In a Game of Failure, Stubblefield Finds Success in a Second Chance

Signing up to play professional baseball means that you expect to fail.

You expect to fail in the field.

You expect to fail at the plate at least 70% of the time.

And worst of all, you are expected to fail in your pursuit of playing Major League Baseball, as nearly 90% of players in Minor League Baseball will never reach the majors.

Statistically speaking, former Fort Wayne TinCaps infielder Tyler Stubblefield, who has officially retired from playing baseball, is among the 90%, but by no means would he consider himself a failure.

The 2013 Fort Wayne TinCaps season came to a close September 9, 2013, with a playoff loss against the South Bend Silver Hawks at Coveleski Stadium. The only things that stood between the players and their trips home were a two-hour bus ride and the cleaning out of their lockers the next day.

Stubblefield, who’s now 26 years old, was on the first shuttle out of Fort Wayne the next day. He was in his car by 7 a.m. and driving home to Georgia, where he was born and where he played his college ball at Kennesaw State University. Other than home, he wasn’t quite sure where he was headed. Until his phone rang…


The 2013 season was an up-and-down ride for the fourth-year pro. He opened the year like he had each of the previous three seasons—at Spring Training in Arizona. Except this season, the day before players broke camp to head to their respective assignments, Stubblefield was cut by the Padres. He was a player without anywhere to play. It was then, he started to learn, that baseball is not only a business, but it’s also a game that is built around relationships.

When Stubblfield played for the TinCaps in 2011, the first of his three seasons in Fort Wayne, he was managed by Shawn Wooten. Stubby, as most everyone in baseball knows him, had a great relationship with Wooten who, for the last two seasons was the manager of the Lake Elsinore Storm, the Advanced-A affiliate of the Padres. (This year Wooten will be the hitting coach for the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts (Dodgers), which will be managed by former Great Lakes Loons skipper Razor Shines.) Wooten told Stubby that he’d help find him somewhere to play, and he came through for his former player. With the help of TinCaps hitting coach Morgan Burkhart, who had previously been a manager in the Frontier League, Wooten landed Stubblefield a spot with the Southern Illinois Miners. It wasn’t affiliated baseball, but it was a gig.

While Stubblefield was getting settled at Rent One Park in Marion, Illinois, the home of the Miners, Stephen Carmon, a shortshop out of the University of South Carolina-Aiken, had locked down the starting gig for Jose Valentin’s team. Then, one day about three weeks into his stay with the Miners, Stubblfield got a text message from the man in charge of the minor leagues for San Diego’s system — Padres Director of Player Development Randy Smith.

“What league are you in,” it said.

“Frontier League. What’s up?” Stubblefield wrote back.

“Would you be interested in being a Padre again?” the reply read.

“Tomorrow would be fine,” an interested Stubblefield typed in response.

With just the exchange of a few text messages, Tyler Stubblefield's 2013 season took a quick and positive turn.

With just the exchange of a few text messages, Tyler Stubblefield’s perspective on the 2013 season took a quick turn.

Carmon had gone down with a season-ending injury, and the TinCaps were in need of a shortstop. Stubblefield was back.


On the other end of that early-morning phone call was Stubblefield’s college hitting coach, Ryan Coe, now a scout for the Texas Rangers. Coe had given Stubblefield one opportunity—the chance to play college baseball—and was about to present him with another.

“He told me, ‘You’re 26 years old and you’re in Low-A. Why don’t you stay in the game and keep making money?”

Coe had heard that there were some open scouting positions within the Padres organization, and made a call to recommend Stubblefield for one of those spots.

Stubby, who’d always been one of the most cerebral and well-liked players on the teams he played for in Fort Wayne, wasn’t quite sure about leaving the game just yet.

“My plans for after the season depended on how I did. If I got there and had an average year and got benched, I was gonna be done,” he said. “I had the best statistical year through the Frontier League and playing in Fort Wayne. I was leaving there and thought I felt like I bought myself another year to ply. I’ll never know if I did or not.”

The next day, Stubblefield got a phone call from Chip Lawrence, who is the Southeast regional scouting supervisor for the Padres.

“He put me through a little interview process on the phone,” Stubblefield said. “At first I was a little shocked and he was like, ‘Ok thanks.” I thought (the chance to work for them) was over. I was deer hunting a week later and I was in the deer stand and I saw a phone call pop up from San Diego. It ruined my hunt but it was (Padres Director of Scouting) Billy Gasparino and (the PadreS) were going to have me out to interview in Nashville.”


Stubblefield has always “gotten it” when it comes to baseball. He knows what it takes to get a starting job and be on the field every day. He knows that doing interviews with local media and team broadcasters is part of the gig, like it or not. He knew the tricks of the trade. However, he wasn’t used to formal settings.

In three seasons with the TinCaps, Tyler Stubblefield played in 190 games with the club.

In three seasons with the TinCaps, Tyler Stubblefield played in 190 games with the club.

“I’ve never done any (job) interviews. Any interview I’ve ever done in my life has been on a baseball field. I was nervous, I was shaking, sweating,” Stubblefield said, thinking back to his suit-and-tie meeting with the Padres in Nashville.

With some of the team’s most important player development personnel in the room, Stubblefield realized he was still talking his favorite language: baseball. The interview wasn’t formal at all, he said, but more of a round-table discussion with questions targeted toward how he might fare as a scout:

-What are you going to do when you’re driving through the boondocks on a Tuesday night at 12 a.m. on the way to see another player?

-Will you be confident enough in yourself to stand up for a player you think is going to make it to the big leagues?

After the questions were done, Stubby got the answer he wanted to hear—the Padres liked his baseball knowledge and he was set to begin the next chapter of his baseball career as a scout.


When I caught up with Stubblefield, he was just leaving a hotel in North Carolina. The top two players in next year’s draft, North Carolina State’s Carlos Rodon and East Carolina University’s Jeff Hoffman, are both there and he was in the area for a visit. Sure, the Padres don’t pick until the 13th spot, but they’ve got to be prepared for everything.

“I’ve spent seven nights in a hotel in the last eight days. It’s Minor League Baseball except I’m driving and I make my own schedule. Six months of tearing the roads up, putting miles on your car and stressing over paperwork,” is how Stubblefield describes his new profession.

“I love the game of baseball. I’m gonna attack scouting like I attacked playing. I was an overachiever on the field. I never should have played at the levels I played at. I’m going to take my overachievability and outwork other guys. I just came off the field with players who are at the Low-A level so I know what a pro athlete looks like and what these players look like. I can compare a lot of these guys to what I saw.”

A Georgia native, Stubblefield will scout some of his home state for the Padres.

A Georgia native, Stubblefield will scout some of his home state for the Padres.

While he’s gotten to making up new words like “overachievability”, he’ll have to get used to an entire dictionary of new scouting terms. He says that, along with the paperwork for player evaluations, will be the biggest adjustments.

“It’s an artwork to sit down at a computer at night and paint a picture with words for your general manager and your scouting director to read and like. For me it’s a huge learning process, and if I don’t get it, it will hinder me from being the scout or employee that I want to be. I think I see the same things that more veteran guys see–they can write a little check mark and write a paragraph off of that. I have to write the whole paragraph and then go back and make it longer and better to make it understandable for my bosses.”


Stubblefield’s territory covers Northeast Georgia, all of South Carolina and all of North Carolina. He’s again signed up for a thankless existence, one that comes with even less recognition and accolades than playing in the Midwest League, and most days even that’s not saying much, unless you’re playing in Fort Wayne.

“What I’ll remember most is how awesome the fans were and the field and the atmosphere that we got to play in every night,” Stubblefield said of his time in a TinCaps uniform. “I’ve done three in-home visits with high school kids and the first thing I talk about is how much of an impact the fans and the atmosphere Fort Wayne brings to the table.”

He’ll still be eating fast food, still be watching baseball, but now he’ll be getting paid more than he was as a player. But when your paycheck is $1,100 per month, as it is in the Midwest League, it’s not hard to go anywhere but up.

“Right now,” Stubblefield says, “the decision is easy. I thought it would be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It still might be come April 1st when all of my buddies break camp, but right now for me it was being 26. I want to be able to have a family or have money and start a life and actually have something to put in the bank and sit back on. It’s time to start.”



Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.


Michael Collins Named TinCaps’ New Manager

After much waiting and anticipation, the big day finally came Tuesday afternoon when the San Diego Padres announced who would succeed Jose Valentin after his two seasons as manager of the Fort Wayne TinCaps. That successor is Michael Collins, who, at 29 years old, becomes the youngest manager in the history of the Fort Wayne franchise.

Former Padres farmhand Michael Collins will lead the TinCaps during the 2014 season.

Former Padres farmhand Michael Collins will lead the TinCaps during the 2014 season.

Collins may at first seem an unconventional choice–young, no major league experience–but that would belie what he brings to a dugout and a clubhouse, according to those who have worked with him and played under him.

For the last two winters, Collins has been the manger of the Canberra Cavalry of the Australian Baseball League. (When it’s winter here in the United States, it’s summer in Australia.) This past season he brought unprecedented success to the franchise, bringing them their first-ever Claxton Shield, the championship trophy of the ABL. Collins, also known as “Tubby” (still trying to get to the bottom of that nickname..stay tuned!) also played two seasons for the Cavalry. In fact, one of the members of his staff this past season was former TinCaps pitcher (2010) Hayden Beard, also a native of Australia.

From people I know within the Padres organization, I’ve heard that Collins is a great leader of men, and also someone who is very easy to work with and get along with. Another plus, I’m told, is that he is fluent in Spanish, a skill that is almost a must these days in baseball. Although the TinCaps will have athletic trainer Ricky Huerta, who speaks Spanish, it can only be a positive for a manager to communicate with his Spanish-speaking players directly.

The Cavalry posted an article on their website about Collins coming to work in Fort Wayne:

“Tubby says he’s excited to head to the Midwest because, much like Canberra, they have fans who are incredibly devoted to the team.

“Managing the TinCaps will be a great opportunity,” Tubby said. “They will have a talented young team on the field to go with great community support and involvement much like the Cavalry but on a much larger scale.”

The Cavalry have the second-best attendance in the league and draw an average of 1,314 fans per game. The TinCaps, on the other hand, averaged 5,766 fans per game during the 2013 season, which saw the most fans ever pass through the gates in the history of Fort Wayne baseball.

More from the Cavalry:

Tubby says he’s really excited to be a part of the organization and their mission to win the title, but it will all come down to how they can do as a team.

“Success will come down to the players’ development,” Tubby explained. “As coaches we will give them everything to prepare and they will need to apply it to their individual games.”

Tubby joins hitting coach Morgan Burkhart and pitching coach Burt Hooton. After coaching at a rookie level last year, this will be the highest level Tubby has ever taken on and he’s ready for the challenge.
“We are very proud of Michael,” Cavalry General Manager Thom Carter said. “He has a great baseball IQ and has amazing leadership abilities. Watching him manage our team over the last two seasons, you can see how players want to be their best for him. The players, management, and fans in Fort Wayne are lucky to have him.”

Collins is no stranger to the Midwest League, having played in this circuit during both the 2004 and 2005 seasons with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, which were then an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In 2005, Collins hit .320 with the Kernels, good for the third-best average in the league. He spent eight seasons with the Angels organization, and played two with the Padres, playing at every level with the exception of Fort Wayne. His playing experience also includes two seasons in the Australian Baseball League. During the 2010-2011 season, he hit .360 and was the batting champion of the ABL.

Collins is certainly a change from Jose Valentin, who spent 16 years in the majors, and brought plenty of perspective and experience with him. Collins, on the other hand, never played in the major leagues and will be anywhere from 7-10 years older than some of the players he’s managing. For the last two seasons, Collins has also managed in the Padres system, working with the Dominican Summer League Padres in 2012 and the Arizona League Padres in 2013. Early prognostications seem to indicate that a good chunk of that Arizona League roster may make up Fort Wayne’s squad in 2014. Collins’ lack of MLB experience shouldn’t be viewed as a negative, though. He’ll bring a fresh perspective as someone who has recently “been there, done that” and can relate to the players. Not to mention the rest of his staff–Burt Hooton and Morgan Burkhart–bring a collective 18 years of MLB time, along with Hooton’s World Series ring. Interstingly, Hooton (63 years old) is more than twice as old as Collins. The beauty of baseball is that, as Hooton told me many times last year, it’s a simple game, and the teaching lessons can be delivered by those young and old.


Here’s a look at every manager in Fort Wayne history, and respective ages for those skippers while they were here:

Mike Boulanger – 1997 – Age 47

Craig Colbert- 2000 – Age 34

Michael Collins – 2014 – Age 29

Doug Dascenzo – 2007, 2008, 2009 – Ages 42, 43, 44

Jim Dwyer – 1993, 1994 – Ages 42, 43

Jose Flores – 2010 – Age 36

Gary Jones- 2003 – Age 41

Tom Lawless- 2001 – Age 42

Jose Marzan – 1998 – Age 32

Randy Ready – 2004, 2005, 2006 – Ages 44, 45, 46

Dan Rohn – 1995, 1996 – Ages 39, 40

Dan Simonds – 1999 – Age 33

Jose Valentin – 2012, 2013 – Ages 42, 43

Don Werner – 2001 – Age 47

Tracy Woodson – 2002 – Age 39

Shawn Wooten – 2011 – Age 38

As you can see there, the previous youngest manager was Jose Marzan, who was here for all of one season in 1998, the team’s last year of affiliation with the Minnesota Twins.

Collins chatted via email with The Journal Gazette telling the newspaper he believes his relative youth will be a positive:

“In regards to relating with players, I guess I’m not far removed from playing with a quick transition into coaching, so I’m closer in age than other coaches and spending 10 years all in the minors, I understand what these players are going through,” he wrote.

His predecessor, Jose Valentin, was a fiery guy. What will Collins be like?

“My managing style,” he wrote, “(is) I like to let the players play. Try to line them up in the best position to succeed and let them be aggressive. Early days right now, but there are a lot of great young players in the organization, should be a good mix of young talent.”

I think TinCaps fans should be excited for Collins to come to Parkview Field. He brings high praise, a great managerial track record, experience in the Midwest League, and more than a decade of playing experience to the clubhouse, and also worked with many future TinCaps last year in Arizona. In what was a busy off-season for Padres Director of Player Development Randy Smith, Collins looks to be a great hire. Smith had to make many hires with the departure or re-assignment of many members of his minor league staff.

Former roving pitching coordinator Mike Cather, who is very popular among players, is the new pitching coach for Triple-A El Paso. Gary Jones, a former Wizards manager, who was San Diego’s minor league infield coordinator, left to become the third-base coach of the Chicago Cubs. Jones is extremely well liked around baseball, especially here in Fort Wayne. Other new hires that had to be made included the following minor league positions:

San Antonio (Double-A) Hitting Coach

Lake Elsinore (Advanced-A) Manager, Hitting Coach

Eugene (Short-Season A) Manager, Hitting Coach

Arizona League (Rookie) Manager

(For more on all of those personnel changes, take a look at the news story on

Why is having the right manager important? From the outside, it might just seem like he fills out a lineup card, makes pitching change during the game, and gets after it with the umpires when he feels they’ve made a poor call. But I can tell you that it’s a lot more than that. A manager at this level has a great impact on players who are in their first or second years of professional baseball–how they carry themselves, their punctuality, their attitudes (which vary greatly with the successes and failures of a 140-game season), how they take care of their bodies, how they dress when they travel for road games–all of which are crucial, but many times unseen, aspects of having what it takes to continue rising through the ranks of professional baseball. These players come from high school or college programs where they were the best player on the team, and the rules didn’t always apply. Now, it’s once again a level playing field, and those most open to the instruction they receive at this level are most often the most likely to succeed.

As I write this on Friday, January 17th, we are just 76 days away from Opening Day 2014, when the TinCaps play host to the Great Lakes Loons. If you haven’t heard, individual tickets go on sale January 30th. If you make your purchase that day between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the Suite Level Lounge at Parkview Field, we’ll even throw in lunch for free. Sounds like a good deal to me!


Nappy Roots…take it away!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.


From Fort Wayne to Fruition: Michael Cuddyer

Welcome to the third 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 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.

Contestant number three in our series is Michael Cuddyer, who is currently a member of the Colorado Rockies, just the second team he’s played for in his 13-year major league career.

Cuddyer was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and went to high school in Chesapeake, Virginia. Although throughout Minor League Baseball we’ve become accustomed to seeing the best players come from locations that have climates conducive to year-round baseball (Florida, California, Georgia, etc.), Virginia isn’t necessarily what you’d think of as one of those baseball hotbeds. However, in the years since Cuddyyer was drafted by Minnesota in 1997 (1st round, 9th overall), many more high-level players have emerged from the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, such as brothers BJ and Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman.

The draft is held annually in June, but Cuddyer didn’t sign his contract with the Twins until August of ’97, meaning that he missed any chance of playing for an MiLB affiliate that season. However, under the most recent revision of the collective bargaining agreement, draft picks must be signed by mid-July, which means they’ll get on the field, even with a rookie-level affiliate, much sooner.

Cuddyer played with the Wizards in 1998, appearing in 129 games. He hit .276 with 12 home runs (he would’ve been the team leader each of the last few years), and 81 runs batted in. He had a .364 on-base percentage, and also stole 16 bases in 1998. He saw time around the infield during his time in the minors. Unfortunately for Cuddyer, he holds a mark in the Fort Wayne record books that may never be broken—most errors in one season. He committed 61 errors during the 1998 season. The highest single-season error total by one player in the TinCaps’ five-year tenure is 43 by shortstop Jonathan Galvez in 2010.However, Cuddyer’s 81 runs batted in are also the fourth-most by any player in a single season, and his 37 doubles are fifth-most.

Photo from "Baseball in Fort Wayne" a book by Chad Gramling.

Photo from “Baseball in Fort Wayne” a book by Chad Gramling.

In 1999, at age 20, he moved on to Advanced-A Fort Myers, where he saw all of his major numbers improve. He hit .298 with 16 home runs and knocked in 82. In 2000, he moved up to Double-A New Britain, playing 138 of a possible 142 games. He repeated the level in 2001, missing just one game and hitting an impressive 30 home runs, while driving home 87 runs and hitting 36 doubles. His stellar play at Double-A, much more a breeding ground for top-level prospects than Triple-A is, earned him a trip to the big leagues in 2001 as a late-season call-up for the Twins, and he made his MLB debut on September 23, 2001 against the Cleveland Indians.

Cuddyer started the 2002 season with the Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) Trappers of the Pacific Coast League. This is the field they played on:

TELUS Field, featuring a turf infield and a natural grass outfield. (Photo from

TELUS Field, featuring a turf infield and a natural grass outfield. (Photo from

(Side Note: There is currently only one Minor League Baseball team in Canada , the Vancouver Canadians, Short-Season affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. The last affiliated team to leave Canada was the Ottawa Lynx, which became the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies) in 2008.)

He made his way back into the majors late in the 2002 season after playing 86 games in the Pacific Coast League. 2003 saw him split time between Triple-A Rochester (N.Y.) and the bigs, with 2004 being his first full season with Minnesota.


The 6’2″, 220-pounder has played the majority of his MLB games at third base (355 games), but has seen time at a variety of spots including outfield (130 games), shortstop (122 games), first base (68 games), second base (nine games) and right field (four games). During the 2011 season, he became the first Twins position player to pitch in 21 years, and fans even made a Facebook page petitioning the team to play him at all nine positions in one game. He has hit double-digit home runs in nine of his 13 seasons in the majors, and in December 2011, the last remnant of Fort Wayne’s association with Minnesota to still be with the Twins, he signed a three-year, $31.5 million contract with the Rockies. In exchange for losing Cuddyer, the Twins got two supplemental first-round draft picks. One of those picks, Jose Berrios, ended up playing against the TinCaps this past season as a member of the Cedar Rapids Kernels, Minnesota’s affiliate in the Midwest League.

In 2013, Cuddyer had a career season and won the National League Silver Slugger Award:

“Cuddyer, 34, won his first career batting title by leading the National League with a .331 mark in what was his second season in Colorado. He finished with a .311 road average to tie for the sixth best mark in the National League.

Cuddyer was named to his second career All-Star team in 2013 and finished the season with a batting line of: .331 average, 162 hits, 31 doubles, 3 triples, 20 home runs, 84 RBI, 74 runs, .389 on-base percentage, .530 slugging percentage.

The Norfolk, Va. native set career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS (.919) this season.”

He has one year, the 2014 season, remaining on his contract with Colorado.

When Cuddyer made his debut in 2001, he became the 27th Fort Wayne alum to reach Major League Baseball.


Lupe Fiasco and Ed Sheeran…take it away!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.


From Fort Wayne to Fruition: Matt Antonelli

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 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.

Matt Antonelli as a member of the San Diego Padres.

Matt Antonelli as a member of the San Diego Padres.

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!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.


From Fort Wayne to Fruition: Jake Peavy

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 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:

This Jake Peavy sign, one of many that display pieces of Fort Wayne's baseball history at Parkview Field, hangs beyond the center field wall.

This Jake Peavy sign, one of many that display pieces of Fort Wayne’s baseball history at Parkview Field, hangs beyond the center field wall.

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.

Jake Peavy pitching for the Wizards at Memorial Stadium.

Jake Peavy pitching for the Wizards at Memorial Stadium.

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.

Peavy poses in front of the duck boat, which he liked so much that he ended up buying it for himself.

Peavy poses in front of the duck boat, which he liked so much that he ended up buying it for himself.

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:

1519184_10201518844077852_1714521463_oThis 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!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.


Former TinCaps Brach, Decker, Mikolas Traded 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.

Brach, drafted out of Monmouth University (NJ), led the Midwest League with 33 saves in 2009.

Brach, drafted out of Monmouth University (NJ), led the Midwest League with 33 saves in 2009.

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.

When Decker made his MLB debut, he became the 115th former Fort Wayne player to do so.

When Decker made his MLB debut, he became the 115th former Fort Wayne player to do so.

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.

If you walk around Parkview Field, you'll find Miles Mikolas' mustache on one of the banners.

If you walk around Parkview Field, you’ll find Miles Mikolas’ mustache on one of the banners.

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:

This is a scouting report on Jones: and some analysis:

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!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.


TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin Named Padres First-Base Coach

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…

Valentin leaves Fort Wayne as the manager with the third-most wins in franchise history.

Valentin leaves Fort Wayne as the manager with the third-most wins in franchise history.

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.”

Seven former Fort Wayne managers or coaches have gone on to work in MLB.

Seven former Fort Wayne managers or coaches have gone on to work in MLB.

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:


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, 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!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.


What’s In a Name? A Five-Year Perspective

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 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:

The El Paso Chihuahuas.

The El Paso Chihuahuas.

The Akron RubberDucks

The Akron RubberDucks

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:

Sherman, set the WABAC machine to 2008!

Sherman, set the WABAC machine to 2008 when the Wizards changed their name…

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 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.

tweet1 tweet2 tweet 3Apparently people on the internet like to get mad about things. Maybe that’s a new trend.

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 “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!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.


Bryan, Ohio’s Matt Wisler: Climbing the MiLB Ladder

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:

Matt Wisler, a 2012 TinCaps pitcher and Bryan, Ohio, native, speaks to the Bryan Kiwanis Club.

Matt Wisler, a 2012 TinCaps pitcher and Bryan, Ohio, native, speaks to the Bryan Kiwanis Club.

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.

Matt Wisler in a TinCaps uniform on May 21, 2012.  (Photo by Brad Hand)

Matt Wisler in a TinCaps uniform on May 21, 2012. (Photo by Brad Hand)

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.

Matt Wisler pitching for the San Antonio Missions in 2013. (Photo via

Matt Wisler pitching for the San Antonio Missions in 2013. (Photo via

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!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.


Ragnar Weekend, Dominican Dispatch

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.

Team IronCaps

Team IronCaps

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:

After finishing my final leg. Pretty happy.

After finishing my final leg. Pretty happy.

Handing the baton off to teammate Brian Schackow (TinCaps VP of Finance)

Handing the baton off to teammate Brian Schackow (TinCaps VP of Finance)

Taking the handoff at 2AM from Brent Harring (TinCaps Ticket Sales Manager)

Taking the handoff at 2AM from Brent Harring (TinCaps Ticket Sales Manager)

If you ever have the chance to run a race like this, I highly recommend it. It’s a blast.


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!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.




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