Apparently going to Las Vegas ain’t all it’s cut out to be.
That rings true for down-on-their-luck gamblers in Nevada’s Sin City, and for those going to play baseball in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The other Las Vegas.
That’s where TinCaps reliever Eric Yardley began his pro baseball career.
The drive from Yardley’s hometown of Richland, Washington, to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he lived in his first stop as a ballplayer collecting a paycheck, runs about 23 hours. Driving a packed Honda Civic, the lanky righthander twisted through Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Colorado, before arriving in New Mexico to start living the dream—or something like that.
“I get there and pull up to an old beaten-down house that has like 20 air mattresses in it,” Yardley said. “(The team) had two houses; one was a loft that was an old shop that was two stories, and then this frat house with air mattresses and a TV. I was told we had a home game the next day. A home game was an hour-and-a-half drive.”
Welcome to the good life.
Yardley was playing for the Taos Blizzard in the Pecos League, a non-affiliated circuit in which players sometimes earned $50 weekly paycheck.
“You just didn’t know if you were going to get paid that week or not. If you’re playing in that league, the money really doesn’t matter,” Yardley said. “You’re down there because you’re trying to extend the dream, but there’s a slim to none chance of that happening.”
Making it big is even harder to do when the team folds a few weeks into the season, and when that happens on the road and there’s no team bus to take players back to their frat house.
He ended up finding another Pecos League team in Colorado, the Trinidad Triggers. At least they had a bus.
“It was a school bus, that’s painted our colors because our colors happened to be black and yellow. All they had to do was put a black stripe on it,” Yardley said.
Fortunately for Yardley, who played in Trinidad with current TinCaps reliever Nick Mutz, his stint in Colorado only lasted eight games before he got a life-changing phone call.
Professional baseball, let alone Division-1 college baseball, almost didn’t happen for Yardley. Mostly a corner infielder in high school who pitched on occasion, he had visions of playing at a two-year community college, and ultimately getting a degree to become a math teacher.
“I like that it’s a definite thing…Two plus two equals four, but you can find several ways to get to it,” he says of math.
Yardley pitched fewer than 10 innings his senior year at Richland (WA) High School, but played American Legion baseball over the summer and pitched more there. Somewhere along the line, he caught the eye of Seattle University head baseball coach Donny Harrell, who was reviving the school’s baseball program as the athletic department transitioned back to Division-I.
“Eric was recruited as a 2-way player and as a pitcher – he was competitive – but was not able to put people away with the stuff and strength he had at the time for Division 1 baseball,” Harrell wrote in an email.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be a guy when I got (to Seattle University),” Yardley said. “I wasn’t going to be that guy who was going to come out of the program and play pro baseball. I was going to be a role player, try to be as mature as possible, and use those four years to finish up a baseball career and say I played college baseball.”
He made a combined 15 appearances over his first two seasons, walking 18 and striking out 15 in 30 1/3 innings. Heading into his sophomore year, he had tweaked a muscle in his back, which led to decreased velocity and results, as he puts it, that led him to perform below the level that both he and his coaches wanted. Playing with a collegiate team in Walla Walla, Washington in the summer of 2011, as is common for many high-level players to do, Yardley got a phone call from his Seattle U pitching coach Dave Wainhouse, a former Major Leaguer, who told him it was time for a change. Wainhouse, while watching the College World Series had been inspired by a submarine-style pitcher.
“(The University of) South Carolina had a guy who had dropped down and (Wainhouse) basically said, “If you want to play, this is what you’re going to do.” I thought, “I don’t want to be that weird. I can succeed at what I’m doing.”
Despite a few instances in which Yardley says he might have injured his throwing partner, he started to figure out the whole submarine thing after some practice and realized after getting some swings and misses, “This is a lot better than what I was.”
The baby boomer version of opportunity knocked. After all, that was the polite thing to do. The millennial version of opportunity, however, is an electronic interrupter that waits for no one. And when opportunity comes in the form of a phone call, it’s best to answer.
Fortunately for Yardley, he wasn’t quite asleep when his phone rang with opportunity on the other end.
“As I’m trying to change my alarm for an extra hour of sleep, the guy who scouted me in college calls, and I’m like “Hey, what’s up, Justin?”’
That would be Justin Baughman, a former Major Leaguer, who is the Pacific Northwest area scout for the Padres.
“We’ve got a spot for you if you want it,” Baughman told Yardley.
“Excuse me?” Yardley asked.
“A spot opened up for you. Can you get to Arizona?” was the reply on the other end.
Yardley was no longer living in Las Vegas, but instead was on the roster for the team in Trinidad, which it turns out for him happened to be the true “City of Second Chances”.
“The funny thing about that is he asked if I was in shape. He was still going off my college stuff, he didn’t even know if I was playing,” Yardley said.
When the 2013 MLB Draft rolled around in June, Yardley thought he might have had a slim chance on the second day when rounds three through 10 take place, and his best shot on the third day with rounds 11 through 40. Nothing.
“Eric was a lot easier to scout than you might think. He didn’t have overpowering stuff, nothing that jumps out at you. That’s probably the reason he wasn’t drafted,“ Baughman wrote via email. He is a hard guy to sell to your organization because his velocity is below (average) and his (curveball) isn’t all that sharp. But because he threw from the low slot he automatically has some value. What made me think that he could have success at the pro level was all based on stats, though. He was ranked in the top three in division 1 baseball in ground ball rate and he didn’t walk anybody.”
Through the first 60 games of Fort Wayne’s 2014 season, those numbers have continued to prove true. In 13 appearances spanning 17 2/3 innings, Yardley struck out 20, walked four, and averaged 6.2 ground balls outs to every one fly ball out.
“Strike throwers who get ground balls from a funky slot can be very good at any level. Of course, his coaches raved about his character and when I sign somebody after the draft for no money I want to make sure that he is going to be liked by the coaches. If he isn’t, a coach doesn’t have any incentive to play a kid that an organization hasn’t invested any money in. Eric just checked all the boxes for me as a guy who could hold his own and represent the Padres well,” Baughman wrote.
In truth, Yardley signed for $1,000 and a plane ticket to the Padres’ facility in Peoria, Arizona.
America’s growing gap of inequality doesn’t just tamper with the minds of trend-hound economists who study income and cable television talking heads. Its effects are also seen in baseball. Players selected on the first day of the draft each year expect to be drafted and have known for some time that they’d be professional baseball players. Their day-to-day existence on a 25-man roster is more certain, in part due to the organization’s financial investment in their careers. To a Major League Baseball team, $1,000 is a pittance.
Yardley’s older brother, Brian, played baseball at Gonzaga University, and Eric travelled with his parents to Brian’s final game of his collegiate career in 2010.
“I remember pretty vividly the 27th out of that game and seeing his reaction and seeing how everything….just kinda…it’s over, “ Eric said.
“There’s no way of fighting back for it. You don’t have the résumé. You don’t have anything to help you. It was tough seeing him end it and then move on but still have, in the back of his head, “What could I have done differently?” I don’t want this to end because I could have done something differently now that I’m in the system. I don’t want to look back and doubt what I could have done.”
Yardley is one of few submarine-throwing pitchers in Minor League Baseball, and takes every chance he can to watch those in Major League Baseball who throw the same way. He lists Brad Ziegler of the Diamondbacks and Darren O’Day of the Orioles as two players whose styles he tries to emulate. Even within the Padres farm system he has a sidearm compatriot in Adam Cimber, who currently pitches for the Advanced-A Lake Elsinore Storm.
“I was watching Ziegler when I was down in Arizona, and (the Padres) were facing the Dodgers, and the lineup he had to face for that inning was Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonazlez and Matt Kemp for a giant Dodgers team and he went through it like it was no problem,” Yardley said. “I had to focus on what his thought process was on each pitch. What did the throw there? Why did he throw it? That’s the best way to learn, really in any job, is anyone who is above you that does the same thing as you—what did he do to get there and how can I do it better than he does?”
After finding his way on to a Division-1 baseball roster, where he was twice named the team’s Cam Christian Award Winner, given to the team’s most outstanding citizen on and off the field, and then to independent baseball, Yardley is finally living out his dream, and he’s well aware of the privilege he’s been granted.
“I’ve changed and adapted to make it to this one spot to play Minor League Baseball. I’ve seen guys play for no money, if not pay for what they can do, to play in what is one of the worst leagues you could possibly play in for pro baseball. These guys are fighting to play so they can say they did it. Once I signed the contract with the Padres logo on it, anything and everything I can do to make this last as long as possible is what’s going to happen.”
The TinCaps arrived yesterday at Classic Park and found the tarp on the field:
And when they left Classic Park, the tarp was still on the field, having never been removed. Yesterday’s game was postponed due to rain, and today will be Fort Wayne’s first doubleheader of the season. The TinCaps are the only team in the Midwest League that has not played a doubleheader, while Peoria, at the top of the list, has played 10 of them, going an impressive 9-1 in those games.
The action today gets going at 6:00 PM, with two seven-inning games on the docket. Adrian De Horta will pitch in game one for the TinCaps, with Erik Cabrera set to go in game two. I’ll be on the air starting at 5:45 with the Hupe Insurance Services Pregame Show, and will carry you through until the final out of game number two. Walker Weickel has said he’ll join me between games for some fun conversation. I’ll talk to you on ESPN Radio 1380 in Fort Wayne or TheFanIndiana.com, heard round the world, especially in Liechtenstein, where the TinCaps have a pretty big following, I’m told.
TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST
Prior to yesterday’s washout, I spoke with Josh VanMeter, who scored the game-winning run Monday night at Parkview Field. We chatted about his 270-foot scamper, his off day, and how he feels at this point in the season:
Jake Peavy, now of the Boston Red Sox, is a former Fort Wayne Wizard. He pitched with the club in 2000 and has gone on to a long and successful MLB career, which is highlighted by a Cy Young Award in 2007 and a World Series ring last year.
In a recent article in the Providence Journal, writer Tim Britton dissects a start, inning-by-inning, with Peavy to understand exactly what the pitcher did and why he did it. I’ll share some excerpts with you. The full article is available here: Anatomy of a start: Peavy dissects his last outing against the Braves
First, Peavy talks about working toward a lineup’s best hitters:
“To Peavy, the two most dangerous hitters in the Atlanta lineup were Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton. That meant the three most important hitters for his purposes were the ones in front of that duo: ninth hitter Andrelton Simmons, and then Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton.
Peavy likened it to a game earlier that series against Atlanta, when the Braves’ Ervin Santana lost control of a 6-1 lead precisely because the biggest encounters of the game matched him with Boston’s two best hitters.
“The only way that the Boston Red Sox in that streak, with as bad as things are going and when nobody could get a big hit, was for him to get into the situation where he had to make pitches to Dustin Pedroia, and if he didn’t get him out, he had out best hitter [David Ortiz] with nowhere to put him,” Peavy said. “That was my whole thing with Heyward and Upton. We had to get those guys out in front of Freeman and Justin Upton.”’
On pitching inside:
“My biggest thing is, with my stuff at this point in time, I have to pitch in. If you don’t pitch in in this league, you’re not going to make it unless you have incredible stuff. Pitching in is not the most fun thing in the world. If you miss in, it’s always a ball; you never get called strikes in that are off the plate. Then if you miss a little over the plate, you’re throwing the ball where guys can drive the ball.”
“‘Shutdown inning’ is one of my favorite phrases,” he said laughing. “They’re like, ‘Come on, shutdown inning!’ and I go, ‘Yep, this inning is way different than any others where it’s OK to give up runs! This inning we really don’t want them to score!’
“I always laugh at the term shutdown inning, but it is. It is because of the momentum of the game. People are crazy if they don’t believe in momentum because there is such a thing. The team that has momentum, it seems like the good things go their way.
“Look at how we lost 10 straight. We could not catch a break. Now it seems the opposite. It’s important when you do score a run and have the momentum on your side to not give that up.”
It’s interesting, too, to hear how he dissects the individual matchups as the game goes along.
UNWRITTEN RULES PART II
Last week I linked to the Tim Kurkjian piece on unwritten rules in baseball, which was a detailed look at the not-for-print encyclopedia of codes that baseball players must follow. Now, former Fort Wayne Wizard (2004) Dirk Hayhurst, author of a few baseball books, has written a strongly-worded critique of Kurkjian’s piece. Hayhurst’s is titled: “A Major League Pitcher’s Guide to Baseball’s (redacted) Unwritten Rules“.
Hayhurst starts off acknowledging the Kurkjian article and what it lays out:
“I’ve heard all this stuff before, all throughout my playing days. Don’t run over the pitcher’s mound because it’s sacred ground. Don’t pimp home runs because it’s disrespectful to the game. Don’t throw inside unless you want one of your own players getting buzzed. Don’t do this or that unless you have enough service time under your belt, in which case do whatever you want.
None of the players passing along their wisdom seemed to realize that it was all completely arbitrary. No one came close to acknowledging, “You know, it’s stupid and none of us know where it came from, and before we go fracturing some poor rookie’s wrist because he looked too happy about going yard on a vet, we should really sit down and ask ourselves if the punishment fits the crime.”
and then gives an example of his perceived hypocrisy of the “rules”:
“Let’s say a young player shows up on a club. He’s a cocky, talented, overly expressive player. He’s on a team where the management doesn’t want to rein in its players’ exuberance, and he’s surrounded by older players that don’t care about how much showboating you do, as long as you do your job, all of them saying things like, “You can act however you want as long as you do your job. All that matters is winning.”
Now let’s say that team goes up against a team where, when young players make it to the bigs, they’re surrounded by veterans who think rookies should be seen and not heard, and if they step out of line, the older players are going to smack them back into it. Their chief tenet is, “You respect the game, you play it the right way, and until you’ve got three years in the show, you haven’t done anything yet.” What happens when that first team’s young player admires his home run? Is it his fault if his opponents get pissed?”
And then, the reasoning for why he believes it is a self-perpetuating tacycle:
“It’s not hard to see why the system endures. Young players, most of whom are just worried about keeping their jobs and fitting in, will pick an older player to emulate. They pretty much have to since if they don’t fall in line with a veteran’s whims, they will get labeled selfish. Those young players will eventually come into their own, and turn into older players themselves with rookies looking up to them. They’ll perpetuate their received wisdom about what “playing the game the right way” entails, and on it will go, cycle after cycle, players learning to play the game correctly as first laid down by God knows who, with the nonbelievers being summarily shunned.
You have to be fully indoctrinated to buy into this stuff, because the most common argument for the unwritten rules—Think of the children!—doesn’t stand up to examination. If kids actually followed baseball’s unwritten rules in everyday life, they’d end up in the principal’s office or in juvie.”
Hayhurst gives a few examples of players Kurkjian had spoken with and how they said the best way to have young players tone down their perceived arrogance is through retaliation. Hayhurst clearly disagrees:
“If being a humble servant of the game means holding on to grudges for years until the chance to exact revenge presents itself, then my moral compass is off. If being a selfless, I’m only hitting you with this 95 mph fastball because I love you guy is how you play the game the right way, I was happy to play it wrong. I gave up plenty of home runs, far more than I’d care to remember. More than a few of those dingers received the pimp treatment. It sucked, it was frustrating, and sometimes it pissed me off. But at no point did I think the proper response was to put another player’s career or health in jeopardy because I made a mistake and the hitter did what he’d trained all his life to do.
There were times I took my sweet time on the mound, smiling at hitters who had whiffed on a change-up, or got caught looking at fastball on the black. I’ve talked plenty of shit and received just as much in return, but that’s all harmless. When you start inventing rules for why it’s OK for you to hurt someone for making you look bad, you’re not a gamesman; you’re an egomaniac.
The best way to fix the system is to kill it. Baseball’s unwritten rules justify hypocrisy, stupidity, and injury. They are feud propellant. Ego lubricant. Complete and utter bullshit. And they’ve been around for so long now that no one even knows why they’re kept in service beyond the immature fear that the world would screech to halt without them. Well, three cheers for teaching our kids the importance of vigilantism. And God bless the first player to selfishly turn the other cheek.”
And I couldn’t agree more with what’s at the center of his argument. Take, for instance, the bench-clearing feud that happened between Fort Wayne and Lansing a few weeks back. Dustin Peterson had hit a home run, Erik Cabrera hit a Lansing player, and then Matt Dermody of Lansing hit Fort Wayne’s Dustin Peterson in the head? How does that make any sense. After the game, Peterson called the pitch “bush league”, noting that just a year ago, his older brother, D.J., a Mariners farmhand, had his jaw broken by a pitch. In the non-sports world, physical retaliation is subject to arrest. In baseball, maybe it nets you an ejection and a fine. As Hayhurst pointed out, with an appeal to civility, what kind of world is that to live in?
He also mentioned how pitchers and opposing teams would take offense to younger players like Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers celebrating when hitting a home run.
“When David Ortiz hits a home run, his leisurely trot around the bases is just shy of a professional wrestler’s ring entrance. The crowd goes wild, his bat is raised for the first three steps, pyrotechnics follow, music roars, somewhere a Yankee fan is being clobbered with a steel folding chair.
In Ortiz’s case, it’s all perfectly acceptable. Why? “Because he’s Big Papi,” says McCarthy. Adds Adam Jones: “If you have 50 career homers, then don’t celebrate like Cano or Big Papi or Soriano.”
Orioles slugger Chris Davis says of younger players, “Sometimes, you have to act like you’ve been there before.”
You mean, like Ortiz, who pimps his homers as standard operating procedure? He’s been there before hundreds of times, and I’m pretty sure he’s influenced lots of young stars who’d very much like to act just like their hero.”
And I’m perfectly OK with that. The struggles that Domincan and other foreign-born players endure to make it not only to the United States, but through the Minor Leagues, and ultimately into Major League Baseball if they are so fortunate, are innumerable. Being around those players every day, I’ve learned that they, for the most part, have a perpetual happiness about them, and we’re only in Low-A baseball. Why are they happy? Because they’re fortunate to be living a dream that so many players will never get to do. They’re excited to be here to be able to provide money for their family back home, and a million other reasons. So if they’re happy to be here, imagine how they feel upon hitting a home run. So, to the pitchers who don’t like it if another player celebrates–don’t give up the home run in the first place.
If the only reason for carrying on a tradition is because “that’s the way it’s always been done”, perhaps it’s time for a change. I believe British philosopher Bertrand Russell said it best: “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.”
As an avid proponent of small talk, I urge you to read this hilarious piece from The Onion: Man Updates Little Monologue Recited When Extended Relatives Ask How He’s Doing
OutKast…take it away!
Finest Wednesday greetings from Eastlake, Ohio, the home of the Lake County Captains. The TinCaps get back to work today after an off day yesterday–their first in 22 days–following an exciting, come-from-behind 4-3 win Monday night at Parkview Field.
You can re-live all the particulars of that one in this video recap:
Tonight the TinCaps face the Lake County Captains, the Midwest League affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. They won’t face any regular Class-A starting pitcher, though…they’re going to face MLB rehabber Zach McAllister, who has been on Cleveland’s disabled list since May 22nd with a strained lower back. More from The Morning Journal:
Two members of the Lake County Captains made their first appearances at Progressive Field on the afternoon of May 30.
Outfielder Brian Ruiz and catcher Shane Rowand were brought to the ballpark to be the hitters as Tribe pitcher Zach McAllister pitched a two-inning simulated game. McAllister threw 30 pitches in each inning.
“It went well,” said Manager Terry Francona. “He’ll take a day off, then throw on the side, and then two days after that he could go out on a rehab start.”
In past years when the TinCaps have faced rehabbing pitchers ,they usually never go more than a few innings. Captains pitcher Caleb Hamrick is scheduled to pitch following McAllister, and Lake County will be opposed by TinCaps righty Adrian De Horta.
Fort Wayne comes in with some good momentum, having won its last four series, dating back to May 22. However, in the series that preceded that, the TinCaps were swept here at Classic Park, getting outscored 20-10 over a three-game set. Surely, revenge will be on their minds.
Midwest League President George Spelius announced the Midwest League All-Star Game roster today, and it includes three members of the TinCaps:
Outfielder Mallex Smith
Pitcher Tayron Guerrero
Pitcher Nick Mutz
Congrats to those three, who will travel up to Comstock Park, Michigan, the home of the Whitecaps, to represent Fort Wayne in the 50th Midwest League All-Star game on June 17th at Fifth Third Ballpark. Don’t forget that you can hear that game on ESPN Radio 1380.
For the full roster and press release from the league, click here.
THE POWER OF POSTAGE
Doc Emrick, widely regarded as the best hockey play-by-play broadcaster of this era, is best known for his vocation. However, what people might now know about him is something that he’s doing every day involving a pen, paper, and 49 cents. From USA Today:
“NBC’s lead NHL play-by-play man is writing a letter every day to a person who had an impact on his life. The recipients of the daily notes range from longtime producers and analysts to long-ago high school classmates, neighbors and people from his early jobs in the business.
“There’s so much that people did for you along the way that they probably thought was nothing at all,” Emrick said. “I wanted to tell them what it meant to me. It seemed like something that needed to be done.”
It’s not all too long of a story to check out, and it makes me smile when I read it. Think about how much mail you get in a given week, and how much of it goes directly into the garbage:
-New Pizza Place! TRASH
-Get this Super Airline Credit Card! TRASH
-20% off to Bed Bath & Beyond TR…Actually, no I might need that.
But when you get a letter, a real, hand-written, hand-addressed, letter from someone, it says something. It says that they cared enough about you to take time out of their day to stop what they were doing and write something to you because you mean that much to them.
I get a letter, usually once a week, from my grandparents, who I will have the pleasure of visiting over the All-Star break, and it is consistently the best part of my day when I open my mailbox to something from them, because it’s always a handwritten letter. I now find joy in writing cards and letters, too. There’s something special about it, especially the hope that the recipient will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Be kind to one another, folks. Life is short.
Lorde…take it away!
We’re going to change things up here today. Rather than conclude our post with our “Musical Guest” as we usually do, we’ll start that way. This will also suffice as our recap of Sunday’s TinCaps-Whitecaps game.
So, yeah, Fort Wayne lost 19-1 — the most lop-sided loss in the franchise’s 21-plus-year history. If you are a masochist, though, you can see some of the carnage below. Viewer discretion is advised.
Given how this was Bark in the Park Day, this fan put it best…
BIG LOSS, BIG FUN
Joking aside, Sunday was actually a perfect example of why Parkview Field is such a great experience for fans. In 2014, there’s far more to a baseball game than just a baseball game. Besides dogs roaming in the outfield, it was also Stitch N’ Pitch Day, drawing in a group of knitters and quilters who you’d probably put on a Venn diagram with baseball fans — TinCaps being in the overlapping part of the circles.
For kids, there’s the rock-climbing wall and inflatables in the Kids Zone, plus the batting cage area with radar gun to test how fast they can throw. Even on a day when the team lost by 18 runs, you have to admire how all of the TinCaps’ players still signed autographs on the field following the game.
Unique to yesterday, former Brooklyn and LA Dodger Carl Erskine performed both the National Anthem and Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch on his harmonica. Carl, who’s from Anderson, Indiana, is 87!
Again, even though it was a tough day for the TinCaps on the field, it was a special sight to see Carl — a man who threw two(!) no-hitters in his career, was an All-Star in 1954, and a World Series champ in 1955 — go into Fort Wayne’s dugout and shake hands with the team. Erskine, who has a biography worth reading, was born in 1926. TinCaps players were born between 1990 and 1995. Yet, the game unites them. It was cool to see Carl show the interest in Fort Wayne’s young players, and, simultaneously, see the TinCaps’ players shrug off a bad day and show respect for a former great.
While we have pointed out how historically bad the TinCaps were on Sunday, let’s not forget that going into the game, Fort Wayne was playing its best ball of the season. The TinCaps had won eight of 10 entering yesterday, and tonight still have a chance to win their fourth consecutive series.
Take a listen to Mike Maahs’ conversation with manager Michael Collins from before Sunday’s loss.
MUSICAL GUEST PART DEUX
Couldn’t resist the chance to go with the alternate version of “Wrecking Ball.” (By the way, how is their not a Bruce and Miley mashup?) Ms. Cyrus, take it away…
The clash of the TinCaps and Whitecaps concludes tonight at 7:05 on XFINITY Channel 81 and
The Fan 1380 ESPN Radio 1380 #rebrand.
For more bad dog puns, and coverage of the TinCaps, follow @John_G_Nolan on Twitter.
Last time we talked before Saturday night’s game at Parkview Field, we detailed how Fort Wayne would be running on fumes after driving home from Bowling Green through the night. Just about 14 hours after arriving home around 5:30 a.m., the TinCaps took the field against Wild Card-leading West Michigan. Things looked even bleaker once Fort Wayne fell behind 5-0.
But wouldn’t ya know, for the second time in four games, the TinCaps overcame a five-run deficit and won — in walk-off fashion! We’re not big on using exclamation points around here, but, when you have a sell-out, standing-room only crowd of 8,136 fans on hand enjoying idyllic weather and even throw in some fun entertainment from BirdZerk!, it’s hard not to be excited.
The TinCaps have now won four in a row at home and finished May 9-1 at Parkview Field. Fort Wayne is the hottest team in the East Division right now having won eight of its last 10. There’s a lot to say after such a wild win, so we’ll let Mike Couzens and Dave Doster get to it in last night’s postgame recap, including video highlights.
Here’s how our call of Dustin Peterson’s game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth sounded on radio.
Mike Maahs — prophetic once again. Do we call that The Solo Shot That Came To Fruition? (Listen to this if you’re confused.)
And below, you can take a listen to Adolfo Reina’s walk-off home run.
To elaborate on how improbable it was for Adolfo to be the “hero,” consider that on May 31, 2013, he was at Parkview Field as West Michigan’s backup catcher. The 24-year-old from Venezuela hadn’t hit a home run in 124 games. Not since August 25, 2012 when he was playing for Detroit’s Advanced-A affiliate in the Florida State League, the Lakeland Flying Tigers.
You’d figure Adolfo would feel some extra satisfaction after beating his old team with a walk-off longball. But, you’d be wrong. He told the Journal Gazette‘s Chris Goff following the game that it was “just business.”
So how do you celebrate such a win? If you’re relief pitcher Justin Livengood, you do this…
Move over, Michael Jackson Hologram.
For those who couldn’t pull off moonwalking, there were other ways to celebrate.
By the way, with the Family Campout after the game, that changes the postgame routine for the TinCaps Cleanup Crew, who had to come in extra-early today to get set for a 3:05 game. Yet, the stadium is still sparkling right now on another magnificently sunny day. Props to Donald Miller & company.
There’s even more #BIGFUN in store today. It’s Bark in the Park, meaning dogs will be welcomed for fans who purchased Pooch Passes in advance. It’s also Stich N’ Pitch Day, so fans of knitting, quilting, etc., will be doing their thing while taking in the game. Hopefully someone knits a glove in case a foul ball comes their way. What more? Former Brooklyn/LA Dodger Carl Erskine will be here to perform the National Anthem and lead the Seventh Inning Stretch on his harmonica. And for the kids, players will be signing autographs on the field after the game. We’re looking forward to another crowd of more than 6,000 fans.
With Bark in the Park on the brain, Florence and the Machine, take it away…
Hope ya can join us this afternoon either on TV (XFINITY Channel 81) or radio (The Fan 1380). And as always, would love to hear from you in the comments or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan. Thanks for reading!
The TinCaps arrived back in Fort Wayne this morning from Bowling Green around 5:30 a.m. That’s not a typo. That’s what happens when a game is scheduled at 7:05 CST (8:05 EST) in South Central Kentucky on a getaway day. The drive from Bowling Green to Fort Wayne is about 6.5 hours long. Making it even harder to fall asleep on the midnight bus from a state two north of Georgia is that the TinCaps coughed up a 6-1 lead through 4.5 innings and lost 9-6 to the Hot Rods. A win would’ve been their sixth in a row and a second straight series sweep. Here’s the game story.
Now, just about 13.5 hours after getting off the bus, Fort Wayne welcomes West Michigan to Parkview Field for the start of a three-game series. Today is what’s known in baseball as a “show-and-go.” TinCaps players won’t be arriving to the yard until 4:30 at the earliest. A typical day would see the clubhouse open at 1:30. As my favorite college professor John Nicholson says, “Sleep is not overrated.”
Success for the TinCaps tonight will be about making adjustments from the routine. One guy on the roster who’s well-versed in following an unorthodox path is submarine-throwing reliever Eric Yardley. Take a listen below to Mike Couzens’ conversation with Eric from yesterday. You’ll learn how Eric has gone from planning not to play baseball in college to becoming a two-way player to having to radically change his throwing motion to going undrafted to pursuing a career as a teacher to playing in Las Vegas (but not the fun one) to how he wound up in Fort Wayne. It’s an interesting conversation to say the least.
Eric and the TinCaps look to keep rolling at Parkview Field now. Fort Wayne is 8-1 in its home ballpark in May, coming off a 5-1 homestand from the 22nd-27th that concluded with a sweep of Dayton. Click here for details on all kinds of BIG FUN at the ballpark these next three days.
And to catch up on some recent BIG FUN here, check out this video from Star Wars Night in which TinCaps players show off their knowledge (or lack thereof) of Star Wars characters.
Also from the last homestand, TinCaps Ticket Account Manager Austin Allen, or as you may know him better, Bad Apple Dancer Flava-A, wore a GoPro camera during a BAD performance. So Bad Apple Dancers featuring Demi Lovato, take it away…
What song would you like to hear the Bad Apple Dancers perform to next? Let us know in the comments section or on Twitter @John_G_Nolan. Coverage of the TinCaps and Whitecaps tonight can be found on The Fan 1380 starting at 6:45 and on XFINITY Channel 81 beginning at 6:30 with The Leadoff Spot. Hope you can join us, and thanks for reading.
Another night and another win for the TinCaps. Last night Fort Wayne defeated Bowling Green, 3-2, with Josh VanMeter’s seventh-inning solo home run making the difference. Click here to read the game story.
Here are today’s headlines:
A TinCaps Win Would: Extend the team’s season-long winning streak to six games… Be their eighth in their last nine games…Be their first road sweep.
Twelve Months of Change: Leadoff hitter Mallex Smith raised his average to .302 with a 2-for-5 night Thursday, bringing it above .300 for the first time this season. Smith leads MLB and MiLB with 39 stolen bases, too. Compared to his numbers from 2013 through 50 games, he has drastically improved in almost every category.
2013 (June 20th): .251 AVG, .351 OBP, 24 BB, 22 K, 25 SB
2014: (May 30th): .302 ABG, .401 OBP, 32 BB, 41 K, 39 SB
Smith also currently leads the league in runs (44) and is T-4th with 61 hits.
He’d Lead the League, But…: First baseman Jake Bauers, the youngest player in the league, is 23 plate appearances shy of qualifying for the league batting lead, but would have a hefty advantage if he did qualify. The 18-year-old is hitting .352 (.370 in May), which places him .010 points ahead of current MWL batting leader Paul Hendrix of Lake County (.342). Bauers’ on-base-percentage of .430 would rank fourth, as would his slugging percentage of .533.
No Mutz, Tail End Still OK: In last night’s game, someone other than Nick Mutz recorded a TinCaps save for the first time in 2014, as Tayron Guerrero picked up his first of the year, and just the second of his career, with the first coming in 2010 with the DSL Padres in his first pro season. Guerrero reached 100 MPH on the radar gun. In his last 13 1/3 innings (9G), he has allowed 7 hits, 1 ER, 3BB, and struck out 17.
Five Games, Now Six, Will Ya Give Me Six?: A win tonight for the TinCaps would be their sixth straight, matching the six in a row they won at the tail end of a nine-game winning streak last year, that stretched from June 2 to June 11.
Tonight’s broadcast gets going at 7:45 ET with first pitch scheduled for 8:05 ET in Bowling Green, Kentucky. You can hear the game on The Fan 1380 in Fort Wayne and on TheFanFortWayne.com everywhere else, including in Burma, where the TinCaps are a massive hit.
WHO’S THE NEW GUY?
I gave a primer on tonight’s starter, Ronald Herrera, yesterday, but here’s a little bit more on him via The Afroed Elephant:
“Ronald Herrera has made waves through the short season competition and gained noteriety for his success as he additionally has made a bid to be the successor to the Alcantara crown for most elite international arm below Stockton. The 18 year old who signed for a meager five figure sum out of Venezuela instantly dug out a soft spot amongst the Oakland coaching staff for his monotonously consistent delivery upon the mound and elite control of his offerings, between a low 90’s FB, curveball and changeup. Nothing amongst Herrera’s repertoire is mindboggling or excessively plus such as Paulino’s changeup, but his composure and accurate placement allowed him to bully his AZL competition this past summer to the tune of a 19.6% K% (58 K), 3.7% BB% (11 BB), and a 0.38 HR/9 (3 HR) in his 70 2/3 AZL innings which culminated in a 2.70 FIP in his first US opportunity. The performance was enough to convince management to provide Herrera with an additional two starts in Vermont, where he went 7 2/3 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 8 K to conclude his season. The diminutive 5’10” righty often succumbed to his high groundball rate which ought to even out as he is surrounded by more advanced infielders behind him, and should play as a plus attribute upon arriving in dinger susceptible areas such as Beloit and Stockton. With a command often unseen in youngsters his age, Herrera has the ability to rush through the system and could possibly project more so in a long relief role for the Athletics.”
TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST
I spoke with catcher Ryan Miller prior to Thursday’s game about his go-ahead home run, what it’s like playing in humid weather, and his latest iPad fascination:
FROM WHERE I SIT
Below you’ll find my view during games at Bowling Green Ballpark. Discerning balls and strikes becomes America’s favorite play-by-play guessing game called, “Inside or Outside?”:
Also, I am so close to the third-base bag that when Ryan Miller was rounding third after his home run on Thursday night, he told me he could hear me talking about back-to-back home runs. Ya hear that, Arbitron, add another listener to the ratings!
AN APPEAL TO REASON
While I was at breakfast this morning, I was scanning my Twitter feed on my phone, and came across the phrase #ShockTheWorld. I might be wrong with my capitalization, though, as it was likely not capitalized, being on Twitter and all. The phrase has become popular with fans of sports teams that are not favored to win games or tournaments in which they play. For some reason, I distinctly remember it being used by the Norfolk State men’s basketball team in 2012 when it knocked second-ranked Missouri from the NCAA tournament. I write today to ask one thing:
The use of #ShockTheWorld is incredibly ignorant and ridiculously misplaced in the context of sports. The United States, a population of approximately 300 million, makes up just 4% of the world’s population. The world’s most popular sport is soccer, not basketball, not baseball, not football– arguably the three most popular sports in the United States. Although, yes, the phrase may be used as hyperbole, sports fans can do better.
In a world where countries have debt crises, severe income disparity, food shortages, lack of access to healthcare and education, and political instability, among many other things, let’s vow to never use such an inane phrase again as it pertains to sports.
Sports are important to me. Working in sports is how I make a living, and it’s also the livelihood for thousands of other people around the country, too, but at the end of the day–it’s just a game. The outcome of any game has no effect on the world around us. Let’s not forget to keep that in mind as college sports postseason tournaments roll around, in addition to the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals.The world won’t be shocked no matter who wins, because most of the world isn’t even aware there are people playing.
Phillip Phillips…take it away!
With an exciting, come-from-behind 12-7 win Wednesday night, the TinCaps have extended their winning streak to a season-best four games. Once down, 7-2, Fort Wayne scored ten unanswered runs, getting six in the sixth and four in the seventh to bury the Hot Rods at Bowling Green Ballpark. It was a powerful display of offense which counted three home runs–one from Fernando Perez, Jake Bauers and Ryan Miller–in a 14-hit attack. The home runs from Bauer and Miller were the game-changers, as Bauers’ homer tied the game and Miller’s which came in the next at-bat, gave Fort Wayne the lead for good. Here’s how they sounded:
As I mentioned in the tail end of the call of the Miller home run, it was the first time the team had hit back-to-back home runs in nearly two years. The last time it happened was May 26, 2012, when Lee Orr and Yeison Asencio hit consecutive longballs. Strangely enough, that game was also against the Hot Rods, but the TinCaps lost, 11-2.
Tonight the TinCaps send Erik Cabrera to the hill as they try and extend their winning streak to five games. It would be the first time Fort Wayne has won five straight games since the tail end of a nine-game winning streak last season, which ran from June 2 to June 11. First pitch is at 8:05 ET on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com.
Yesterday the TinCaps placed infielder Chase Jensen on the disabled list, and brought aboard all-name team infielder River Stevens. Find out about him here:
Today, they placed pitcher Coby Cowgill on the disabled list, and pitcher Ronnie Herrera was assigned to Fort Wayne. Herrera, if you’re not familiar with the name, was just named as the Player to Be Named Later in the May 15 trade between San Diego and Oakland that sent outfielder Kyle Blanks to the A’s in exchange for a minor leaguer.
Here’s the preseason scoop on Herrera, from the interestingly named A’s blog, The Afroed Elephant:
“The 18 year old Herrera, following his $20,000 signing in 2012, has burst forth to relevance and become a consensus top 25 Athletics prospect with a sound delivery and precise pitch placement that made him one of the most feared AZL arms throughout the league prior to his promotion to Vermont for a brief two outing tenure. Now competing for a Snappers post, Herrera’s remarkable breakthrough makes him one of Oakland’s most sought after farmhands, not turning 19 until May 3rd.
Featuring as one the breakout performers throughout the entirety of the organization in 2013, Herrera shot out of obscurity and onto the A’s radar with his phenomenal stateside debut in the AZL that produced a two start stint with Vermont to conclude his campaign and now places him squarely in consideration for a coveted Beloit rotation position entering 2014. Only but a diminutive 5’10”, 170 pounds, Herrera initially inked for a modest sum in 2012 and was flown from his Venezuelan home to the Santo Domingo academy to contribute to the DSL squad as a 17 year old and fared well between 58 1/3 IP, constructing a 44:20 K/BB and permitting a lone dinger in a season that caught the attention of the A’s and convinced them to ship Herrera out to the instructional league. The 18 year old wound up remaining domestically in what would be a AZL berth that saw him mixed into the Papago rookie league rotation, and inbetween his 14 appearances (9 starts), Herrera would bomb past collegiate draftees and advanced international batters en route to one of the most dominant stretches of any AZL/GCL pitching prospect in 2013. This was enough to convince the A’s to push Ronnie even further to Vermont to make a two appearance debut with the Lake Monsters. Overall, he would battle through 78 1/3 IP with 66 strikeouts recorded, 13 walks allowed, and three dingers surrendered during his year that now has the organization considering stitching his name onto a Snappers uniform this May.
Born on 5/3/1995, Herrera is the second youngest player within the organization currently housed within the states (Chris Kohler born 5/4/1995) and would be 18 for the first month of the MWL schedule, a full five months younger than when Alcantara began in Burlington as a 19 year old in 2012. Similarly to Alcantara, Herrera has received acclaim for his precision and possesses a pinpoint changeup, mature curveball and a fastball that can graze 95 MPH despite pitching consistently at 88-92, accompanied by a tendency to keep the ball towards the lower portions of the strike zone that has resulted in plus groundball rates. The Maracay native wowed during this previous September in the instructional league and has the A’s minor league coordinators raving about his potential, so no matter how skeptical you are, Herrera is an absolute must know prospect for Oakland fans. And he, alongside Gregory Paulino, is in all likelihood the next Alcantara/Ynoa down on the farm. Should he not be granted with a shuttle to Wisconsin, he’ll commence in Vermont and undoubtedly receive some sporadic Beloit attempts after his 19th birthday in August.”
According to Corey Brock of MLB.com, Herrera will start for the TinCaps tomorrow in the series finale against Bowling Green.
If you were wondering what goes on behind the scenes with a Player to Be Named Later situation, fear not…so was I. So I emailed Padres Director of Player Development (colloquially, the farm director) Randy Smith, who is a former MLB General Manager, to find out more about that.
As he explained it, a Player to Be Named Later is very similar to acquiring a player in a normal trade. The decision is made based off of evaluations from the pro scouts the Padres employ, and analysis from the front office. It’s not uncommon for the two teams in this type of a deal to have a list of a few players that could be that PTBNL, and then have a period of time for further evaluation before a final decision is reached.
Thank you, Randy, for the good explanation.
TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST
Before yesterday’s game I talked with TinCaps starter Walker Weickel, who had pitched his best start of the year Tuesday morning at Parkview Field:
One of my favorite corners of the internet is the On Leadership blog done by The Washington Post. I’m always curious about different styles of leadership and why people in those positions do what they do. The blog recently talked with Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. He says:
“One of the keys to being a CEO is communication. In the early days of Twitter, we just assumed that since we were all sitting in the same room we were all on the same page, so we didn’t really need to communicate that much. It turns out we were totally wrong. That was one of the reasons why Twitter’s service was constantly breaking in the early days.
With this new company I’ve founded, Jelly, it’s the first time I’m CEO. I now realize that half the job of being a good leader is making sure everyone knows everything at all times that they need to know, because it’s human nature to fear the unknown. And in the business world, fear translates to the assumption that something’s going wrong. If you don’t hear anything, you assume the worst.
So in my new role, I try to over-communicate as much as possible. Every Sunday I spend three hours writing the ups and downs of the week, and I send it to the board and all the employees and anyone who’s an adviser or stakeholder. I have Monday morning meetings, Friday afternoon meetings, as much communication as I can possibly have. Probably too much. But I’ve found that it’s a critical component to being a leader — that and some humor.”
It gets a little more tech-centric as it goes on, but still some interesting insights.
Led Zeppelin…take it away!
A very pleasant good afternoon, and greetings from Bowling Green Kentucky, home to Western Kentucky University and the Midwest League’s own Bowling Green Hot Rods. Tonight at 8:05 ET, the TinCaps open a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays’ affiliate, as the two square off for the first time in 2014.
The Hot Rods, who joined the Midwest League in 2010, along with the Lake County Captains, are currently 24-27, which puts them two games ahead of the TinCaps at 22-29. Bowling Green has a new manager this season, Michael Johns, who, like the previous manager, Jared Sandberg, managed at Short-Season Hudson Valley (NY) before coming to South-Central Kentucky.
Meanwhile, the TinCaps have won five of their last six, including a three-game sweep over Dayton in their most recent series, which culminated in a walk-off win yesterday afternoon at Parkview Field:
Here are today’s headlines:
A TinCaps Win Would:Set a new season-long winning streak of four games… Be their sixth in their last seven games… End an eight-game road losing skid.
Last Time They Met: The TinCaps eliminated the Hot Rods from the postseason in 2013. Fort Wayne swept Bowling Green, 2-0, in the East Division’s Semifinals. The result was something of a surprise after the Hot Rods, who won the second half with a 44-26 record, took 10 of 15 regular season meetings against the TinCaps, who sputtered to the tune of a last-place, 29-41 finish. On Fort Wayne’s current roster, only Mallex Smith (4-for-8, 3 R, RBI, BB) and Luis Tejada (1-for-7, 2B, R, 2 RBI) played in the series.
Walk-Off This Way: Thursday’s walk-off win was Fort Wayne’s third of the season. Previously, Dustin Peterson had a walk-off single to beat the Peoria Chiefs in the bottom of the ninth inning, 6-5, on April 19. José Carlos Ureña had a game-winning fielder’s choice groundout on April 29 in a 10-inning, 7-6 win over the Great Lakes Loons.
Eeking It Out: Prior to Thursday, the TinCaps had dropped their previous five games decided by one run, including three walk-off losses. On the season now, Fort Wayne is 5-7 in one-run games. It hadn’t won such a contest since eeking out a 1-0 win at Lansing on May 6.
Makin’ Bucks, Gettin’ Exercise, Workin’ Outside: The TinCaps completed their six-game homestand with a 5-1 record and have won eight of their last nine games at home. Their 16-10 home mark is the second-best in the Midwest League’s Eastern Division, only behind South Bend, which is 17-9 at Four Winds Field. Fort Wayne also drew crowd in excess of 6,000 five of the last six days, for an average attendance of 6,491. Thursday’s crowd of 7,158 was the largest in Class-A and third-largest in all of Minor League Baseball.
One for the Road
While on the bus down to Kentucky today, I enjoyed an article in The New York Times on the Division-III coaching roots of San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, especially this note about the conference in which he once coached, the Sciac:
“Popovich was one of the few coaches to leave the Sciac. The conference’s coaches earn a salary in the range of $80,000 to $120,000, comparable to that of many Division I assistants, and are free of the headaches of recruiting and the grind of travel that are present at other levels. Administrations, concerned more with academic success than winning, rarely push out coaches.
Eslinger, who completed his sixth season at Caltech, is the new kid on the block; six of the nine coaches have been at their posts at least 16 seasons. Mike Bokosky, who has been at Chapman for 22 years, does not have a cellphone. Occidental Coach Brian Newhall has been around for 27 seasons, long enough to have coached against Popovich.
“It’s the no-turnover league,” said Rich Rider, in his 19th season at California Lutheran after working as an assistant at Boise State. He is one of two coaches in the league with a doctoral degree.
Coaches in the Sciac wear many hats. Redlands Coach Jim Ducey also coaches tennis. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Coach Ken Scalmanini teaches two classes and serves on committees for academic standards and work-study programs. And Charlie Katsiaficas, who succeeded Popovich at Pomona-Pitzer, is the chairman of the athletic and physical education departments.”
Sports for fun, it seems. What a concept.
Calvin Harris…take it away!
Break up the TinCaps. Or at least the Parkview Field version. Fort Wayne won at home for the sixth time in seven games on Monday, 14-9, over the Dayton Dragons. That improves the team’s record at home on the season to 15-10 (3-1 on the homestand), which is the third best mark in the Midwest League (second in the East Division).
Mike Couzens and Kent Hormann recap the offensive eruption below.
Some numbers of note from the TinCaps’ win…
* 7th time this season the team scored 10+ runs in a win (6th time at Parkview Field); Fort Wayne has scored 10+ runs in three of its last nine games.
* Fort Wayne now leads the Midwest League in runs scored (272 in 50 games for an average of 5.4/game). So how is this team still eight games below .500? Well, unfortunately for the TinCaps, they also lead the MWL in runs allowed (300, or 6.0/game). On top of that, Fort Wayne has also committed the most errors in the league and all of the Minors for that matter (99; 1.9/game).
* They’ve won consecutive series for the first time all season.
* The 3, hour 26 minute-game was the longest nine-inning contest of the season, eclipsing April 19’s 15-10 win against Peoria by three minutes. Twenty-three of the game’s 26 runs were scored in the first five innings, which took about 2.5 hours.
* Five guys hit a double. That’s the second time in four days that the team has hit a season-high five two-baggers.
* On an individual front, it was the second time in four days that Mallex Smith scored four runs in a game.
Jake Bauers had an RBI-single on Monday, as the 18-year-old hit cleanup for the first time as a TinCap. We talked with Jake before the game about why he thinks he’s thrived in Fort Wayne and how he approaches being the youngest player in the Midwest League.
FAKING CULTURAL LITERACY
Not that we’d know anything about this, but Karl Taro Greenfeld hits a proverbial home run with his take on “Faking Cultural Literacy.”
What we all feel now is the constant pressure to know enough, at all times, lest we be revealed as culturally illiterate. So that we can survive an elevator pitch, a business meeting, a visit to the office kitchenette, a cocktail party, so that we can post, tweet, chat, comment, text as if we have seen, read, watched, listened. What matters to us, awash in petabytes of data, is not necessarily having actually consumed this content firsthand but simply knowing that it exists — and having a position on it, being able to engage in the chatter about it. We come perilously close to performing a pastiche of knowledgeability that is really a new model of know-nothingness…
The information is everywhere, a constant feed in our hands, in our pockets, on our desktops, our cars, even in the cloud. The data stream can’t be shut off. It pours into our lives a rising tide of words, facts, jokes, GIFs, gossip and commentary that threatens to drown us. Perhaps it is this fear of submersion that is behind this insistence that we’ve seen, we’ve read, we know. It’s a none-too-convincing assertion that we are still afloat. So here we are, desperately paddling, making observations about pop culture memes, because to admit that we’ve fallen behind, that we don’t know what anyone is talking about, that we have nothing to say about each passing blip on the screen, is to be dead.
Straying from faking cultural literacy… or not, Andre 3000 turns 39 today. So OutKast, shake it like a Polaroid picture…
The TinCaps wrap up their six-game homestand today with an 11:05 a.m. first pitch against Dayton. The first five days have seen more than 30,000 fans flock to Parkview Field and more than 7,000 are expected today — most kids as part of the TinCaps Reading Program presented by Longe Optical. You know where to find us. (Ok, in case you don’t, shame on you, but it’s The Fan 1380, TheFanFortWayne.com, and XFINITY Channel 81.)
You can find John Nolan faking cultural literacy on Twitter @John_G_Nolan.