to do with his girlfriend Erin than it does having ESPN on the resume.)

Like Mike, I had the misfortune of growing up a Mets fan. This makes me jealous of the Yankees. So both last yer with Mariano Rivera’s pre-retirement tour, and again this year with Derek Jeter, I’ve wanted to complain about the sendoffs being over-the-top. However, my less-bitter (and better side says it’s pretty refreshing to see us actually show appreciation and admiration for individuals while they’re alive to receive them. Whether in our own personal lives, or recently on a celebrity-scale with someone like Robin Williams, it’s a shame we usually wait to say the nice things until they’re dead.

I’m truly blessed to have met Mike at Syracuse and to have worked with him in Fort Wayne. He leaves big shoes to fill, but thanks to the example he set for me, I look forward to stepping in.

TinCaps players gave Mike a fitting sendoff after calling his final game at Parkview Field.

If you’d like to hear/watch Mike call a game again soon — good news! During commercial breaks of tonight’s 7:05 p.m. TinCaps game on XFINITY Channel 81, you can flip over to ESPNU to find Mike calling college football (Houston vs. Texas-San Antonio).

Striking Out ALS

When I first saw friends posting Ice Bucket Challenge videos, I rolled my eyes.

Assuming many don’t research much about ALS, I thought it was alarming to see so many people follow a trend like sheep. I also thought the “threat” of donating $100 was a bit brazen for young people who for the most part don’t have excess income. And I thought the “demand” of completing the challenge within a 24-hour time period was unnecessary.

I still think those things, but then I realized I was being an ice wet blanket for no good reason. If a single life is ever saved because of the awareness and funding that the Ice Bucket Challenge is raising, then it’s more than worthwhile.

Per The ALS Association, as of Tuesday, August 19, The ALS Association has received $22.9 million in donations compared to $1.9 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 19). These donations have come from existing donors and 453,210 new donors to The Association.

But better yet, I educated myself more about how this Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon came to be and discovered the stories of Team FrateTrain and Quinn for the Win. In short, earlier this summer people were dumping buckets of ice water on their heads, but it wasn’t associated with ALS. That changed thanks to the friends and family of Pat Quinn — a 30-year-old from Yonkers, N.Y. who has ALS. Pat played rugby in college at Iona. He then challenged a fellow recent college athlete with ALS, Pete Frates of Massachusetts.

For me now, it’s simple: If men like Pat Quinn and Pete Frates — who are literally dying — are fired up by seeing the nationwide support for their cause, then who is anyone else to downplay it?

I’d encourage you to read this essay by Pete, in which he chronicles what it’s like to go from being the captain of Boston College’s baseball team in 2007 to an ALS patient. This video is worth your time, too.

As is this interview with Pat.

So while the Ice Bucket Challenge movement has grown out of the Northeast, ALS unfortunately doesn’t have any boundaries. The ALS Association says about 30,000 Americans have the disease at any time.

In 2012, Kent Ingram threw out the first pitch before a TinCaps game. A mid-40s married father of two young daughters, Ingram had ALS. Nine months after his first pitch at Parkview Field, he was dead. It’s awful to think that more than 75 years after Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS, there still isn’t a cure. The life expectancy of an ALS patient is 2-5 years.

With that said, thanks to one of my best friends from Syracuse, Bill Spaulding, and later, one of my best friends from home in New Jersey, Mario Perricone, for “nominating” me for the Ice Bucket Challenge. My initial response was, “Couldn’t you have picked someone else?” But now I’m happy I was.

The video below was shot on Friday, August 15 and aired during our TinCaps pregame show. Special thanks to Jared Law of the TinCaps Video Department for shooting and editing, and making it look cool with his GoPro.

I’m happy to report that TinCaps pitchers Kyle Lloyd and Cody Hebner accepted my challenge to them. And they aren’t the only TinCaps who completed the Ice Bucket Challenge. Here’s a round-up of other plays and employees who have joined the cause to Strike Out ALS.

If you’re still not sold, I’ll leave you with this: On Sunday, the TinCaps’ Community Organization of the Game was Playing Hardball Against ALS, a non-profit out of Ohio that serves those with ALS as well as their families. In less than two years since Jeff Swick founded PHAALS in October 2012 after he lost two friends to the disease, they’ve raised more than $130,000.

Even so, Jeff told me that when PHAALS was at Parkview Field last year, most fans asked him what ALS was. But this year, basically thanks to the Ice Bucket Challenge, the average fan had a better understanding of ALS and, thus, you hope, more prone to donating.

Lou Gehrig closed out his famous farewell speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939 by saying, “I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.” Together I hope we can continue to give those with ALS and their families something to live for, too, and sooner rather than later have a cure for them to just live.

DONATE

* Indiana Chapter of The ALS Association

* Northern Indiana Office of the Muscular Dystrophy Association

* Playing Hardball Against ALS

Farewell, Fort Wayne

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.

Thanks,

MCsig

 

With Roster in Flux, A Review of Fort Wayne’s Season to Date

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

The 2014 Fort Wayne TinCaps team photo. Players always subject to change. (Photo by Brad Hand)

The 2014 Fort Wayne TinCaps team photo. Players always subject to change. (Photo by Brad Hand)

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

Lockett- Eugene

Mutz – Today moved up to Lake Elsinore

Reyes – Lake Elsinore

Weickel – Arizona League

Phillips – Lake Elsinore

Cordero – Eugene

Smith – Lake Elsinore

Urena – Eugene

It's been hard to stand out from the crowd with so many faces passing through Fort Wayne this season. (Photo by Jeff Nycz)

It’s been hard to stand out from the crowd with so many faces passing through Fort Wayne this season. (Photo by Jeff Nycz)

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:

Yes, this happened.

Yes, this happened.

A “geyser” (or busted sprinkler valve) delay a game for 20 minutes:

IMG_4722

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

MUSICAL GUEST

Ellie Goulding…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

Max Fried’s Fort Wayne Return

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.

Max Fried in a TinCaps uniform in 2013. (Jeff Nycz)

Max Fried in a TinCaps uniform in 2013. (Jeff Nycz)

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.

Max Fried returns to the TinCaps after working back from arm soreness. (Photo by Jeff Nycz)

Max Fried returns to the TinCaps after working back from arm soreness. (Photo by Jeff Nycz)

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.”

Fried was high school teammates with one of Washington's top pitching prospects, Lucas Giolito. (Photo by Jeff Nycz)

Fried was high school teammates with one of Washington’s top pitching prospects, Lucas Giolito. (Photo by Jeff Nycz)

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.

MCsig

 

Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose, and Sometimes It Rains

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.

TRIVIA

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.*

MUSICAL GUEST

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.

 

TinCaps on Parade

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.

Ronnie joined Johnny in saying hello to fans and tossing out TinCaps softee balls to the crowd. (Photo Credit: Jen Kastenholz)

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.

Mike helped lead the way as flag bearer. (Photo Credit: Jared Law)

Johnny posing before the parade with IPFW’s Don the Mastadon, Icy from the Komets, the Mad Ant, and a friend from Allen County’s Special Olympics Team. (Photo Credit: Abby Naas)

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.

MUSICAL GUEST

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.

They’re Coming Home

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.

Design Credit: TinCaps Creative Director Tony DesPlaines

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.

To keep up with Andrea’s latest artwork, you can follow her on Twitter @hetro4.

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.

Comic Relief

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.

For insight on the TinCaps, interview with fake celebrities, and more, you can follow John Nolan on Twitter.

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