Greetings and salutations from Dow Diamond in Midland, Michigan. Tonight the TinCaps, who were just swept in a three-game set by the Bowling Green Hot Rods, open a four-game series against the Great Lakes Loons, the Midwest League affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Here’s a field-level view of the ballpark, which is one of my absolute favorites to visit in the Midwest League:
Game time tonight is 7:05 p.m., as Walker Weickel faces Loons pitcher Julio Urias. This is an important series for the Loons, who were just swept by the Dayton Dragons, as they contend for a second-half playoff spot. Great Lakes is right now in the wild-card spot, 1/2 game behind Bowling Green, with just 16 regular-season games to play.
John Nolan and I will have the radio call tonight, with pre-game coverage on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com getting underway at 6:45.
JUST A KID
Urias, who starts for the Loons tonight, began this season at the ripe age of 16, and has just four days ago turned 17. Here’s a quick scouting report on him, courtesy of Yahoo! Sports, which was written before his recent birthday:
Urias boasts a fastball 88-92 MPH that has natural arm-side run. He’s touched 94 MPH quite often and even touched 95 MPH in his June 11 start. He’s 16!
His changeup might be his best offering. It’s a low-80s pitch that is a weapon against right-handers. The great thing is, he isn’t afraid to throw it to left-handers — something most lefties wouldn’t do. He also has a breaking ball. It’s been called a curveball, he calls it a slider, but whatever it is, it’s effective. As he works in the minors, that pitch should turn into two pitches — a curve and a slider. The curve is a mid-70s pitch and the slider should be a low-80s pitch.
What’s even more amazing about his stuff is he’s doing it from a frame that doesn’t scream “power pitcher.” He’s 5’11, 160 pounds (though, he looks a little more filled out than that) and, at 16, could grow more while in the minors.
Urias has gone no more than two innings in any of his last seven outings, and from talking to Loons Manager Razor Shines earlier today, I expect that to be the case once again. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of an effect that has on the Loons bullpen, which as Shines told me, has been put into service a lot more often with dwindling innings counts for the team’s starting pitchers.
A lot is made of umpiring at nearly any level of baseball, but after I had an extensive chat with Midwest League umpires Sam Vogt and Tim Hromada yesterday, I’ve really come to see their job in a different light. (Side note: A feature story on those two umpires, who were promoted to the Advanced-A California League yesterday, will be coming to this blog in the next few days.)
I was doing a little bit of bus reading today about umpiring, and came across a story on ESPN.com by Jim Caple, in which he goes to umpire school to try and learn what the job is really like:
Instructor Brent Rice discusses such finer points during morning sessions at a banquet room of the school hotel. You’ve probably never heard of Rice but there’s a good chance you’ve seen him on YouTube. He had the unfortunate honor of being the home plate umpire when Braves minor league manager Phil Wellman had hisinfamous nut-out, burying the plate in dirt, crawling along the ground like a soldier and flinging the rosin bag at Rice as if it were a grenade. “How much was the dry cleaning bill for your pants?” another instructor asks Rice.
I feel a little bad about bringing that up because it wasn’t his fault Wellman completely lost his mind. Plus, manager-umpire confrontations are such a small part of the game. Sure, there are arguments and ejections but they really are relatively rare. The key to avoiding them is knowing the rules and calling them authoritatively in a manner that lets the teams understand you know them.
Which is why we receive frequent tests each morning. “Write your name on the ‘graded by’ line,” Rice tells us when we correct each other’s papers. “Do not grade ahead, you are not that smart. Yet.”
No kidding. I’ve covered baseball for 25 years and have seen more than 2,000 games at the major league level. I’ve watched countless others on TV. I know the game. And I get 20 percent of the questions correct on one test.
The article is certainly worth a read, and I hope to give you a better picture of what a Midwest League umpire’s life is like in the next few days.
JJ Grey…take it away!
The TinCaps committed six errors yesterday, coming within one of the franchise record, as they lost, 6-4, to the Bowling Green Hot Rods. The TinCaps will try and avoid the three-game series sweep tonight at 7:05 .
On to other things…
Yesterday we aired the final regular-season episode of “The Leadoff Spot” our 30-minute magazine-style show spotlighting certain figures within the TinCaps and Padres organizations. Here are a few of my interviews from that show…
Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes:
TinCaps outfielder and 2013 first-round pick, Hunter Renfroe:
90′S NIGHT AT PARKVIEW FIELD
Since we’re celebrating all things 90′s tonight, here are a few things you should pick up on your next trip to Parkview Field in The Orchard team store:
A Fort Wayne Wizards shirt (I’ve purchased one and eagerly await my first opportunity to wear it)
A Fort Wayne Wizards hat:
It’s only appropriate that on 90′s Night we feature a former Wizards manager. In this interview, Mike Maahs catches up with former Fort Wayne Wizards Manager Gary Jones:
Barenaked Ladies…take it away!
YOU GOTTA HAVE HEART
In the top of the second inning Wednesday night at Parkview Field, it looked like it was going to be a long night for the TinCaps. They were down, 7-1, against Bowling Green, and Fort Wayne starter Matthew Shepherd was knocked out of the game after just one inning. But then, they scored three times in the second, twice in the sixth and again in the eighth, coming back to tie the game at seven. And after the game, someone used the phrase “heart” in describing the TinCaps comeback effort, which fell just short in extra innings as they lost, 8-7. The word “heart” reminded me of this song from the classic show, “Damn Yankees”:
Side note: I was also in “Damn Yankees” in the Highlands Middle School production of the show in 2003. That was the high point, and also the end of my acting career. I think my high-pitched solo at the beginning of the show as old Joe Hardy might go down in the record books as one of the worst songs ever performed.
With the way the team has scuffled in the second half, there were more positives than negatives after the game. They erased a 7-1 deficit, got great pitching from the bullpen–especially the five innings from Colin Rea–and were never out of the game, although it would have been easy for them to feel that way.
Tonight the TinCaps host Bowling Green for the second game of a three-game set, and we’ll have a special visit from former WWF star Sergeant Slaughter. It’s also a Thirsty Thursday and there will be fireworks after the game.
Although it has been rare in the second half, Jose Valentin was a (mostly happy man) after the game last night:
“I think we lost the game in just one inning, the second inning…After that, I was happy with the way we played. (Colin) Rea went up there for five innings and gave us a chance. Our offense finally showed up…I’m very happy with the way we came back. We fought all the way but we just ran short,” said Valentin.
Of his team’s fight he said, “I’d like to see that more often…I’m happy with the way we swung, our approach at the plate was good.”
Listen to his full post-game comments in today’s TinCaps Report Podcast:
Playing in the minor leagues doesn’t just mean an education in baseball, especially if players come from non-English speaking countries. In this case, the TinCaps players from Latin America–Jorge Guzman, Bryan Rodriguez, Miguel Del Castillo, Reynaldo Bruguera, Diego Goris, Gabriel Quintana, Luis Tejada, Luis Domoromo and Alberth Martinez, and Ruben Mejia–have been working on their English skills. Several times a month, the Padres pay to have an English teacher come in and work with the players, mostly on phrases that will be useful to them in baseball situations. Today was the culmination of their studies, as they recorded a video showing off their newfound proficiency to send back to San Diego.
The English language can be a big barrier for many players, and in clubhouses across baseball Latin American players will congregate with other Latin American players, and American-born players will hang out with other American-born players. I’ve seen, at times, one player–last year it was Adys Portillo, who was proficient in English–order meals for an entire group of Latino ballplayers at a fast-food restaurant because the others could not speak enough English, or do it with enough confidence, to get their intended message across.
I’ve done a few post-game interviews in Spanish this year, and even after having studied the language for seven years, I am still only at a conversational level. This is a small step for these players, that will hopefully make a big impact and make them more comfortable.
As if we haven’t heard enough news about Alex Rodriguez and his 211-game suspension lately….believe me, I know. It’s a tired story at this point. But….but, I ask you to read this Sports Illustrated story by S.L. Price which views Rodriguez’s career holistically, even including a peek back at his 1994 season in the Midwest League with the Appleton Foxes. An excerpt, discussing his rehab assignments throughout the Yankees minor-league chain:
As he has throughout his tour—which has seen him suit up for Yankees affiliates in Tampa; Charleston, S.C.; Trenton, N.J.; and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre—Rodriguez declined to talk specifics about Biogenesis, PEDs or reports that he was considering a deal. On July 12, he met with MLB investigators on the matter, then didn’t show up for that night’s rehab start in Tampa. He says he can’t waste time and energy now worrying about all he may lose, or the distance he has traveled down. Yet the fact is, Rodriguez, once seen as baseball’s great clean hope, is now viewed as hopelessly dirty.
Others have come back from such stigma: Mark McGwire is the hitting coach for the Dodgers; Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte, old teammates and admitted users of PEDs, are treated these days as elder statesmen. Rodriguez figures to be different—and knows it—but last week maintained the front of a blissed-out Candide. He insisted that he doesn’t wonder, Why me?
“I never say that,” Rodriguez said. “But maybe there are a couple chapters where I can become that person again. I’m not giving up. I have tremendous faith, and hopefully there’s a couple more chapters to this book. And hopefully there’s a happy ending somewhere. I have faith.”
The closing paragraph perhaps sums up the entire Rodriguez deal perfectly:
Rodriguez’s gift, his unprecedented completeness, was never really his; it’s called a gift for a reason. Sports is a collective of time as well as talent. Six generations of baseball players and fans, billions of dollars worth of stadia and TV time, an infinity of minor and major leaguers working for untold lifetimes—all of it combined to create the game, the numbers, the interest and hothouse environment in which Alex Rodriguez was going to be the best.
People care so much about sports greatness because, deep down, they know that it’s a reflection; something there belongs to them. We gave Rodriguez his chance. We urged him not to waste it. Cashman knows, better than anyone: We hate when we make so big a mistake.
Florida Georgia Line…take it away!
After a much-needed day off, as the TinCaps had played 20 straight days without resting, Fort Wayne returns to action tonight at Parkview Field at 7:05. They welcome in the Bowling Green Hot Rods, a team they haven’t faced since May 27. The season series is pretty even right now, tilting 5-4 in favor of the Hot Rods, a Tampa Bay Rays affiliate.
To get you caught up, here’s the post-game recap with Kent Hormann and former Wizards pitcher Javi DeJesus from Monday’s 8-5 TinCaps win over Dayton.
Fort Wayne’s Matt Shepherd looks for his first win as a starting pitcher tonight, as he makes his seventh start of the season.
First pitch is at 7:05, and the first 1,000 kids 14 & under will get a free WebKinz doll as they pass through the gates.
TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST
Despite a TinCaps win on Tuesday, Manager Jose Valentin wasn’t particularly happy, saying “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.” Hear his post-game comments in today’s podcast:
DIFFERENT UNIFORMS, SAME TEAM
As you may have noticed either here on the blog or by coming to Parkview Field this season, the TinCaps have worn quite the wide variety of themed jerseys this season. Sean Morrison, the TinCaps beat writer for The Journal Gazette, wrote a feature story on the uniforms, which appeared in today’s paper.
“The TinCaps have worn argyle, tuxedos, pink and the names of their fans in games this season.
There have been eight varieties of Fort Wayne’s jerseys this season, said Michael Limmer, vice president of marketing and promotions, the most ever.
The team wore uniforms representing ’50s Night, Turn the Park Pink, Prom Night, Military Appreciation/Superhero Night (same jersey for both nights), Social Media Night, ’80s Night, Prostate Cancer Awareness and ’90s Night.
Be it a quirky uniform change or the usual pinstripes, the looks have been well received.
“We kind of just sit back and look at our theme nights and kind of decide which ones would lend themselves best for a jersey,” Limmer said. “Every single jersey we give away is one-of-a-kind. It was worn just that one time by that one player, and it came right off the player’s back to the person that either won it or won the auction.”’
And don’t forget that this Friday is 90′s night, and the team will be wearing Wizards uniforms.
THE LIFE OF A BASEBALL OPERATIONS INTERN
Over on MLBTRadeRumors.com, there’s a good piece up by Ricky Benichak, who is a baseball operations intern with the Cincinnati Reds. He writes about his experiences working for the team and what his responsibilities include:
“If I had to identify what a normal day would look like, it would be something like this: update the statistics for our BATS video software, chart a game using that same software or capture pickoff moves to help our Major League coaching staff or players for an upcoming series, compile advance scouting reports, and work on research assigned to me by my bosses. I would say about 30-40% of my workload consists of research, some targeted by my superiors based on the needs of the team, some targeted based on my own interests. I have used that time to further look into the ROI of international players, waiver claim and DFA analyses, valuation of farm systems, and aging curves for defensive abilities.”
It’s good stuff, because it makes me realize how much there is going on behind the scenes with baseball, and that it’s not just show up at 2pm, take some infield, take BP and then get ready for the game. Even when Padres GM Josh Byrnes was here last week, I asked him what he did during the day, wondering if he’d gotten out to one of Fort Wayne’s many great golf courses. He said he hadn’t played golf, and that his day was spent following up on the minor league teams, watching some of the Padres game and working on budgets for next year.
I think the best piece of information Ricky shares is about trying to make it in sports:
“It’s also important that you have mentors. I had mentors when I went to college at the NYU Tisch Center where I studied sports management –- they helped me get opportunities that eventually led to me getting hired by the Reds. Not all of us have parents or friends in the industry, so it’s important to build your network as soon as you can. It’s as simple as sending an email or having a phone call. People love to talk about themselves and their experiences, and those who work in baseball operations are no different.
In pursuing an opportunity, a prospective employee should have the right mindset as well. It’s in our nature to think big and expect big. When I was initially looking for jobs with teams, I had this grandiose vision that all 30 teams would be interested in me and my abilities. I couldn’t have been more wrong, but there was a great lesson in that misconception. The reality is that you aren’t looking for 30 jobs or even a dozen jobs, rather you are looking for one team to listen and value the contributions you may bring. Discouragement and disappointment are a part of the cycle in finding employment, but you must take it in stride, and remember the big picture.”
Whether it in sports or any field, really, sometimes the best things can come from reaching out and sending that first email or making that phone call.
A HUNDRED BUCKS SAYS…
One of my favorite writers, Chris Jones (@MySecondEmpire) has a new story out today in Esquire about the new $100 bill. In this lengthy, but very interesting piece, he takes us through the process of how the dollar bill is made, an introduces us to its designer, Brian Thompson:
“On the back of the new hundred-dollar bill is one of Thompson’s favorite magic tricks. There is an oversized 100 bordered in white and blue, printed in orange. This new feature is primarily to help the visually impaired — like the large purple 5 on the five-dollar bill — but it’s also a secondary defense against counterfeiters. While the 100 looks entirely orange, closer examination reveals that it contains alternating lines of orange and green. Through some quirk of the optic nerve, our eyes pick up mostly the orange. It dominates, and casual counterfeiters might overlook or be unable to replicate the disappearing green.”
I may never hold one of those $100 bills unless one somehow blows up through a grate in the sidewalk and I happen to be a beneficiary of circumstance, but I’m happy just reading this story and learning from Chris Jones, a master writer.
John Mayer…take it away!
This article by John Nolan appeared in Volume 5, Edition 10 of GAMEDAY.
The turning point of Maxx Tissenbaum’s baseball career didn’t come in the batter’s box or on the infield dirt.
It happened at center ice.
“We were on the penalty kill and I received a pass, clearing the puck up ice,” the 22-year old from Toronto recalls from a hockey game during his sophomore year of high school. “And out of nowhere, I got absolutely crushed.”
Michael Del Zotto, who now plays in the NHL for the New York Rangers, knocked Tissenbaum to the ice with a blindside check.
Though a little woozy, the curly brown-haired Tissenbaum was fine. After all, he was a hockey player. His coach had no qualms about putting him back in the game for his next shift.
But after the game, Tissenbaum got blind-sided again. This time, though, it wasn’t by any future NHL enforcer. It was by the coach of his travel baseball team, Jack Brown, who had been in the crowd to see him.
“I’m really glad I got to see you play the last hockey game of your career,” Brown said to Tissenbaum.
Brown believed that if the shortstop on his travel team wanted to reach his goal of becoming a major league player, he’d be best served allowing his body a break from hockey’s punishment.
“I was stunned. It completely caught me off guard,” the 5-10, 185-pound Tissenbaum says. “But then I realized, he’s right. It’s probably not a good idea to have guys who are 6-6, 230-pounds taking runs at me just before baseball season starts.”
So Tissenbaum heeded Brown’s advice and put away the skates. Seven years later, and no longer fearful of center-ice hits, Tissenbaum is the TinCaps team leader in base hits this season. Fort Wayne’s manager Jose Valentin has called him the team’s offensive MVP. And to think, he may have been just one collision away from never getting to the Midwest League in the first place.
“I still love hockey, and it was tough to give it up, but baseball has always been my first passion,” Tissenbaum says.
Circumstances helped make it that way. Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book, Outliers: The Story of Success, points out that in hockey-crazed Canada, boys born in the first three months of the year have a far greater chance of moving up the sport’s ranks than those born in April through December. It’s a product of the country’s youth hockey league cut-off date of January 1.
Tissenbaum was born in July. So the odds were never in his favor to become a professional hockey player in the first place. Tissenbaum’s birth in Toronto in 1991, however, did come at the right time from a baseball standpoint.
The Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 and 1993. Tissenbaum admits he was too young to remember either of those championships, but just a year or two later, before he was even in kindergarten, Tissenbaum was introduced to a VHS documentary on Toronto’s ’93 season.
“It was my first favorite movie. I’d sit there and watch it on replay for hours,” he reminisces. “Then I’d go outside and try to make all the plays Robbie Alomar made or take a swing like Joe Carter and do his home-run trot around the bases to win the World Series.”
Tissenbaum comes from a baseball family. His dad, Gerry, grew up playing baseball and his mom, Lisa, grew up playing softball. His younger sister Molly currently plays softball (and hockey) at Harvard. And perhaps most instrumental for Tissenbaum’s development, his grandfather, Sheldon Taerk, is a longtime Blue Jays season ticket holder.
The combination of factors, plus an unyielding work ethic, led Tissenbaum to make the Canadian Junior National Team as a high school junior. That’s the moment when the infielder says he thought he could make a career out of playing the game he loved, because, by his own scouting report, Tissenbaum isn’t a standout talent.
“I’m the kind of player that grows on you with consistency,” the left-handed batter says. “I can’t hit the ball 600 feet, or run a 6.2 (60-yard dash), or throw the ball 95 miles an hour.”
Hence, why Tissenbaum prides himself on his baseball IQ. It’s an acumen he thinks he developed in part by spending 35-40 nights a summer at Blue Jays games with his grandfather. Since he was as young as three, they’d sit just behind the visiting team’s dugout, which provided an up-close lens for learning. While most little kids were searching around for the nearest cotton candy vendor, Tissenbaum was studying the every movement of the big leaguers in front of him. From hometown heroes like Carlos Delgado to visitors such as Derek Jeter, Tissenbaum took notes and asked his grandfather for explanations about everything that was unfolding.
That background made for an incredible moment on June 11, 2009 when Tissenbaum received a phone call from the Blue Jays. Some 1,299 picks after Stephen Strasburg went first, Tissenbaum was taken by Toronto in the 43rd round of the MLB Draft.
“I was in the car when I got the call,” Tissenbaum says. “I covered up the mic on the phone with my hand and whispered to my dad trying not to sound too overly excited. But I completely freaked out. It felt like 10 years of work and practice everyday finally paying off.”
But Tissenbaum knew he wasn’t ready to succeed yet in Minor League Baseball, so he didn’t sign with the team he grew up watching and instead accepted a scholarship to play at Stony Brook University in New York. “Tiss,” as teammates call him, helped lead the Cinderella Seawolves of the America East Conference all the way to the College World Series his junior year.
During Stony Brook’s run to Omaha, Tissenbaum was drafted again. This time by the Padres, and this time, he signed. Now in his first full season of professional baseball, he’s been a vital part of the TinCaps’ success.
“I’d say he’s been our MVP so far on offense,” the 16-year MLB veteran Valentin says of his everyday second baseman. “Of all the guys, he’s been my most consistent hitter throughout the year. He’s a kid who has a good idea of what he’s doing when he comes up to the plate — a better approach than most.”
In addition to leading the team in hits, doubles, and games played at the mid-point of July, Tissenbaum is the only player on the team who has walked more times than he’s struck out. It’s a mark of his maturity, and an attitude to never give in.
“There were scouts in high school who told me I needed to play catcher because I wouldn’t be fast enough to play infield,” Tissenbaum says. “Then they told me I needed to be a corner infielder. So I’m proud of the fact that I’m doing it now at second and sometimes short.”
The time in high school when Brown told Tissenbaum to give up hockey may be the only time in his life he’s ever succumbed to a doubter.
“That pushes me, when someone says I can’t do something or I’m not good enough to do something,” Tissenbaum says. “It’s something I’ve always secretly liked.”
This article by John Nolan appeared in the Volume 5, Edition 5 of GAMEDAY.
First pitch is about an hour away at Parkview Field and TinCaps catcher Rodney Daal is biding time between batting practice and when he’ll crouch down behind home plate.
Wearing a navy Padres-logoed, short-sleeved Under Armor top, the 19-year old is sitting down on the carpeted floor of the clubhouse’s lounge area. Rodney’s back is up against the beige wall with his legs extended to serve as a prop for his Macbook. With red Beats headphones on, he’s laughing uncontrollably during a Skype session with a friend back home in Amsterdam. Rodney’s speaking Dutch.
After saying “doei” (that’s goodbye) to his friend on the computer, Rodney is now putting his TinCaps uniform on over his almost entirely inked arms, chest, back, and neck. Reggaeton music blares from the clubhouse speakers. As he rocks his curly-haired head back and forth, he doesn’t miss a lyric. “¡Rompe! ¡Rompe!” Rodney’s singing in Spanish.
Now suited up for the game, Rodney goes over to the locker of the night’s starting pitcher to discuss strategy. “Let’s get it,” he says to end their chat. Rodney’s speaking English.
In less than 10 minutes, Rodney has showcased his proficiency in three of what he says are four and-a-half languages he can speak fluently. There’s also Papiamento — the Spanish-based creole language spoken in his dad’s native Curaçao — and German. (German’s the one Rodney says he’s only half-fluent in after studying it in school.) Though stats indicate the average person speaks less than two languages proficiently, Rodney is a multilingual and doesn’t think much of it.
“It’s easy for me,” Rodney casually says of his lingual versatility. “I just pick them up real quick.”
And as a result, Rodney is the most cosmopolitan player in Fort Wayne this season. In a clubhouse that already has had players from seven different countries, the affable catching prospect can communicate, and laugh, with them all.
“I listen to Spanish music. I watch TV in English. When I chat with my friends, I talk in Dutch and Papiamento,” Rodney says. “So I talk everything except German regularly.”
It’s that kind of constant immersion in languages that led Rodney to learn them in the first place. Back in the Netherlands, Dutch was what he heard and spoke most often. But while Rodney’s mother Mieke is Dutch, his father Ritchie came from Curaçao — a country of about 140,000 off the Venezuelan coast. Ritchie taught Rodney Papiamento.
Even though it wasn’t the common language in his house, English was simple enough for Rodney to pick up as a kid, too. Thanks to the reach of American culture in the Netherlands, Rodney watched Nickelodeon and MTV shows to enhance his English education in school. From a young age, he also developed an appreciation for American rappers like Tupac and Eminem.
Spanish, though, wasn’t on Rodney’s radar until he moved from the Netherlands to Arizona in 2011 to begin his professional career with the Padres’ organization.
“I learned Spanish my first year after I got signed because I couldn’t communicate with the Latin pitchers,” Rodney says, recalling his difficulties catching for Genison Reyes in particular.
The Dominican right-hander, who was again teammates with Rodney on the TinCaps earlier this season, possessed a fastball in the mid-90s then, but couldn’t speak English.
“Reyes threw so hard,” Rodney remembers. “It was hard to catch him already. And then I couldn’t communicate with him. It made it harder. When I went out to talk to him, I just couldn’t explain things to him. I realized I had to do something, so that’s what led me to learn Spanish.”
Like with English, Rodney used music to aid his development in the language. He also relied on his Dominican teammates to answer questions he had about certain translations.
At this point, Rodney’s relationship with his Spanish-speaking teammates is reciprocal. They continue to help him stay fluent in Spanish, while now he’s often relied upon as a translator for them to interpret English. Whether on the field or dealing with media, the multi-lingual Rodney is a liaison.
Ruben Mejia, who’s in his third season as a pitcher for the Padres after moving to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, speaks English rather well. Still, he says he appreciates having Rodney around to avoid potential confusion.
“When we don’t understand (pitching coach Burt Hooton), Rodney tells us what we need to know,” Ruben says. “And if someone (who can’t speak much English) has an interview, then he helps them with that, too.”
Whether it’s a mound-visit from “Hoot” or manager José Valentín (who’s also a dual-speaker in Spanish and English), Rodney regularly translates the instructions for the entire defense.
Ironically, though, Rodney’s teammate Walker Weickel points out that the most important language Rodney knows isn’t English, Spanish, Dutch, Papiamento, or German.
“It’s nice that he’s able to speak five languages, but really, the only language he needs to speak as a catcher is sign language,” says the 19-year old pitcher. “So as long as he knows that, then he can work well with pitchers.”
But Weickel, who grew up in Florida and occasionally pitched to primarily Spanish-speaking catchers in showcase tournaments, also acknowledges that Rodney’s communication skills are a benefit to the staff. As is his personality.
Earlier this season after the TinCaps clinched a berth in the Midwest League Playoffs, it was Rodney who stepped into the center of the team’s celebratory circle and danced like he was in a club, not a clubhouse. Perhaps fittingly given his propensity for tongues, on Star Wars Theme Night at Parkview Field, it was Rodney who easily delivered the best Chewbacca impersonation on the video board.
And while no one understood him then, his dialogue with pitchers throughout the season has come across crystal clear.
“I think communication is a big part of the game, especially for a pitcher and a catcher,” Rodney says. “They have such a close relationship, it’s essential.”
Editor’s Note: Last Wednesday, John Nolan drove down to Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, where the Reds were hosting the A’s. After the game, John caught up with Fort Wayne native turned Oakland starting pitcher Jarrod Parker.
John Nolan: What comes to mind first when you think of your time growing up in Fort Wayne playing baseball?
Jarrod Parker: Just fun, being a kid, learning the game. At that age, baseball’s just a game where you have fun and try to learn as much as you can about the game. You figure out if it’s something you want to pursue — playing more, traveling in high school. I think what I remember most is having a blast at the ballpark with friends and family.
JN: Who were your baseball role models in Indiana given that it’s not a state known for producing much major league talent?
JP: My grandpa was my first little league coach. That’s something I’ll always cherish. I had a lot of great coaches coming up through high school and travel ball — Kelby Weybright, Mark De La Garza. Those guys were pretty influential on my career in building me into who I am today. Also, growing up playing with my brother — my dad was always around and coaching, too. They’re my biggest coaches and critics even to today.
JN: Did you go to Wizards games as a kid?
JP: Definitely. We went to at least one a year, if not more. I can remember when Vince Faison was there playing. He took the time out of getting ready to play a game to come talk to us. That’s something that I always remember. Being around the ballpark, you see kids that come to the game to have fun, and they look up to us. I try to remember to be like Vince.
JN: What’s your best memory from your days playing at Norwell High School?
JP: Winning state. The team accomplishment is what was important. I had a blast playing with those guys. Going undefeated was another accomplishment we achieved. To win as many games as we did in those couple years at Norwell was a pretty cool thing.
JN: This year’s Norwell team also won the state title. Did you keep track of the team and its star player Josh VanMeter, who was recently selected in the fifth round of the draft by the Padres?
JP: Yeah, I did. I actually was watching the state game on my phone to keep up with that. And I was texting Kelby, keeping in touch with Coach Weybright all the time. When Josh was drafted I sent him a text to congratulate him and told him anything he needs, to let me know.
JN: Anything you’d like to say to your fans back in Fort Wayne?
JP: Keep cheering us on. It’s a long season and we appreciate all the support.
Four-game losing streak…over!
The TinCaps picked up their ninth walk-off win of the season on Sunday with a 4-3 victory over the Dayton Dragons.
(If any readers of the blog speak Spanish, feel free to critique my interview with Goris. Email me at Couzens@TinCaps.com. Also, messages written over Parkview Field via the vapor trail of an airplane are also acceptable.)
Diego Goris provided the theatrics with a single to left field, scoring Alberth Martinez. It was the third walk-off hit of the season for Goris. Tonight at 7:05, the TinCaps and Dragons close out their three-game series. It’s a U.S. Foods Family Feast Night with $1 popcorn, pizza, soda and hot dogs, so come to the ballpark hungry.
TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST
John Nolan sat down with Manager Jose Valentin yesterday for the radio broadcast’s Sunday chat with the skipper. They discussed why the team had trouble over the four-game slide, the addition of first-round pick Hunter Renfroe, Valentin’s relationship with Padres GM Josh Byrnes and Sr. VP of Baseball Operations Omar Minaya, and about the evolution of Zach Eflin:
RENFROE SAVES AND SLAMS
In his second game in a TinCaps uniform yesterday, TinCaps outfielder Hunter Renfroe not only hit his first Midwest League home run, a towering shot over the 376-foot marker in left-center, but he also made a spectacular catch up against the wall in right field to end the eighth and leave a runner at third. This photo below is 36 pictures stitched together:
Renfroe leapt to get the baseball, it bounced off his glove and went straight up in the air, and then he steadied himself and caught the falling baseball. In two games, a very small sample size, Renfroe has made a very good first impression in Fort Wayne.
MINOR LEAGUE MARKETS
Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal just released its rankings of the top Minor League markets in the United States, and Fort Wayne checks in at a solid #7. The cities ahead of Fort Wayne are:
1 – Toledo
2 – Rochester, N.Y.
3 – Hershey-Harrisburg, PA
4 – San Bernadino County, CA
5 – Springfield, MA
6 – Syracuse, NY
■ Teams (first season): Midwest League Fort Wayne TinCaps (1993), ECHL Fort Wayne Komets (1952), NBA D-League Fort Wayne Mad Ants (2007)
■ Venues (year opened): Allen County War Memorial Coliseum (1952; renovated 2002), Parkview Field (2009)
Baseball and hockey have long been institutions in this city, also known for being the final resting place of Johnny Appleseed. It was local pride in the folklore legend that spurred the 2009 rebranding of the Midwest League baseball team, now named for his peculiar headgear. The team also opened $34 million Parkview Field the same year as part of a downtown revitalization project. TinCaps average attendance has been around 5,600 fans a game since then after drawing 3,702 fans a game in their last season at their prior home, Memorial Stadium.
As for the ECHL Komets, they have played hockey in the city since 1952. Local fans especially showed their love for the team this past season, which was the first for the club in the ECHL after moving from the CHL. The team drew 7,583 fans a game at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, an average that was tops among all ECHL clubs.
Despite a population growth rate of only 2.8 percent over the past five years, the market’s overall attendance count for its teams increased 13.8 percent.
The only true negative for Fort Wayne, the No. 1 market in our survey in 2007, has been its inability to support an indoor football team. The CIFL Fort Wayne Firehawks folded after the 2010 season. It was the sport’s fourth attempt to break into the market.
While it’s nice that Fort Wayne is ranked seventh, I think its spot should probably be higher on this list. Reading the rankings, it appears that these were done from afar, rather than from gaining a taste of each market. I’m not asking SBJ to fly to all of these places and go to a game at each venue, although that would make the rankings better, but I can’t imagine they’ve got an idea of how passionate Komets, Mad Ants, and TinCaps fans are.
The metrics used among all cities seem to be attendance, unemployment rate, population growth rate, and things along those lines. Perhaps a more proper title for this list would be “Top Minor League Markets as Analyzed by an Economist”.
CHECKING IN FROM THE DISABLED LIST
TinCaps infielder Maxx Tissenbaum has been on the disabled list for a week now with a shoulder injury he suffered diving for a ball in Fort Wayne’s most recent series with Lansing. He posted a new blog entry today, available here, and wrote about the fear that comes along with the uncertainty of injury as a professional athlete:
I immediately knew something wasn’t right, recalling the feeling I had when I hurt my shoulder the same way during my Junior season at Stony Brook. I kept moving it, swinging it, lifting it up and down, doing any form of the chicken dance to keep it from stiffening up and preventing me from finishing the game. I iced it down after the game, headed home and hoped for the best, waking up the next morning to a splitting pain, and basically no range of motion. Standing with my arms hanging at my side, I could move my arm about 5 inches away from my hip before it felt like it hit a wall, one that included a brutal pain. My immediate thought scared the hell out of me, I didn’t remember ever having pain like this before, I remembered the dead, heavy arm sensation but never the pain. My first thought as I rolled around in bed that morning was the worst case scenario. What if I’d torn something, needed to get it fixed and would be done for the year? I really did fear the worst. Nothing changed for a couple of days which made me even more worried.
You can find Maxx’s writing at Maxx54Padres.Wordpress.com.
FROM ONE WRITER TO ANOTHER
We venture from the prose of Maxx Tissenbaum to a quick selection about writing I found last week that I particularly enjoyed. This comes from Simone Gorrindo, the wife of an Army Ranger, in her entry on velamag.com:
It’s a private act with public consequence, and it’s only in that private moment that I can actually figure out what it is I really mean to say. Speech has always felt to me insufficient, and I feel this more than ever in a world where I am so evidently out of place. Writing allows for a deeper, unspoken connection between reader and writer, and why shouldn’t that be the case in this particular community? The act may be done in isolation, but at the end of the day, it lives, very firmly, in all of the worlds out there, literary or otherwise.
As a broadcaster, I cannot say that I find speech insufficient because without it I’d be out of a job. But I do agree with Simone in the sense that putting words on paper allows for a “deeper, unspoken connection between reader and writer” and that it allows us to better get our thoughts across. Even when I prepare for a broadcast, there are nuggets and facts and numbers that I have printed on paper in front of me or on the computer screen to my left, but I still like to write them in my scorebook anyway. I feel that the information resides somewhere deeper in my brain once it’s been transferred from pen to paper. Even when doing basketball broadcasts, there are innumerable stats that can be kept on a spotting chart, but I like to write them all by hand so that the most important ones linger with me.
This quotation, in part, is a good explanation of why I like to keep this blog. It helps me give a better connection with fans, friends, family and whomever else wants to read, as I share what might not always make it on the air.
Even though I don’t usually prefer live music to studio-quality stuff, Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado makes me change my mind sometimes.
Mumford and Sons…take it away!
Saturday’s game followed the same script as the two games before it for Fort Wayne–acquire lead, lose lead, lose game. Dayton opened the three-game series at Parkview Field Saturday with a 7-6 win over Fort Wayne, extending the Fort Wayne losing streak to four games both overall, and in their season series with the Cincinnati Reds affiliate. Here’s how things have played out the last few days for the TinCaps:
Thursday: Take 1-0 lead on Diego Goris’ inside-the-park home run, lose, 4-1.
Friday: Take 1-0 lead in the second inning, go down, 5-1, after two innings, lose, 7-6.
Saturday: Take 4-2 lead after two innings, lose, 7-6.
Will today be different? That’s the hope for the TinCaps with Zach Eflin on the mound. He has far and away been the team’s best pitcher in the second half, and ERA-wise has been the best in the Midwest League since May. Despite a 6.06 ERA in April, Eflin has the lowest ERA (2.20) among active starting pitchers in the Midwest league since May. Only Dylan Floro of Bowling Green, who was promoted to Advanced-A yesterday, had a better mark at 1.91. In Eflin’s last start, facing Lansing, he gave up just one hit and allowed only two baserunners over seven innings.
First pitch today is at 3:05 at Parkview Field, and it’s guaranteed to be another beautiful day for baseball. I’ve been sitting in the press box this morning with my window wide open, and it feels fabulous. Radio coverage begins today at 2:45 on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com. You can hear Manager Jose Valentin on our pre-game show around 2:50. Kent Hormann and I will have the TV broadcast on XFINITY 81, getting underway at 3:00. We hope you’ll join us.
FROM WINN-DIXIE TO WINNING BASEBALL
It has long been said, or perhaps better, written, that the pen is mightier than the sword.
In the case of TinCaps outfielder Mallex Smith, the pen may just be mightier than the bat. At worst, it is a complementary device that is crucial to his success both at the plate and on the basepaths. At best, it is a tool that separates him from the majority of his contemporaries.
Heading into play today, Smith is tied for the league lead in stolen bases with 51, and for the second half he has raised his average 13 points, from .255 to .268. The 20-year-old from Tallahassee, Florida, has learned a lot this year from the three former Major League Baseball players on Fort Wayne’s coaching staff, but he’s also taken to teaching himself a thing or two about the game.
No matter which of the 12 Midwest League dugouts Smith has visited this season, he’s kept with him a marble notebook, an information repository most popular in elementary school classrooms across the country. But for Smith, it’s not the look of the notebook that matters or the connotation that comes along with it, it’s the information inside that fuels his thought process while he’s on the field.
“(Keeping the notebook) started when I was in Arizona for the Arizona League when I first got drafted (in 2012). I got hurt, and I was recommended to do it. When I got hurt, I was bored. I was sitting there watching the game and I wanted to keep myself all the way focused in on the game while I was hurt. I tried to keep notes on everything that everybody did, from position players to pitchers and catchers to relief pitchers, but that got to be a little too much because it’s hard to keep up with everything,” Smith said, sitting on a worn wooden bench in the visitor’s dugout at South Bend’s Coveleski Stadium.
Smith was out with a twisted right ankle, suffered on an over-slide into third base. It was his father, Michael, a former wide receiver at Florida A&M University, who told him keeping a notebook might be a good idea to keep his head in the game.
“From then,” Mallex said, “I noticed when I tried to keep up with the game and keep notes, I made the game slow down for the next time I faced that team.”
The elder Smith kept notes when he was younger, too, but not for his football-playing days. Michael Smith once worked at a grocery store, and it was there that he was trying to get a leg up on his competition. Instead of the gridiron, it might have been the gardening aisle.
“He worked at Winn Dixie,” Mallex said. “When he got a job there, he was one of the last people to get hired, so he had to get taught where everything was, so he was pretty much playing catch-up with everybody. He ended up getting transferred to a new Winn Dixie that was just opening, so nobody knew where anything was. So he said on his first day, he showed up extra early to go down each aisle and note where everything was and to know where things were in the stock room so that when people needed things, he was able to help them out.
“My dad always told me you want to keep notes on everything you do, especially when it’s your job. Partly because it keeps you one step ahead. You start seeing the same guys over and over again, so it’s a smart thing to remember what they tried to do to you last time. Now, instead of you trying to adjust to them, they’re trying to adjust to you.”
Mallex will go to his notebook both before and after at-bats, using a blue pen to note things like “Best to just play with his head and make him keep his attention on you,” about Lake County lefthander Ryan Merritt.
Hear Smith describe what he writes about in his notebook:
Of Lansing’s Roberto Osuna, he wrote:
“FB (fastball) 1st pitch
CH (changeup) 2nd pitch both times
great guy to steal on
CH is a floating pitch not much movement”
Although TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin has been critical of his team at times this year for failing to make adjustments, Smith has defied that trend with his approach: study before the at-bat, making the physical actions habit.
“I think, just from watching him, he’ll ask me a lot of questions,” said TinCaps hitting coach Morgan Burkhart. More than anyone else. He’s keeping notes, so he’s definitely doing what he can to put himself in the best situation…. He’s putting every effort in that he can to go out and be successful.”
Burkhart also keeps scouting reports on opposing pitchers, which he shares with Smith and any other player that wants to try and gain an edge.
“I feel like every time I go up to bat and I have something down on the pitcher, I’m ahead of him. Especially if I’ve seen him multiple times, I’ve got a jump on him. I already know what he’s about to do to me before he knows what he’s about to do to me,” Smith said.
TIRED, BUT NOT WORN DOWN
Saturday was a long day for Hunter Renfroe, the newest member of the Fort Wayne contingent. The 13th overall pick in this year’s draft was added to Fort Wayne’s roster yesterday afternoon, and made his TinCaps debut going 2-for-4 in front of a crowd of 8,009 at Parkview Field.
His day started at 3:40 a.m., where he woke up in Eugene, Oregon, flew to Portland, Oregon, then to Indianapolis, and finally to Fort Wayne. Here’s approximately how much time he spent in the air yesterday:
Eugene to Portland: 40 minutes
Portland to Indianapolis: 6 hours (no, thank you)
Indianapolis to Fort Wayne: 40 minutes
So, that’s almost 7.5 hours spent on airplanes yesterday, not to mention the amount of time spent lugging through airports and traveling to and fro.
“It’s the same mental approach at the plate and know that even though I did wake up at 3:40 in the morning, just go up there and have energy and compete my heart out,” Renfroe told Greg Jones of The Journal Gazette. “I am trying to meet everybody and fit in and get to know them.”
Renfroe went 2-for-4 with an RBI and also made a couple nice grabs in right field, getting used to his new terrain. He didn’t arrive in time for batting practice, which runs between 4:00-5:00 for the TinCaps, so he really had no practice before the game got started.
Once again today, Renfroe is in the lineup hitting third, and is scheduled to play right field.
SEE WHAT HAPPENS
In today’s TinCaps Report Podcast, Manager Jose Valentin says, “Overall, it was a well played game. Overall, I don’t think our approach at home plate was good enough. (We) swing at too many first pitches, bad pitches, chasing a lot of bad pitches. I don’t think (our plan was good). No focus, no concentration at home plate. We scored four runs in the second inning and then we got shut out until the ninth and then we scored two…We’ve just got to keep playing hard, keep playing hard and we’ll see what happens.”
HAPPENS TO THE BEST OF THEM
In case you thought baseball’s hidden ball trick was only attempted in little league, think again. It happened to Juan Uribe of the Dodgers last night:
Nice work by both the Rays and umpire Angel Hernandez being on top of the play.
The Hidden Ball Trick–perhaps coming to a Midwest League stadium near you. Hey, if MLB players fall for it, who’s to say a minor league player wouldn’t?
I’ve never not been happy to say this…Katy Perry, take it away!
(You’re definitely going to be hearing this song on the radio soon…and a lot of it)
HOPING FOR BETTER THINGS AT HOME
A three-game series in South Bend concluded with a clang Friday night for the TinCaps. They extended their post-three-game winning streak loss tally to three straight with a 7-6 defeat. Things were looking good early as they got out to a 1-0 lead, but Joe Ross’ shortest outing of the year, just 2 1/3 innings, helped South Bend get out to a 5-1 lead after two innings. The TinCaps put runners on second and third in the eighth with no outs, down by one, but couldn’t push a run across. From the bright side of things, both Brian Adams and Rodney Daa hit home runs. The longball for Adams was hit first since May 13th.
Tonight Fort Wayne opens a three-game series with the Dayton Dragons, a team battling for a playoff spot. Last these two teams squared off, the Dragons swept the TinCaps in three games at Fifth Third Field. All three series that these two teams have played this year have resulted in sweeps, with Fort Wayne pulling off the feat once at home and once on the road. This is the second and final trip to Parkview Field for Dayton this season.
The TinCaps send Walker Weickel to the bump. He’ll try and re-establish a steady course for the S.S. Weickel, which has gone 1-2 in his last seven starts to the tune of an 8.69 ERA. He’s opposed by Amir Garrett, who has played two years of college basketball for St. John’s and intends to continue his collegiate hoops career at Cal-State Northridge this coming season. An interesting story, for certain.
Kent Hormann and I are back on XFINITY 81 tonight at 7:00, while John Nolan and Mike Maahs have you covered on the radio side of things on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com.
TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST
To hear Mike Maahs’ chat with South Bend Tribune sportswriter Curt Rallo, listen to today’s TinCaps Report Podcast:
HE HAS ARRIVED
As the TinCaps bus rolled through the night Thursday into Friday from South Bend to Fort Wayne, news spread like wildfire that there would be a change to the roster. That change was a good one, as outfielder Corey Adamson earned himself a promotion to Advanced-A Lake Elsinore, and the TinCaps received a new outfielder.
That outfielder’s name is Hunter Renfroe, and he was selected in the first round, 13th overall, this June by the San Diego Padres. Renfroe’s offensive numbers jump off the page between his junior season at Mississippi State and the start of his professional career at Eugene.
This past season for the Bulldogs, Renfroe hit .352 with 15 doubles, two triples, 15 home runs, 58 RBI, 51 runs scored, and nine stolen bases in 59 games played. Renfroe’s 15 home runs were tied for 14thmost in Division I, as he earned All-American honors and led Mississippi State to their first-ever College World Series Finals.
After debuting with Eugene on July 11, Renfroe hit .308 in 25 games with 4 home runs and 18 RBI. On Tuesday, the Crystal Springs, Mississippi, native played in the Northwest League All-Star Game and came through with the game-winning hit in the ninth inning.
Renfroe is scheduled to bat third in the lineup tonight and play right field. He should get a pretty warm welcome to Fort Wayne, with a large crowd expected on hand tonight.
Lady Gaga…take it away!