Welcome to the second installment of our new series here on “It’s All Relative”, From Fort Wayne to Fruition, a look at players that have spent time during their minor league careers with either the Wizards or the TinCaps and then have gone on to play Major League Baseball. The word fruition, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as ”the state of being real or complete”, and for our purposes that’s very fitting. Players reaching the majors have their dream come to fruition, although by no means does that mean their journey is complete. Some of the players in this series have had storied MLB careers, while others have only seen a few games of time in the show. However, the odds of ever making it onto a Minor League Baseball roster, let alone an MLB one, are slim, and so it’s worth recognizing those who have been fortunate and talented enough to reach the apex of professional baseball in the United States.
I’m going to go in no particular order with any of these players, but if you do have any requests, please do let me know and I’ll be happy to accommodate you. (You can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter, @MikeCouzens.) As of today, the list of former Fort Wayne players to have reached the majors stands at 118. Some of the more notable alums include LaTroy Hawkins, AJ Pierzynski, Torii Hunter, and David Eckstein, while some names you may not be as familiar with, like Mike Baxter, George Kottaras or Cliff Bartosh. Each one of them has a story–where they’re from, how they got to Fort Wayne and, ultimately, how they got to play in Major League Baseball.
Our second Fort Wayne alum that I’m profiling is Matt Antonelli, who was the 17th overall pick in the first round of the 2006 draft by the San Diego Padres. He played five regular-season games for the Wizards in 2006–a very short stay in Fort Wayne–but he’s written a lot about his baseball career and I’ve had the pleasure of reading it, so I wanted to let him share his insights with you, the readers of It’s All Relative. Matt made his MLB debut on September 1, 2008, with the Padres, before spending time in the Nationals, Orioles, Yankees, and Indians organizations. He is now coaching baseball and is finishing his studies at Wake Forest University, where he was when drafted by San Diego.
Please enjoy the Q&A, and know that you can follow Matt on Twitter at @MattAntonelli9.
It’s all Relative: You got drafted in June of ’06, and after starting out at Eugene, and came up to Fort Wayne for the very end of the season. What was that 2006 year like for you?
Matt Antonelli: The thing that comes to mind about the 2006 season was how long it felt. Our college season basically started in January of that year, then I got drafted in June and went directly to Eugene to start my short-season schedule. I believe after being sent to Fort Wayne in August, our season ended around the middle of September. From there I went to instructional league until the beginning of November. It was the first time I had ever played baseball everyday for basically 10 months straight. Plus, I was getting use to the travel demands of pro ball, so the first year is definitely unique.
IAR: You played just five games with the Wizards, and only one at Memorial Stadium. What do you remember about Fort Wayne?
MA: Although I was only with the Wizards for a few weeks, I really remember my time there because professional baseball was still very new to me. It was my first time as a professional being called up from one level to the next in the middle of the season, so it was a really big deal to me. Coming from Eugene, where the stadium was very old and the clubhouse was extremely small, I remember thinking Fort Wayne’s stadium felt like a big league park. I was also very lucky to get promoted right before the start of the playoffs, so it was my first experience as a professional player in a playoff situation, which was a lot of fun.
IAR: When that 2006 season ended, you had a good amount of future major league players on the roster—Yourself, Mike Baxter, David Freese, Jose Lobaton, Will Venable, Wade LeBlanc, Jon Link, and Joakim Soria…did you notice anything among that group, as a whole or from individuals, that would’ve indicated to you they had major league potential?
MA: All of those players you mentioned were really impressive players. At that point I was so new to professional baseball and the Major Leagues seemed so far away that I never really thought that far ahead. With that being said, they were all extremely talented players and I knew they all had very bright futures. The first time I saw David Freese hit I felt he was one of the better hitters I had ever seen. Wade LeBlanc possessed the best change-up I’d ever witnessed. Will Venable was such an impressive athlete with his size and speed combination. Jose was great behind the plate and really impressive with his ability to pick runners off the bases. Mike Baxter was a gamer. He was such a hard nosed and smart player that always got the job done. Jon Link had a great sinker / slider combination that made him dominant. Joakim was the one player I never got to play with because of my limited time with the Wizards, but his success at the Major League level speaks for itself.
IAR: What was that first off-season like for you since you were out of school and now a pro ballplayer?
MA: The first off-season is definitely strange once you become a professional player. It was the first time in my life where I didn’t have to go to school or play baseball for about a three month period. One thing I love about baseball is the practice time. I really enjoyed the off-season, being able to get up everyday and have three months to dedicate yourself to working out and preparing yourself for the following season. It was always one of my favorite times of the year.
IAR: What was it like hearing you were getting called up in 2008?
MA: Being called up in 2008 was definitely the highlight of my baseball career. When I received the news it was a little strange for me because I was in the midst of one of my toughest seasons of my baseball career. I really struggled that year and it wasn’t until August that I started to turn my season around. I definitely did not envision myself getting an opportunity to play at the Major League level that year, but when I got the news I was extremely excited.
IAR: I know you’ve battled through a lot of injuries during your career…what was the decision like to retire and what are you up to now?
MA: People are very surprised when they hear me say this, but my decision to stop playing wasn’t as hard as I would have imaged it to be. The last few years of my career I had a lot of issues with my hand and wrist. I had already missed almost 300 games because of it during my career, and I just didn’t feel like I was the player I needed to be to make it back to the Major Leagues. I wasn’t able to practice the way I needed to. It was really tough for me to hit multiple days in a row without it hurting. I wasn’t able to work out in the weight room the way I once was. And I played a good amount of games the last few years in a lot of pain. When I was finally released at the end of this April and did not receive any phone calls from Major League teams, I decided it was best to step away from the game and get into coaching. I just finished the fall coaching and finishing my Senior year at Wake Forest University. I love coaching and have really enjoyed my transition from player to coach. I envision myself coaching and developing players for the rest of my life.
IAR: From having been in the minors, we know about the bus rides, the hotels…all of that good stuff. What would you want people to know about Minor League Baseball who have never experienced it?
MA: Minor League baseball was a great time and I have a ton of memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. It is really unique because you literally spend every single minute of the day for almost eight months straight with a group of twenty five or so guys that basically become your family. That is probably the strangest part about not playing anymore. I no longer arrive at Spring Training every February and reunite with all of my buddies.
IAR: What was the greatest sacrifice you made to play professional baseball?
MA: I don’t know if I would call them sacrifices, but I definitely had to make some choices throughout my life to make sure I prepared myself for the opportunity to play professional baseball. The biggest thing is putting in the time and being dedicated to your development. A lot of my life was dedicated to traveling around the country, finding teams to play with and against that would push me to keep improving as a player. Once you become a professional player the biggest sacrifice players make is with regards to their family. I’m from the Boston area and played most of my career on the West Coast away from my family. I spent eight seasons away from my girlfriend and now wife, which is never an easy thing to do. Many players spend extensive time away from their kids. The lifestyle is definitely not easy, but the reward of realizing a childhood dream and making it to the Major Leagues makes it a little easier and ultimately worth the ride.
Away from baseball, I’ve been keeping busy on the basketball trail. This past weekend, I was down in Wheeling, West Virginia, to call high school basketball, and had the pleasure of working with Paul Biancardi (left) and Fran Frashcilla (center), two great basketball analysts.
In the midst of all this deep cold, I’m thinking about next weekend, when I’ll be down in Florida at Montverde Academy for another high school hoops game. If you’re around the TV on Saturday at 4:00, flip on ESPN and I’ll keep you company for a few hours.
We’ve still got no word on the coaching staff for 2014, but will let you know as soon as we hear it. The Dayton Dragons just announced theirs today, and both Manager Jose Nieves and Pitching Coach Tony Fossas will return. Luis Bolivar joins the club for his first season as hitting coach, replacing former Padres infielder Alex Pelaez.
Coldplay…take it away!
Welcome to the first installment of our new series here on “It’s All Relative”, From Fort Wayne to Fruition, a look at players that have spent time during their minor league careers with either the Wizards or the TinCaps and then have gone on to play Major League Baseball. The word fruition, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as ”the state of being real or complete”, and for our purposes that’s very fitting. Players reaching the majors have their dream come to fruition, although by no means does that mean their journey is complete. Some of the players in this series have had storied MLB careers, while others have only seen a few games of time in the show. However, the odds of ever making it onto a Minor League Baseball roster, let alone an MLB one, are slim, and so it’s worth recognizing those who have been fortunate and talented enough to reach the apex of professional baseball in the United States.
I’m going to go in no particular order with any of these players, but if you do have any requests, please do let me know and I’ll be happy to accommodate you. (You can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter, @MikeCouzens.) As of today, the list of former Fort Wayne players to have reached the majors stands at 118. Some of the more notable alums include LaTroy Hawkins, AJ Pierzynski, Torii Hunter, and David Eckstein, while some names you may not be as familiar with, like Mike Baxter, George Kottaras or Cliff Bartosh. Each one of them has a story–where they’re from, how they got to Fort Wayne and, ultimately, how they got to play in Major League Baseball.
Our first subject is Jake Peavy, who has played 12 years in the majors after originally being drafted in 1999. Peavy is now 32 years old, 13 years removed from his time with the Wizards, but as Parkview Field goes, his history in Fort Wayne will live on for years to come:
Peavy was taken by the Padres in the 15th round of the 1999 draft out of St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile, Alabama, and chose professional baseball over an opportunity to play baseball in his home state at Auburn University.
He originally followed the path that many minor leaguers do, starting out in the Arizona League and then moving up to rookie-level ball in Idaho Falls, Idaho, with the then-Idaho Falls Braves. (The team, now known as the Chukars–a native bird–kept the Braves name for four seasons after its affiliation with the Braves came to an end.) Following that 1999 campaign, he began the 2000 season in Fort Wayne and pitched in 26 games, starting 25 of them. He worked 133 2/3 innings (about an average workload over a full season) and struck out 164 batters while walking 53. He also held opponents to a .216 batting average. He stayed in Fort Wayne for the entirety of the 2000 season, moving on to both Advanced-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A Mobile in 2001 turning in a 2.97 ERA over 133 1/3 innings. He did that, it should be noted, as he was 19 (turning 20 in May) years old. The numbers are pretty darn impressive by themselves, but it’s the age at which he did them that’s most impressive.
One number that remains constantly strong throughout Peavy’s minor-league career and on into his MLB days is his strikeout/innings pitched ratio. Here’s a small sample:
2000 (Fort Wayne): 164 K in 133 2/3 IP
2001 (Lake Elsinore): 144 K in 105 1/3 IP
2002: (Mobile): 89 K in 80 1/3 IP
In fact, he’s ranked #21 in the history of Major League Baseball when it comes to ratio of strikeouts per nine innings pitched. (Randy Johnson is #1, in case you were wondering.
After starting the ’02 season in Mobile, his hometown, where a local Pepsi distributor made a can with his face on it, Peavy was called up to San Diego by then-General Manager Kevin Towers, to help out an injury-laden Padres squad. It was also a team that finished 66-96, last in the National League West, 32 games out of first. Peavy’s debut came June 22 of that season against the New York Yankees. What a way to come into the majors…facing a lineup that included Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, and Bernie Williams, among others. Peavy was 21 years old.
Fast forward now to the 2004 season, just Peavy’s third in Major League Baseball. As a 23-year-old (I was still figuring out how to properly iron things at that age), Peavy turned in a 2.27 ERA, the best in the bigs. He became the youngest pitcher to lead the majors in earned run average since Dwight Gooden did it, at 20 years old, in 1985. From the “You win some, you lose some” category, Peavy also gave up Barry Bonds’ 700th career home run.
Clearly, Peavy was head, shoulders, and perhaps even torso above the rest of players his age. But, as an old axiom tells us, excellence is a habit, not something that’s just found one day. Sports Illustrated once profiled Peavy, and shared a great anecdote about his baseball intelligence when he was in Fort Wayne:
“In the summer of 2000 Padres general manager Kevin Towers was sitting in the stands at a Class A ball game in Fort Wayne when a skinny teenager sat down next to him and introduced himself. It was the kid out of St. Paul’s Episcopal in Mobile whom the year before Towers had taken in the 15th round of the amateur draft on the recommendation of scout Mark Wasinger, who had raved about the kid’s mound moxie.
“I don’t get it,” the kid said after a while. “Why don’t these hitters ever make adjustments? They’re supposed to be professionals. I make adjustments every time I’m out there pitching.”
Recalls Towers, “That was the first time that I had met Jake–and I remember thinking, Is this kid 19 or is he Greg Maddux?”‘
Time and time again, anyone within the game from pitching coaches to managers to scouts will tell you that the best players make adjustments, especially at this level. Jose Valentin preached it the last two years in the media, and scouts scribble it in judgmental ink each and every night on their notepads, letting their organizations know who to keep an eye on and who to forget.
In 2007, Peavy not only won the NL Cy Young Award, but he again won the National League ERA title, while also leading the circuit in wins (19) and strikeouts (240 in 223 1/3 innings). At that point, he was seven years removed from his time in Fort Wayne, with 76 MLB wins under his belt.
On July 31, 2009, more than ten years after he had originally been drafted by the Padres, Peavy was traded to the Chicago White Sox. Despite seeing season-ending surgery in 2010 and a dip in his numbers after the trade, he was named a 2012 All-Star and also awarded the Gold Glove that season. On July 30 of this year, he was shipped off to the Boston Red Sox, and went on to win the World Series with the club.
Considering that the average major-leaguer can expect to be in the bigs for 5.6 years (number as of 2007), what Peavy has done in doubling that service time is quite impressive. Not only has he made his mark as a player, but as a philanthropist, too, purchasing one suite at the Mobile BayBears’ ballpark for each of the team’s 70 home games, and donating it to charity.
After winning the World Series with Boston, he took part in the Duck Boat parade around the city, where the team’s executives and players rode in World War II-era vehicles that are equipped to ride on both land and water.
Riding on the boat wasn’t enough, though, for Peavy, who bought the boat and says he hopes to keep it in the family. According to his Twitter account, the boat is now back at his home in Alabama.
It was perhaps easy to see, from his demeanor in Low-A, his sterling Minor League numbers, and his rapid ascension through the ranks, including just 3 1/2 years in Minor League Baseball. However, no one can truthfully predict a future Cy Young award winner when he’s only 19 or 20 years old. Peavy has made a name for himself, both on and off the field. His contract with Boston, originally signed by White Sox management, runs through the 2014 season, with an option, at Peavy’s leisure, as long as he reaches a certain innings threshold.
Peavy is one of many to have started his career in Fort Wayne, and certainly one that fans who watched him here can be proud to say was once a Fort Wayne Wizard, his dream now come to fruition.
In other news, I’ve been traveling more for ESPN calling college basketball, and got to call a thriller in Ames, Iowa, on Friday night between Iowa and Iowa State. Here’s a look at a packed Hilton Coliseum:
This Thursday I’ll be down in Indianapolis with Dan Dakich and Paul Biancardi calling high school basketball, which will air on ESPN at 9:30. Then, on Sunday the 22nd, I’ll be in Morgantown, West Virginia, to call Purdue’s game against the Mountaineers. I hope you’ll be able to tune into one, if not both!
If we don’t cross paths again before the New Year, have a great holiday season and new year’s celebration.
Miranda Lambert…take it away!
Although late November isn’t the biggest time of the year for baseball news, the Padres caused a ripple in the trade world today by shipping off three former TinCaps: Brad Brach, Jaff Decker, and Miles Mikolas. In exchange for Brach, a member of the 2009 TinCaps, the Padres received right-handed pitcher Devin Jones from the Baltimore Orioles. Decker and Mikolas both went to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization for first-baseman/outfielder Alex Dickerson.
Brach saved 33 games for the TinCaps in ’09, helping close many a game in the franchise’s most successful season ever. This past season, his third seeing big-league time, he pitched in 33 games out of the San Diego bullpen and had a 3.19 ERA. With the Triple-A Tucson Padres, from which he was shuttled back and forth with great frequency, he also pitched in 33 games with a 2.84 ERA. If Brach lands with Triple-A for the Orioles, he’ll be stationed with the Norfolk Tides along the coast in Virginia.
Decker, 23, is a former first-round pick (2008) by the Padres out of Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria, Arizona. He played in 104 games for the TinCaps in 2009, and was the first player to hit a home run into the Treetops seating area in right field, before Clark Murphy repeated the feat in 2012. Decker made his MLB debut with San Diego in June, but only appeared in 13 games this season for the Padres, spending most of his time at Triple-A Tucson. The bright news for TinCaps fans regarding Decker and Mikolas is that if they end up in Triple-A with Pittsburgh, they won’t be playing very far from here. The Pirates Triple-A affiliate is the Indianapolis Indians.
Mikolas followed both Brach and Decker, pitching for the TinCaps in 2010. The Jupiter, Florida, native pitched in 60 games that season, saving 13, and had just a 2.20 ERA. After being drafted in the 7th round in 2009, he reached the majors on May 5, 2012 with the Padres, and over the last two seasons has pitched in 25 games for San Diego. He hurled 54 times this season for Tucson.
As for the two players the Padres got in return, here’s what San Diego told us about them via press release today:
Jones – “The 23-year-old Jones spent nearly all of the 2013 campaign with Double-A Bowie, going 4-7 with a 5.84 ERA in 24 starts. He also made one start with High-A Frederick. The 6-foot-2 Jones was the Orioles’ ninth round selection of the 2011 Draft out of Mississippi State University. The Mississippi native is 15-18 with a 4.47 ERA in 67 games (34 starts) over three seasons.”
Dickerson – “The 23-year-old Dickerson was born and raised in the San Diego suburb of Poway, graduating from Poway High School in 2008 before playing baseball at Indiana University. The left-handed hitter and thrower spent all of 2013 with Double-A Altoona, batting .288 (130-for-451) with 36 doubles, three triples, 17 home runs, 68 RBI, 61 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder was named both the Eastern League Rookie of the Year and a post-season All-Star. His 2013 campaign comes directly on the heels of Dickerson being named the Florida State League Player of the Year in 2012 after batting .295 with 31 doubles, 13 home runs and 90 RBI in 129 games with High-A Bradenton.
The Pirates third-round selection in 2011 batted .419 with 24 home runs and 75 RBI for Indiana in 2010 en route to not only being named Big Ten Player of the Year, but also taking home the league’s Triple Crown. He represented Team USA on the Collegiate National Team in the summer of 2010 between his sophomore and junior seasons at IU. Dickerson hit .290 (20-for-69) with four doubles in 18 games for Scottsdale in the recently-completed Arizona Fall League, including taking home the N.L. title in the inaugural Bowman Hitting Challenge.”
Neither Jones nor Dickerson will play in Fort Wayne, but they both seem to represent quality additions to the San Diego MiLB ranks. Here’s an article about Dickerson’s improvement over the course of the 2013 season: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/jul/29/dickerson-finally-finds-swing-at-double-a/
This is a scouting report on Jones: http://orioles-nation.com/players/devin-jones/ and some analysis: http://www.camdenchat.com/2013/11/25/5144000/orioles-trade-brad-brach-padres-devin-jones
More news as it comes across the wire. We’re still waiting to hear word of who the next TinCaps manager will be, too.
Lorde…take it away!
The San Diego Padres announced Monday night that TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin is moving up to the majors to be their new first-base coach. That’s great news for Jose, who did a stellar job in his two seasons in Fort Wayne, but it also means the TinCaps need a new manager. More on that in a moment…
Valentín, named Fort Wayne’s 15th manager on November 10, 2011, went 149-144 in his two seasons, trailing only Doug Dascenzo, who won a Midwest League title in 2009, and Randy Ready. Both Dascenzo and Ready were in Fort Wayne for three seasons. The 44-year-old Valentín had not coached or managed in Minor League Baseball prior to working in Fort Wayne.
He led the TinCaps to back-to-back playoff appearances, winning the Midwest League’s Eastern Division pennant in 2012, taking the team to the championship series for just the second time. His 2012 campaign saw Yeison Asencio win the franchise’s first-ever Midwest League batting title, along with Adys Portillo and Matt Stites setting team records for the lowest ERA by a starter and reliever, respectively. Valentín was named the Low-A Manager of the Year by Baseball America following the 2012 season. In 2013 he helped oversee a starting pitching staff that featured four first-round draft choices, including San Diego’s top picks from both the 2011 and 2012 drafts.
“José experienced a great deal of success the last two seasons with our affiliate in Fort Wayne and his extensive background in the game will prove to be an asset to the club,” said Padres Executive Vice President/General Manager Josh Byrnes in a press release.
“I’m thrilled for Jose. I’ve known him since we signed him as a teenager from Puerto Rico,” said Randy Smith, the Padres’ vice president of player development and international scouting. ”He’s a tremendous person with passion and knowledge of the game. He did a great job in Fort Wayne. Players got better and were held accountable, and [they] learned how to play.”
Valentin continues the line of former managers or coaches who have worked in Fort Wayne and gone on to work at the major-league level. Here’s a timeline of that group:
NAME – YEAR(S) IN FW – MLB POSITION
Jose Valentin (Manager) – 2012, 2013 – Padres Current First-Base Coach
Willie Blair (Pitching Coach) – 2011, 2012 – Padres Current Bullpen Coach
Doug Dascenzo (Manager) – 2007-2009 – Braves Current Third-Base Coach
Randy Ready (Manager) – 2004-2006 – Padres Hitting Coach (2009-2011)
Mike Harkey – 2001, 2003 – Yankees Current Bullpen Coach
Darren Balsley (Pitching Coach) – 2000 – Current Padres Pitching Coach
Craig Colbert (Manager) – 2000 – Padres Bench Coach (2007, 2008)
On a personal note, working with Valentin was a great pleasure. In the last three seasons (I spent the 2011 season in Dayton) I have worked with two managers, Valentin and Delino DeShields, who were former big-leaguers, and both were great to work with. Jose helped make my job easier by agreeing to every interview request, answering every question that I had and always keeping me in the loop on things. That’s a behind-the-scenes thing that nobody ever sees, but goes a long way in helping the entire operation run smoothly. I think he’ll be a great fit with the Padres, as he’s not only bi-lingual, being from Puerto Rico, but he is not all that far removed from being a player at that level. He played his last game in 2007 and has been managing the last two years. Considering in his last season he helped tutor Jose Reyes in New York, it’s clear that players he shared the field with are still out there now. He also always treated his players well; he expected the best out of them and would praise them when they were playing well, and let them know when they weren’t.
Now the search for a new manager begins. According to Corey Brock on Padres.com, the Padres will “likely fill their managerial vacancy in Fort Wayne from within.” The last manager hired before Valentin was Shawn Wooten, a former MLB player, who had been with the organization for one prior season, working as the hitting coach with the Eugene Emeralds. Prior to Wooten, the manager in 2010 was Jose Flores. He had been the hitting coach at Short-Season A Eugene in 2007 and managing the Arizona League Padres in 2008 and 2009.
Stay tuned to our Twitter account, @TinCaps, and our Facebook page for team news as it happens, and I’ll have a more in-depth look at the team’s new manager here on It’s All Relative as soon as that name is announced.
Jon Pardi…take it away!
Greetings and Salutations from the corner of Ewing and Brackenridge in downtown Fort Wayne. I’m still out and about on the speaking trail, so if you’re looking for someone to speak at a meeting or event, please let me know. You can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or by calling 260-407-2804.
In recent weeks, a few Minor League Baseball teams have released new logos and names and not necessarily to much initial fanfare. The Tucson Padres (formerly the Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres) relocated to El Paso, Texas, and became the El Paso Chihuahuas. The Akron Aeros re-branded themselves and, due to the city’s history as the Rubber Capital of the World, are now known as the Akron RubberDucks.
Here are the new logos:
Before I get to how local fans reacted in those markets, let’s take a trip in the WABAC Machine and re-visit the year 2008, when the Fort Wayne Wizards became the Fort Wayne TinCaps:
It was October 2, 2008, when TinCaps President Mike Nutter, along with owner Jason Freier, debuted the name of the new team. The Around Fort Wayne blog has plenty of video from the news conference that day, during which Nutter explained the proliferation of unique names in Minor League Baseball, and how they became more and more popular during the 1990′s. The names used as examples that day were the Lansing Lugnuts, the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Montgomery Biscuits, among others, because they have a fun ring to them, but they also have a connection to the communities they serve. In addition, one of the reason the Wizards became the TinCaps was because since the team’s inception in 1993, there had been a (Washington, D.C.) Wizards added to the NBA and a (Kansas City) Wizards added to Major League Soccer (they’re now Sporting Kansas City), so there was no longer the factor of having the unique name.
When the team sought input from the community, it received 2,574 entries for names and only 1.8% of those fans suggested the Wizards, meaning that most fans sought a new name for the team. There were three specific traits that the team wanted to look for in a new name: community history, strong brand, and uniqueness.
And despite the explanation of the historical tie-in, the brand appeal of the name and the fact that no other team in history had ever had this name, the TinCaps name was still not a hit right away.
Here is what Freier told The Journal Gazette
“There’s no point in changing the name to something else that is generic. The single-most suggested name was Generals. We had people suggest Falcons. … It’s a great name, but it’s being used.
“For us to find something that had both the Fort Wayne tie and allowed us to create our own unique identity, we were not going to change the Wizards name and give up 16 years unless at least those two criteria were met. We felt we had few options that satisfied that, but obviously we chose the one we thought did it best.”
Reggie Hayes of The News Sentinel wrote a column a month later, detailing some of the criticism lobbed toward the team after the name change:
“I listen to complaints about TinCaps and how ridiculous the name is and how it reflects poorly on Fort Wayne (as if others care one iota about our minor-league nicknames) and I hear whining.
Freier, you’ll be glad to know, doesn’t think you’re a bunch of whiners, and he respects your opinion.
He also believes you’ll calm down over time. On that, I have to agree. Outrage over “Wizards” was palpable when that name was first introduced, then evaporated. Indignation over the TinCaps will subside, too. We might even come to appreciate TinCaps and return to complaining about where policemen park their cars at night.
I suggested to Freier in a conversation last week that the negative reaction to TinCaps is a byproduct of people who are still ticked off about Harrison Square in general. He says that analysis is flawed.
“There are definitely people who are very supportive of the (Harrison Square) project who say, ‘Why couldn’t you have gone with Generals or Cannons or something that sounds like Fort Wayne?’” Freier said. “There is a significant segment of folks who are very supportive who just don’t get what we’re trying to do here. They don’t see what we think we see.”’
In fact, the logo has been so popular that it’s been one of the 25 best-selling brands in all of Minor League Baseball in each of the team’s five seasons. On top of that, the team has set a new attendance record in each of the last two seasons, drawing more than 408.000 fans in 2012, and more than 410,000 in 2013.
It took time for people to get used to the name, and the new ballpark downtown. But once people walked through the doors, whether for a pre-season open house or for their first TinCaps game, that’s when they started to see things differently.
Back to El Paso and Akron now. It’s as if, five years later, an almost identical situation is playing itself out in Texas and Ohio. While the RubberDucks aren’t moving into a new ballpark, the Chihuahuas are, drawing a closer parallel to Fort Wayne. So, here’s some reaction that has come as a result of those two new team names:
-”A petition asking MountainStar to change the team was started on Change.org by a person named Alex Morales. Within 24 hours, the petition had close to 4,000 online signatures. On Friday, more than 9,000 people — the capacity of the ballpark being built for the team — had signed the petition.“
-Although the Chihuahuas Facebook page now has more than 24,000 likes, in the first few days the team existed there was a page, “Change El Paso Chihuahuas Name“, that had picked up more likes.
Lastly, there’s this column, which, I think, actually argues in the RubberDucks’ favor, even if that’s not the premise of the piece:
“Back in the day, when I was a child — ugh, I feel so old writing that — my grandpa used to take my brother and I to the Canton Akron Indians games. We got to watch the future stars of the Indians play — Manny Rameriz, Sandy Alomar, Brian Giles, just to name a few. It was a bit of a drive from Cuyahoga Falls, but those are great memories.
Then, in 1997, they moved to Akron. Awesome, they would be closer!
But wait, what? You’re changing the name… to the Aeros?
As a child, it was nice having a minor league team with the same name as the pro team. It made it easier to understand that they were all part of the same system.
But now I had to cheer for a cat? The outrage.
And purple as one of the colors? The travesty.
I was not a happy 13-year-old, but I came to terms with the fact since the team moved locations, I guess that meant they could change the name. After all, I watched another team move from Cleveland to Baltimore two years prior, and they changed names, too (and also went to that awful purple color).
It took a few years, but I eventually grew to like the Aeros mascot.”
But now the RubberDucks isn’t OK? Something tells me he’ll end up being a fan.
The leadership in both El Paso and Akron have sought out the same characteristics in a name that the Fort Wayne franchise did back in 2008. They wanted something unique, something that had mass appeal to folks from far and near, old and young, and a name that involved the community’s history. Akron is the Rubber Capital of America, and El Paso is located in the Chihuahua desert.
“The logo accomplishes a lot of things,” RubberDucks owner Ken Babby told MiLB.com. “Right off the bat, it represents the grit and fierceness of this blue-collar market,” said Babby. “But it also represents the brand of entertainment that we’re trying to create: a place where you can come in, have fun and forget life’s problems.”
Brad Taylor, the former general manager of the Bowling Green Hot Rods of the Midwest League, says it just takes some time.
“You don’t fight the backlash,” Taylor said. “There is some sensitivity to this and we appreciate that. But we didn’t pick this name to get people mad. We are trying to promote wholesome fun.”
When it came to deciding a name, team officials tried to find which of the five team name finalists could make a connection with children and families, be connected to the area and continue to be marketable.
“You get to a point where you really have to see it to get it,” Taylor said. “I had the same reaction that a lot of people are having when I first heard it, then I got to see the ideas and I totally got it.“
The tough part for both of these teams is that they won’t know how well their new name will go over until spring rolls around and they can start welcoming folks into their ballpark and showing them what attending a RubberDucks or Chihuahuas game is all about.
What I believe helps sell a product, a brand, a company, whatever it might be, more than anything else is a story. What was it like when you went to the (fill in the team name here) game? Was shopping at (fill in the store here) easy? Affordable? What was customer service like when you called (fill in in the brand name here) to ask about returns and exchanges? Word of mouth is one of the biggest tools any business has, and I’ve come to see that first hand just from working in Minor League Baseball for the last four seasons. I’ve spent time with three very different organizations, all of which have taught me something new.
On a personal level, I can never highly recommend Bed Bath & Beyond enough to people. Why? Their return policy is the best: no questions asked. When I lived in Burlington, Vermont, shortly after I got out of college, I slept on an air mattress. Well, this air mattress developed a giant speedbump in it a few months after I bought it. That made it kind of hard to fall asleep. So I brought it back to the store, no receipt, and they exchanged it for me. No problem. Keep in mind this was a $300 air mattress. (I take my sleep very seriously.) Then, when I moved from Vermont, I was able to get store credit for the mattress that I no longer needed. With most companies you’ve got to jump through hoop after hoop just to try and get an answer, let alone store credit, an exchange, or a refund. But now, I got exactly what I wanted with no hassle. That’s a story worth sharing, and when it comes to baseball teams, people want the same type of experience. You can get an average baseball experience anywhere–there’s always going to be a game. But are there going to be things that entertain both parents and kids? Are the food options going to be not just affordable, but also unique? Is it easy to park? Is the location of the ballpark safe? If the answer to those questions is yes, as it is with TinCaps games at Parkview Field, those stories get shared. I have heard many of those stories firsthand from going out and talking to schools, Kiwanis, Rotary, and Lions clubs, and from folks who listen and watch the team’s games.
So, what’s next for those two teams is to not only continue to push the great logo or ballpark, but also to try and create a ballpark experience that’s memorable, affordable and repeatable. The fun has just begun in El Paso and Akron, and five years from now it’ll be interesting to look back at the feedback similar to Fort Wayne’s in 2008.
On a TinCaps baseball front, no word yet on the staff for 2014. A few teams in the Midwest League have announced theirs for the coming season. Perhaps in the next few weeks we’ll know more on who will be leading the charge for the next batch of future Padres. Stay tuned.
John Newman…take it away!
As the offseason goes, my travel for the TinCaps is a little less time-consuming and not quite as distant as it is during the season. You may know that the Midwest League has 16 teams and that we’ll travel as far east as Eastlake, Ohio, as far south as Bowling Green, Kentucky, as far north as Appleton, Wisconsin, and as far west as Cedar Rapids, Iowa. About as far as I may travel for a speaking engagement this offseason (unless Cooperstown has any openings) is Bryan, Ohio, to talk to the Bryan Kiwanis Club. They’re a great group and they’ve graciously had me as their guest each of the last two years to talk about the TinCaps. What makes visiting there so special is that it’s the home town of one of the best players in recent TinCaps history, Matt Wisler.
He starred here as a 19-year-old (and eventually 20-year-old) in 2012, and then moved his way up to Advanced-A and eventually Double-A during the 2013 season. His numbers were phenomenal at both levels, and during an August interview I did with Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes, he told me that Wisler will come into spring training next year with a chance to make the MLB roster, which is pretty remarkable considering Wisler’s age.
During my visit to Bryan a few weeks ago, Matt was kind enough to join me at the podium and speak about his experiences this past spring and summer:
I will forgive him for wearing a San Antonio Missions polo shirt! Matt talked to the group of about 50 people about his season and how he developed both on and off the field.
During the 2012 season, Wisler went 5-4 with a 2.53 ERA in 114 innings. He struck out 113 and walked only 28, working to a 1.079 WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched). In 2013, he was 10-6 with a 2.78 ERA in 136 innings. He struck out 131 batters while walking 33 and had a 1.067 WHIP.
I chatted a bit with Matt about his 2013 season, during which he received an earlier-than-expected promotion from Advanced-A Lake Elsinore to San Antonio, his progress in attacking hitters, the difference between Low-A and Double-A, and what he perceives his next step in the organization to be. Here are the highlights:
It’s All Relative: How was your 2013 season?
Matt Wisler: It was a good year. I enjoyed it. Staring in High-A was nice getting out there to California and working with those coaches. I had a pretty good month. I only gave up three runs my first month, I think. Then I messed up pretty bad in my last start and gave up four runs. Then I went to Double-A and struggled there early. My first start wasn’t terrible, but my second start was really bad. I gave up five (runs) in the first inning. That was the worst start I’ve had as a professional. Then I had one good outing of seven shutout (innings) and then I think I struggled a few more (starts) after that and finally figured it out in June. I had a good June, July and August. JJ (Jimmy Jones), the pitching coach in Double-A, was huge for me this year, just as much as Willie Blair was last year. He was more mental than physical; we did some physical tweaks here and there. Staying even keel was definitely big for me. Instead of over-throwing early and losing velocity late, he helped me to stay under control. With him, he had a mentality of striking guys out and going right after them. That was a good mindset to have as well. Winning the championship was really fun. I definitely enjoyed that experience.
IAR: What was your reaction to going up from High-A to Double-A?
MW: It was really good especially because I had a bad start beforehand. I was so excited to get to Double-A. You figure (you’ll get promoted) after you have a run of good starts, and then I had that bad one, and it was after that start I got called up.
IAR: What expectations did you have out of spring training?
MW: I thought if I had a pretty good first half of the season I could get up there (Double-A) by the All-Star break like what (Justin) Hancock did in Fort Wayne. I figured it would be a two or three month thing, but it was great to go earlier and get pretty much a full year of experience up there.
IAR: What is level of play like at Double-A?
MW: It’s definitely different. You can see it in the pitchers, mostly. It goes from High-A and Low-A where (pitchers) only have a fastball and not too much off-speed. Once you get to Double-A guys can locate every pitch, they mix speeds a lot better. You can see it in our hitters that guys are off balance a lot more. You’ll get a 2-0 changeup or a 2-0 curveball and guys just know how to throw it for strikes. Even 3-2 they get a lot more off-speed pitches. The hitters were just a lot better. They can all hit a fastball so if you miss a fastball, they’re going to get it. Learning how to locate my off-speeds a little better is big. I’ve got to learn how to get a 0-0 curveball over more consistently. With my slider when I first got there, guys were not chasing. When I first got there, I was still pitching the normal way—get ahead with a fastball and finish with an off-speed. I had to learn how to get ahead with an off-speed and maybe come back with a fastball or finish it off with a slider. I had to make the slider a “chaseable pitch” where I start it more over the plate so guys see it longer and have it break late. That was definitely a big adjustment for me as well.
IAR: What did you think of the comments made about you by Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes?
MW: It’s exciting knowing I have a chance going in. I have a lot of drive. Next year is a huge year for me. It’ll be my first full chance where I really have a chance to get up there. I can’t wait to start getting work in this off-season. I’m excited to see how I’ll do against big-league hitters. I’ve never really faced them consistently so I’m excited to get out there and at least see what I’ve got.
IAR: Given that the Padres don’t have the payroll to be big spenders in free agency and tend to build their MLB team from within their ranks, do you feel like it might have taken you longer to move up quickly if you were in a different organization?
MW: I don’t know. I guess it’s a matter of me and how I keep pitching or what they see in my progression. If they have something they want me to work on before I get there, it’s pretty much depending on that. Anytime they call me, I definitely think I’ll be ready to go. It’s just a matter of when they think I’m fully prepared and ready.
IAR: What did you think of the Padres trading (2012 TinCaps teammate and 2013 Missions teammate) Matt Stites?
MW: That was pretty crazy because he’d just had that appendectomy and I knew he was going home anyway. (Stites had been placed on the disabled list toward the end of the season.) I picked him up and I was taking him to get his pills two days after his surgery when he got the call (from Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes). It was kind of shocking. You forget it’s a business and we’re not gonna have him next year, so I’ll have to find a new roommate.
IAR: What are your plans for the winter?
MW: I’ll start working out 4-5 days a week until spring training. Weightlifting for now and I’ll start throwing with (Defiance, Ohio, native Justin) Hancock in December and I’ll start to hit since next year I’ll start to hit a little bit more.
Thanks to Matt for taking the time out of his day to speak not only with me, but also with the Bryan Kiwanis club. We’ll be keeping an eye on Matt as spring training rolls around next year.
Eve 6…take it away!
With the busy weekends of K105′s CountryFest, 98.9 The Bear’s Birthday Bash and Fort4Fitness behind us all at Parkview Field, some of the front office members of the TinCaps embarked on a weekend of their own, driving from the Summit City down to Cumberland, Maryland, for the Ragnar Relay, a nearly 200-mile trek by foot from Maryland into Washington, D.C., and it was probably busier than all of the previous weekends had been combined.
If you’re not familiar with what the Ragnar Relay is, which I wasn’t when I was asked to join the team early in the season, it’s a race run by teams of 12 (or six if you’re looking for a crazy challenge) in which every person runs three legs of varying difficulty. The team is split into two vans (1 and 2) and while one van is busy running, the other van rests and eats. This goes on for anywhere between 24-36 hours depending on how fast your team is. Our group finished in about 31 hours. For the 12 of us (9 current TinCaps employees, 1 former, and 2 spouses) this was our first Ragnar, so we’d done a lot of reading about what to expect but weren’t really sure how it would all play out. Boy, was it ever exciting, tiring, exhilarating, draining and ultimately worthwhile. I’d say the best suggestion anyone made was to bring gallon Ziploc bags in which to store your sweaty clothes once you finished your run. Definitely a good call…for everyone’s sake if you know what I mean!
The legs that I ran were 5.8 miles, 5.0 and 2.2 miles, relatively easy compared to some of the eight and nine-mile treks that my teammates had, not to mention the ridiculous uphill climbs they endured. While I don’t consider myself a runner, I enjoyed the experience to the fullest, more so for the camaraderie of the whole thing than anything else. You could be running in the middle of the day with a heat index of 99 degrees, or at 2 AM as I did for my second leg, traversing through country roads and suburban neighborhoods all in a five-mile span. For the night runs every runner was required to wear a reflective safety vest, and blinking light and a headlamp, which wasn’t quite as cumbersome to run with as I thought it would’ve been.
The toughest part was the lack of sleep throughout the weekend. Even though as my van switched off from being the active group on the course, with all that it took to drive to the next exchange point and then changing into new clothes, combined with the preparation for the upcoming run and chatting with the other van about how everything was going, I got maybe four or five hours of sleep over the entire race.
Although technically teams are competing against one another, the entire feeling of of the weekend was a positive one, with teams from the other 315(!) vans cheering their running mates on. Vans would drive by me while I was running and I’d hear, “Good job, runner!”, “Keep it up!”, “Almost there!”, which was nice to hear toward the end of a near six-mile trip. Our group, Team IronCaps (like IronMan, but TinCaps themed) had runners of all skill levels, so we weren’t running for time, but rather for fun. The front of our shirts, which you can see above, says “RUN FTW” similar to the RUN DMC logo, except better, of course. (Big thanks to TinCaps Creative Director Tony DesPlaines for putting those graphics together.) When spending that much time with people in close quarters and sweaty clothes, you learn a lot more about people than you ever expected (or wanted) to, but I think it was great from a work perspective to get a closer bond with people in the office. During the baseball season I’m either in the press box or on the road and don’t get to spend as much time with my co-workers as I’d like, so this was a great bonding experience, too.
Another aspect of the Ragnar was the fitness incentives it provides. I remember back when April turned into May and the TinCaps had nearly a full day off in Peoria, Illinois, after a rain out in Burlington, Iowa. I was sitting in the hotel with nothing to do, knowing that this race was on the calendar for October (which seemed light years away at that point), and figured I’d give running a shot. I did run four years of cross country in high school, but never particularly enjoyed running. (Side note: I joined the high school cross country team by accident. Yes, by accident. My mother told me that the track team was looking for new runners and that my friend, John, was already on the team. Well, she was 0-for-2. Not only was in the cross country team and not the track team, but it was my friend John’s older brother, Bobby, who was on the team. So I joined not knowing anyone and never having run distance in my life. Thanks, Mom.) I did eventually get my friends to join and I enjoyed their company, but not the workouts. As I tried that day in Peoria to get back into running, I felt a miserable failure. I couldn’t run for more than 10 minutes without my shins hurting, my iPod playlist sucking, my breath disappearing and my hope fading. I thought I’d never make it.
Throughout the course of the summer and baseball season, I faced a daily battle: sacrifice a little bit of sleep after a 12 or 13-hour day at the ballpark or succumb to the glory that is the extra hour of sleep. Most days I gave in to the latter, but on the days that I did run, I was able to keep building my endurance and my distance. I ran in my own neighborhood, at Salomon Farm Park and at Swinney Park, trying to find a mix of familiar routes and new ones to keep the experience fresh. Hearing stories from my co-workers/teammates about their runs helped provide me with the necessary motivation to keep waking up early and trying to become a better runner. Like I said, I still don’t consider myself a runner (some of my teammates run every day), but I do feel a sense of accomplishment after this weekend. I’d never run 13 miles in such a short span, and am happy that I have that under my belt. Now the task is keeping up the fitness regimen moving forward, which I definitely plan on doing.
Here are a few more shots from the race:
If you ever have the chance to run a race like this, I highly recommend it. It’s a blast.
THE LATEST FROM THE PADRES IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
While there was running to be done on the East Coast, there’s baseball being played in the Dominican Republic. Last time we heard from infielder Maxx Tissenbaum about his experiences, and this time we’ll check in with perhaps a future TinCaps infielder, Ossian’s own Josh VanMeter, who is blogging his experiences for The Journal Gazette:
“First, let’s start with the weather. My only two words I really have for it is holy humidity. The thick air just drains the life out of you when you are out on the fields in the middle of the day. That’s has been a huge adjustment for me, especially coming form Arizona, where I spent my whole summer.
Secondly, just the culture of the island is so different. I have quickly learned that there is no way I would want to drive a car down here. It is absolute madness. I don’t think these people have ever heard of turn signals, and people must not see the red light cause they run through them like it’s their job.
Also, I have learned that the food is totally different than in America. Everything just has a slightly different taste. Early in the first week I had to revert to just eating my food as fast as I can, because some things just don’t taste very good. However, things are starting to taste a little better as I am beginning to get used to the food.
One of the big positives of being here, though, is that there is a beach down the road that is about a ten minute walk. It has really helped me work on my tan, because as a lot of baseball players know, the farmer’s tan is unreal right now.”
It could be worse, Josh. You might not be tan at all!
As for Tissenbaum, he recently wrote about some of the community service that the Padres are having their players do while in the Dominican Republic:
“Here I was, a Canadian kid standing in the middle of a Dominican school yard, holding court with a bunch of 12 year old peloteros. I told the friend I was a second baseman and a shortstop before becoming a catcher, and they both seemed a little confused (I wasn’t sure if they were confused as to how a big lumbering gringo could play the infield, or as to how a middle infielder becomes a catcher). We exchanged a few more quick baseball questions and answers and then it was time to leave.
As I walked back to the bus I felt so incredibly happy that I had been able to go in there and feel comfortable with the native language. I was extremely proud of all of the guys for putting in a really great effort with the kids, because going into the day I wasn’t sure how many guys were totally committed and on board with the idea of community service. Hell, I wasn’t really on board before I left, but when I got here and started to hear about the different activities I started to warm up to the idea. It was awesome to see the English and Spanish speaking players really come together to help a common cause, the school kids. It was very cool to see guys who normally exist in almost two entirely separate universes interacting to try and help one another figure out just how to get the job done.As I sat down on the bus I thought back to a conversation I had at the end of 9th grade at Crescent with my friend, and at the time, line-mate Robbie Mitchnick. We were going through our course selection for 10th grade and I had the choice between taking French and Spanish. I had always been good in French class so I quickly “bubbled” it in on the selection card. Robbie saw me do it and immediately stopped me and told me “you’re a baseball player. What are you going to do when your middle infield partner is a Spanish speaker and you can’t communicate. You’re taking Spanish with me.” I laughed and semi ignored the advice at first, but he insisted and eventually I erased the bubble beside 10th grade French and colored in the bubble beside 10th grade Spanish. Having been on teams with over 50% of the guys being Spanish speakers I can’t thank him enough for making sure I took Spanish. It has truly been a blessing to be able to communicate with those guys, and the kids at that school earlier this week. I’ve been able to trade stories and make friends with my Latin American teammates in a way that a lot of other guys haven’t. I’ve learned a lot about their lives, and the total difference in the two worlds we live in when we aren’t together on the baseball field.”
I talked with a friend of mine in the Padres front office who made the trip to the D.R., and he said it was an eye-opening experience for him, too. None of us from the United States can really picture where the players come from or the type of poverty they grow up with, he said. An important aspect to consider, he also mentioned, was that the players there don’t grow up with the organized structure of baseball we have here–little league, high school baseball, college baseball–so they miss out on lots of instruction, and they don’t get to regularly watch baseball on TV like we do. When the players show up in front of us at Parkview Field or other ballparks around the country, our expectations of them are the same as the American players–to perform at a high level. It sounds like this trip has been great on so many levels to help understand not just the foreign baseball culture of the D.R., but also where so many of the non-American players in MiLB and MLB come from.
J. Roddy Walston and The Business…take it away!
Greetings and Salutations, TinCaps fans of America!
Checking in from the corner of Ewing and Brackenridge, here’s an update at what’s going on in the world of TinCaps baseball. Since the season ended on September 9th, most players have returned home but some have shipped out to Instructional League, less formally known as “instructs”. It’s a chance for players to get more formal instruction than they do during the regular season, where on-field drills can only take place a few hours a day.
While instructs is usually held at the Padres facility in Peoria, Arizona, this year it’s being held in the Dominican Republic due to ongoing renovations at the Arizona facility. Corey Brock, the Padres beat reporter for MLB.com, wrote a feature on the camp’s temporary move and the role reversal it’ll present for English-speaking players traveling out of the country.
“It was born out of necessity, but one of the benefits of it is it will be a fantastic experience, baseball and otherwise, for everyone involved,” said Randy Smith, the Padres’ vice president of player development and international scouting.
“We will have everyone at the complex all day, we’ll be able to work with them and then we’ll also get them out to do some work in the community. We want to make this something they’ll remember. And they’ll get to see where many of their teammates come from.”
Most of the players are still in the lower levels of the Padres’ system, including two of the Padres former first-round Draft picks, left-handed pitcher Max Fried (2012) and outfielder Hunter Renfroe (2013).
Fried is considered the Padres’ top prospect, according to MLB.com. Renfroe comes in at No. 8.
Under Smith and his staff, the Padres have been out front on bridging the gap between Latin American players and their American counterparts. The team offered English language classes for players, which isn’t unusual, but has actually offered Spanish classes for staff and coaches to help communicate with players.
Now the Padres are taking many of their top prospects, roving instructors and coaches to their facility in Najayo, San Cristobal, to their 15-acre complex, which opened in 2008 at a cost of $8 million.
For many of the American-born players, this will be the first trip out of the country. That holds true for 18-year-old infielder Josh Van Meter, who was drafted in the fifth round this past June. Van Meter has only been to his native Indiana, Arizona and Florida before now.
“It’s going to be a humbling experience. A great experience, not just for baseball but culturally as well,” said Van Meter, who is from Ossian, Ind. “We ask the Dominican guys to come to America, now we get to see what their life is like.
“I think that that we grow up in a pretty good environment compared to a lot of those guys. It will show us what they have to go through to get here.”
According to Smith’s Twitter account, Van Meter, who could be in a TinCaps uniform next season, was hitting leadoff in the first instructional league game.
The Dominican Academy the Padres have serves as a crucial tool in trying to develop future Major League talent, and it’s an asset that not every Major League Baseball team has. It’s even more important for a team like San Diego to have this type of resource, since they can’t be big players in the free agent market every offseason.
What seems like a great experience, as Smith and VanMeter said, is for the English-speaking players to get to travel to the Dominican Republic and understand where many of their teammates come from. We rarely pause to consider how difficult it is for Spanish-speaking players to come to the United States and try to immerse themselves in our culture, all while trying to become better baseball players.
2013 TinCaps second-baseman Maxx Tissenbaum is at instructs this year and is in the process of being transitioned into a catcher. Last fall Tissenbaum was being auditioned at the corner infield spots, but he dropped weight during the winter with a strict dietary regimen and workout plan, and saw time at both shortstop and second this season.
He keeps a regular blog at Maxx54Padres.wordpress.com, and he’s started to chronicle his experiences down in the Dominican Republic.
First, I should show you this picture because the facility looks like it’s in a pretty scenic area. Please note the water on the horizon of the picture. (all photos credited to Maxx Tissenbaum):
“It was weird seeing the guys I’ve worked with for the longest time head out one way while I lumbered up a hill in gear to the bullpen. I took the third mound in and settled in behind the plate as the pitchers walked over and slowly picked a mound to throw off of. Somehow with all the guys I knew, both English and Spanish speaking, I ended up catching a kid I’ve never met before and a guy who speaks extremely limited English. Afterward I asked Bryan Rodriguez what the kids name was and found out it was Jaimito Lebron. He threw hard and relatively straight which was nice considering it was the first time I’d ever been in an environment where a line of pitchers fired balls to the catchers a la a firing squad.”
“I caught Bryan Rodriguez, one of the guys from Fort Wayne, and the only pitcher who specifically wanted to throw to me, albeit for a strange reason. Ever since he found out I was going to catch, B-Rod has wanted to throw to me to see if he could “break you thumb,” as he says. B-Rod throws hard and has natural arm side run, which is a pitch catchers can get in trouble with if they don’t rotate their wrist properly, its the pitch we get our thumbs jammed on. I managed to remember to roll my wrist and he was unsuccessful in his quest to break my thumb, but when he finished he came over and shook my hand (all bullpens finish this way) and gave me a pat on the shoulder and told me “good job man. You good as catcher.” I was pretty happy to hear that from a guy who had a very solid year in FW, and seems to be on the rise in our system.
After practice today all of the “American” (yes I throw myself in there, it’s more just the English speaking group) guys headed to the beach. Vladimir De La Cruz and Wilmer Santos acted as our local guides and came with us. De La walked us through the small village right near our complex, and I was amazed by the way we just sort of walked through the local peoples lives, we got to be in their world for the half an hour as we passed through. We saw children playing in the dirt, men playing cards and drinking outside of the little bodegas, and people just hanging around listening to music with nowhere to go and nothing to do.”
Although this re-location was born out of geographic necessity, I think it’s a great move by the Padres to bring players to the Dominican Republic to help foster a sense of empathy between teammates. English-speaking players will begin to learn more Spanish and will understand where their teammates grew up, while Spanish-speaking players will enjoy sharing their culture and the fact that their teammates now have to learn their language. I’m looking forward to more dispatches from Maxx over the next month.
Elsewhere in prospect-land…
Baseball America has released its list of the 2013 Top 20 Midwest League Prospects (you will need a subscription to read it) and the TinCaps were represented well with Max Fried (8), Zach Eflin (11) and Joe Ross (14). Even though you need to be a subscriber to read the whole piece, here’s what BA said on all of the Padres guys:
Fort Wayne boasted the most talented rotation in the league with four starters who are solid prospects. A 6-foot-4 lefthander, Fried has the highest upside of the four and he also may be the closest to the majors as well.
A high school teammate of Nationals righthander Lucas Giolito, Fried has a plus fastball that sits 91-93 mph and touches 95. His curveball was one of the best in the league and his changeup shows flashes of being an average pitch. He had the second-best strikeout rate among MWL starters at 7.6 per nine innings.
“I don’t think he’ll take long. He’ll shoot through the minors,” a second AL scout said. “He doesn’t have all that much to work on.”
Fried stood head and shoulders above the other pitchers in the Fort Wayne rotation, but Eflin might have been No. 2. Scouts were undecided. He combines a plus fastball with an above-average changeup and better feel than Joe Ross—though Ross has better pure stuff.
Eflin doesn’t show plus velocity as consistently as Ross, but at 88-94 mph, he has more than enough velo and he touched 97 in the past. His ability to sink, cut and run his fastball makes it an even more effective pitch. His changeup was one of the best in the league, with excellent arm speed that sells the deception. His breaking ball is an effective chase pitch, but he’ll have to prove he can throw it for strikes more often and keep it from getting too loopy.
Where Eflin likes to manipulate his fastball’s movement to get out of jam, Ross is more likely to simply hump up and throw a little harder. That run-through-a-wall approach leads some scouts to see Ross as a power reliever, but others see a future mid-rotation starter.
Ross’ 92-97 mph fastball is a plus pitch. He does a good job of getting downward plane on his fastball and working down in the zone, though it’s more of a pitch that generates groundballs than swings and misses presently.
Ross, whose older brother Tyson pitches in the majors for the Padres, matches that with a slider that shows good bite at its best and could end up as a plus pitch, but he also sometimes flattens the pitch out to where it has more of a cutting action. His changeup is less developed and adds to questions about whether he can stick as a starter. He also has to prove he can maintain his stuff deep into starts.
While I don’t agree that Fried stood out “head and shoulders” above the rest of the rotation, I think the rest of the assessments are pretty accurate. That’s not to take anything away from Fried, either; I just don’t think any pitcher was the clear ace for the duration of the season. Statistically speaking, Eflin had the best second half of any pitcher on the team with a 2.13 ERA and 42 strikeouts with 13 walks in 63.1 innings compared to Fried’s 3.38 ERA, 50K and 27BB in 64 innings.
Elsewhere, MadFriars, a Padres blog, named its player and prospect of the year for the TinCaps and surprisingly, there wasn’t a pitcher named to either spot. The player of the year? Alberth Martinez. And the top prospect (by majority decision)? Rodney Daal.
“MadFriars’ 2013 Fort Wayne TinCaps Player of the Year: Alberth Martinez
Top Prospect: Rodney Daal - David Jay and Ben Davey
Martinez is more likely to reach the majors – his versatility and defensive skills in the outfield make his path clearer – but Daal has a special bat that could help him be a better big-leaguer, if he gets there. The 19-year-old will need to put in the work to be able to stay behind the plate, but he has the tools to do it. As he gets more advanced coaching on footwork, his strong arm will play better in games. Watch for him to put up some impressive numbers in the Cal League as the Storm’s everyday catcher in 2014.”
On a traveling note, I made my first-ever visits to both Ohio State and Penn State to call volleyball for Big Ten Network. Here are a few shots:
That’s all for now. More news as it comes in, of course.
I’m headed to Bryan, Ohio, Wednesday afternoon to speak to their Kiwanis Club, and I’m expecting to see 2012 TinCaps pitcher Matt Wisler, who just won a Texas League Championship with the San Antonio Missions.
Although the TinCaps fell short in their pursuit of a second Midwest League title, the San Antonio Missions, the Double-A affiliate of the Padres, were successful in their quest for a Texas League title. The crown was the second for the franchise in three years and their third since 2007, when they began their affiliation with the Padres. This year’s Missions team was full of former TinCaps players, which helped fuel their ascent to the top of the league.
“They led the league with a 3.19 ERA, 50 saves, a .256 batting average and 171 stolen bases. No team hit fewer homers (85) or allowed fewer homers (93) than San Antonio.
And during their 10-game playoff run, the Missions allowed a total of 22 runs.”
Starting with the coaching staff, there were two former TinCaps there: hitting coach Jacque Jones, who was in Fort Wayne in 2012, and coach Chris Fetter, who played for the TinCaps in both in 2009 as a 23-year-old and in 2012 as a 26-year-old, and went into coaching this season.
Perhaps the names that are freshest in our minds are those players who were in Fort Wayne in 2012, like Matt Wisler, Austin Hedges, Lee Orr, Yeison Asencio and James Needy. Among these five, Wisler had the best season of all. He began the season in the California League, but only lasted all of six starts after posting a 2-1 record with a 2.03 ERA. In 31 innings he struck out 28 and walked six. At Double-A he made 20 regular-season starts and in 105 innings struck out 103 while walking 27.
In the playoffs, Wisler went 1-0 with a 0.56 ERA (1ER in 16IP), allowed five hits, walked five and struck out 13. Wow. He was the winning pitcher in game one of the championship series and pitched three innings of relief in game five to help close the deal. That was just the second time in Wisler’s career that he made an appearance out of the bullpen.
Hedges, like Wisler, began the season at Lake Elsinore. Anyone who’s paid any attention to the Padres farm system knows that Hedges is expected to speed through the ranks as one of the top catching prospects in all of Minor League Baseball. In 66 games with the Storm he hit .270 with four home runs and 30 runs batted in, and he moved to San Antonio in August, batting .224 with eight runs batted in over 20 games. He threw out 37% of baserunners at High-A and 18% at Double-A.
Let’s keep in mind that Wisler just turned 21 (September 12th) and Hedges is in the same boat, having turned 21 in August.
Meanwhile, Needy, the last of the pitchers, was only added to the Double-A roster at the beginning of the postseason on September 4th. He pitched 1 2/3 innings in relief and allowed one earned run. That advancement was a positive step for the 22-year-old Needy, who went 10-5 on a team that only won 61 games for the entire season. He also saw his innings take a nice bump up to 134 after pitching 95 1/3 innings the year before (87 1/3 of those in Fort Wayne).
Orr, who took over first base duties in May of 2012 for the TinCaps, held the same spot for Lake Elsinore from opening day until August 8th, his last day in a Storm uniform. In the California League (70 games) he hit .276 with 17 doubles, 10 homers, and 30 runs batted in. He saw action in 19 games with the Missions and hit .226 (14-62).
Another pitcher who helped the Missions stay alive in the playoffs was 2010 TinCaps pitcher Juan Oramas. In game four of the Texas League Championship Series, Oramas tossed six shutout innings and struck out seven, helping San Antonio force a decisive game five.
In that same game, with the Missions leading, 3-0, 2012 TinCaps rightfielder Yeison Asencio hit a bases-clearing triple to make it a 6-0 game. San Antonio hung on and won, 6-5. After winning the Midwest League batting title in ’12, Asencio hit .296 in the California League before earning a promotion to Double-A, where he played in 74 games and hit .261. During the post-season he was the league’s top hitter, going 14-36 (.389).
Here’s a list of other former TinCaps and their regular season/post-season stat lines this year at San Antonio:
Eddie Bonine (2004) 4-3, 3.76 ERA/1-1, 0.60 ERA, 15IP, 5BB, 6K
Matt Branham (2010, 2011) 4-2, 2.61 ERA/1-0, 2.70 ERA, 3.1IP, 5K, 1BB
Jose de Paula (2010) 4-6, 3.86 ERA/DNP
Josh Geer (2005, 2006) 8-5, 3.41 ERA/2-0, 1.64 ERA, 11IP, 9K, 1BB
Jeff Ibarra (2010, 2011) 3-1, 5.88 ERA/ 1.1 IP
Matt Lollis (2010) 1-3, 6.28 ERA/1.0IP, 1K
Jeremy McBryde (2008, 2010) 4-4, 2.35 ERA/0-1, 4.76 ERA, 5.2IP, 9K, 1BB
Rocky Gale (2011) .246, 1HR, 22 RBI/4-20, RBI
Jake Blackwood (2011) .259, 7HR, 61 RBI/8-37, 4 RBI
Cory Spangenberg (2011) .289, 2 HR, 20 RBI/11-44, 1 RBI
Jeudy Valdez (2009, 2010) .251, 10HR, 49 RBI/4-35
Rico Noel (2010, 2011) .266, 0HR, 41 RBI/11-43, 1 RBI
Everett Williams (2010, 2011) .257, 2HR, 31 RBI/0-6
MEANWHILE, IN TUCSON…
The Padres’ Triple-A affiliate was located in Portland, Oregon, from 2001 until 2010 as the Portland Beavers, and then was forced to relocate to Tucson, Arizona, on a temporary basis for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons. Well, the Tucson Padres three-year run has come to a close…maybe. The franchise was purchased in 2012 by MountainStar Sports Group, which now plans to move the team to El Paso, Texas.
The latest word in the situation is that the Padres could spend another year in Tucson if everything doesn’t go according to plan. Here’s more from the Arizona Daily Star:
The owners of the minor league baseball team, El Paso-based MountainStar Sports Group, have extended their contract with Pima County to use the Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium for another season.
The $70,000 contract, approved by the Pima County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, gives the yet-to-be-renamed Triple A team the option to play in Tucson for another season if their new stadium in El Paso isn’t ready for spring training.
The team was supposed to have played its “final” game in Tucson last Thursday.
The MountainStar Sports Group was already on the hook for $35,000 with the Pima County Sports & Tourism Authority, the built-in cost for not renewing last year’s contract.
He wouldn’t rule out the possibility the team could play in Tucson next year, at least for a few games, but said such a decision is several months away.
That said, things in El Paso are well underway. You can see the full extend of the operation at ElPasoTripleA.com. That’s one to keep our eyes on.
LOTS HAPPENING AT PARKVIEW FIELD
Here’s the setup at Parkview Field, which hosted a baseball game just 12 days ago, for K105′s Country Fest 2013, scheduled to take place tomorrow night:
The TinCaps staff has spent the last few days laying down the flooring for the concert, and the stage/sound/everything else workers have been busy today preparing the setup for the performers. The Journal Gazette wrote a piece on the concert in today’s paper:
“CountryFest marks a transition for the festival, which has been held at Headwaters Park since its inaugural year in 2008.
The concert is sold out, which breaks the attendance record for the festival and for a single-day event at Parkview Field.
David Michaels, program director of WQHK K105FM, says the festival has come full circle as platinum recording artist Gary Allan headlines the festival for the second time.
Singer-songwriter Craig Morgan and country duo Love and Theft will be featured acts, along with Katie Arminger, Bill Gentry and Charlie Worsham.
Mike Nutter, president of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, says the ballpark was designed to be a multifunctional facility and accommodate events other than baseball games. When Parkview Field opened in 2009, the venue was used for one concert that year, followed by two more concerts in 2010 and the Bob Dylan concert last year.
“A lot of work went into the design so that we could do this. A good goal for us is to have two or three major shows a year,” he says.
“We purchased $100,000 worth of flooring for concerts, which helps keep our field in good shape. It’s a little unique.”
Nutter says Parkview Field also offers a convenient location, close to a number of downtown locales for dining and shopping before and after events. He says once people visit for one event, the venue tends to win over people who wouldn’t consider themselves baseball fans.
“I’m a baseball guy, but things are changing. We’re attracting over 100,000 people with activities that have nothing to do with baseball. It helps (keep) the field rocking year-round,” he says.”
The ballpark will also host 98.9 The Bear’s Birthday Bash on Sunday (another concert) and Fort4Fitness, a road race with more than 10,000 runners the following weekend. Just because baseball is over at Parkview Field doesn’t mean that things are quiet!
Gary Allan…take it away!
With the TinCaps facing elimination in South Bend last week, I wondered to myself what my emotions would be like when the season officially ended. Would I be upset? Would I be relieved? Would I feel anything at all?
When the last out was recorded last Monday night at Coveleski Stadium, I felt more or less numb. On one hand, I had wanted to see this team win a championship (and, selfishly, wanted the experience of calling a few more games). At the same time, however, now I’d have a chance to go home to see my family and friends, most of whom I hadn’t seen since Christmas time.
It wasn’t until a few hours after the game when I finally felt something. You know, that something-in-your-stomach kind of feeling. I’d say it’s a feeling I often associate with realizing that something good, something you’ve been fortunate to have, has run its course, and you just have to accept it. In this case, it hit me when we got back to Parkview Field at about 1:00 a.m. and all the players and staff began to clear out their lockers in the clubhouse.
After seeing many of these guys on a daily basis for the last five-plus months, it dawned on me that I may never have the chance to see any of them again. Like ever. They don’t know where they’ll be assigned next year and I have even less of an idea where I’ll be.
The relationship for me as a broadcaster with the players/staff is far different from the relationships they have with each other. The bond isn’t comparable. But nevertheless, these are people – something I think too many fans forget, especially when we’re talking about major league athletes and “big time” college athletes – with stories you’ve gotten to know, and tell. People with personalities you’ve gotten to witness, and describe. People, who, for lack of a more poetic way of putting it, are just likeable, good people. And who doesn’t like likeable, good people?
So shaking hands and giving hugs brought pause in the wake of a 144-game season that nearly never stopped. And in that pause, I was left feeling grateful. Grateful for the chance to have met so many exceptional people, both in that clubhouse and outside of it, during my season in Fort Wayne and the Midwest League.
From Mike Nutter to everyone on down at the TinCaps, I don’t think I could have had a better home for my first full season in Minor League Baseball. I’ve been privileged throughout my life to have attended top-notch schools and to have worked around first-class people, and the TinCaps organization was no exception.
What makes Parkview Field so special, in my opinion, is that it’s not only first-class, it’s also fun. Sports are inherently fun, but somehow that gets lost some places. Not in Fort Wayne. While at times a baseball season can become monotonous, the TinCaps’ team of both full-time and part-time employees consistently brings a positive energy to the park, whether it’s Game 1 or Game 72. Nothing exemplifies the fun better to me than the Bad Apple Dancers. (My favorite BAD performance of the season below.)
Thanks to all those who contributed to the fun this season by coming to Parkview Field, reading It’s All Relative, and/or tuning in to our broadcasts. I owe much appreciation to Mike Maahs (as well as Kent Hormann for the times I filled in on TV) for helping to make it easy to feel welcomed in the broadcast booth. And the biggest thanks of all goes to Mike Couzens for offering me the opportunity to come to Fort Wayne in the first place. I didn’t necessarily have expectations for the season, but the six months far exceeded any hopes I could have had.