Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays

RailCats, stay warm and enjoy the holiday season. The (Rail)Cats Meow will return in 2009.

For now, enjoy this picture of U. S. Steel Yard, dressed up for winter.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Most List-iest Time of the Year

'Tis the season for making those ridiculous year in review lists, like the "Top 10 Breakfast Cereals of 2008" or "32 Loudest Polka Songs of the Year." Of course, we here at the (Rail)Cats Meow would never subject you to such drivel.

So without further adieu, here are the ...

Top 10 RailCats Moments of 2008

10. Tony Cogan, Strikeout Machine (June 1) - Not a prolific strikeout pitcher, the veteran southpaw mowed down a career-high 10 RedHawks at the Steel Yard as the RailCats swept a regular season series against the men of Fargo for the first time in team history. Despite an serious back injury, Cogan would post the lowest ERA in team history in 2008 (2.08) and will appear again later in this list.

9. Plexico Sizzles T-Bones (July 13) - The eventual Northern League Pitcher of the Year had a perfect game going into the sixth and ended up allowing only four baserunners in a magnificent complete game shutout of the eventual league champions. The 28-year-old South Carolina native turned in one of the best seasons in RailCats history despite never being a full-time starter in his professional career before 2008.

8. McNamee Homers Twice, Trust Me (May 12, Sept. 5) - Eric McNamee is not a home run hitter. At least he wasn't, until the 5'10" Tennessean launched a home run in an exhibition game May 12 in O'Fallon, Mo. and then hit another in the decisive third game of the Northern League Semifinals. Of course, if you look at his career statistics there's still a zero in that 'HR' column, but E-Mac's bomb in Winnipeg was his most memorable swing during a red-hot postseason.

7. RailCats Sweep Postseason Awards - The RailCats' success under Greg Tagert has been predicated on a team-first mentality. And so, despite winning two championships in three years the RailCats had only Willie Glen's 2007 Pitcher of the Year award to show for their success. That changed in 2008, when Tanner Townsend became the first RailCat to be named Northern League Player of the Year, Plexico made it back-to-back Pitcher of the Year winners and Mike Rohde earned Rookie of the Year honors.

6. Pat Salvi Arrives, Roger Wexelberg Returns - It's not brown-nosing, really. The RailCats for the first time enjoyed the personal touch of their affable new owner (Salvi bought the team in April 2008) and Wexelberg, the man who knows more than anyone but Rusty about the RailCats, is back where he belongs as general manager. Check, please.

5. Cogan Guts Out a Gem (September 5) - Behind McNamee's offensive fireworks, the RailCats took an early 4-0 lead in Game Three in Winnipeg, and Cogan did the rest. In one of the most heroic outings of the year, Cogan went the distance in a 5-2 win, retiring seven straight to end the game and keep the bullpen at bay despite throwing 121 pitches. It's the signature performance so far in Cogan's memorable two-year 'Cats career.

4. Blakeley Squashes Schaumburg (June 27) - There were a lot of last at bat wins for the RailCats in 2008, but perhaps none was more dramatic than this road victory. Tanner Townsend doubled in the eighth with the Flyers up 3-2, but pulled up injured on the play and was replaced by Eric Blakeley, who was promptly doubled off second on a line-drive double play. The now retired Blakeley would atone one inning later, however, fouling off three straight two strike pitches with two on, two outs and the RailCats down one, before crushing a game-winning home run to straightaway center.

3. Tanner Townsend Departs (December 2) - It's a bittersweet moment for sure, but Townsend's sale to the Florida Marlins gives one of the greatest 'Cats in history the chance he deserves in 2009. Townsend's leadership, attitude and passion will certainly be missed, not to mention his golden glove and bat. We'll be watching in 2009 as the Kentucky kid plays out his dream.

2. The Comeback (July 29) - Forget 2008, this game is in the pantheon of all-time RailCats games. Dead and buried under a 9-1 deficit in the sixth inning at CanWest Park in Winnipeg, the 'Cats personal house of horrors, the RailCats scored 13 of the next 14 runs to complete the biggest turnaround in team history. Townsend hit a grand slam during the rally and Mike Reese gave the RailCats the lead with a two-run homer in the eighth.

1. Pecci Quiets Canada (September 6) - As close to a backyard baseball moment as you can get, Jay Pecci's go-ahead, game-winning, series-winning, two-run home run - off Northern League Reliever of the Year Brian Beuning, no less - sent the RailCats to the Championship Series for the fourth year in a row. The high fly curved off the foul pole in right, making audible only wild cheers from the first base dugout as the veteran shortstop silenced a large gathering of Fish faithful.

Got a moment you think should have made the list? Let us know in the comments - where it's now easier than ever to leave a note. No sign-up required!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Read This Story: Athletes Behaving

Fair warning, this post has almost nothing to do with the RailCats. But as the holidays approach (and Rusty plans his annual hospital visits) I thought it would be appropriate to direct 'Cats fans to this story, even though it's about a week old.

As the story goes, the Chicago Blackhawks were enduring their annual "circus" road trip when the Blackhawks General Manager, Dale Tallon, lost his father. And that's where the Blackhawks players, coaches, trainers, equipment guys (heck, even their broadcasters) stepped in and delivered the kind of good deed that would make Kris Kringle proud.


Thanks to the Blackhawks for reinforcing that big-money, celebrity athletes can still use their powers for good.

Friday, December 12, 2008

An Interview with the RailCat

Rusty's gonna need an ice bath today.

I know all the great Chicago Bears fans in Northwest Indiana enjoyed the thrilling (if not infuriating) win last night, but did you happen to catch the halftime entertainment? If you caught a glimpse over the shoulders of the talking heads on the field, you might have noticed a bunch of big furry hands chucking the pigskin around.

It was the Bears' annual Mascot Football game, where a band of stumbling creatures in suits (not the designer kind) took on a pee-wee team in a pickup football game. There were stars of all kinds - the White Sox giant green blob, the Chicago Wolf(?), and even our friends Jammer (of the Joliet JackHammers) and Bearon (of the Schaumburg Flyers).

But the star, predictably, was our own tough 'Cat Rusty.

The (Rail)Cats Meow had a chance to sit down in person with a slightly hobbled Rusty this morning for a blow-by-blow description of the action. Here is the transcript of that interview:

(Rail)Cats Meow:
Rusty, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us.

Rusty the RailCat:
[nods head]

Let's get straight to the action, it looked from the early going like the pee-wee team was coming right after you in the running game, and they had a great deal of success.

[hangs head]

One play in particular, early in the third quarter, you had little Timmy O'Toole one-on-one and he just lowered his shoulder and flattened you on his way to the end zone. What happened there?

: [covers eyes, winces]

: Ok, let's go to the other side of the ball. The mascots gave you the start at tailback despite your dubious record in the mascot race (0-309). That had to be a nice confidence boost.

[flails arms in celebration, thrusts pudgy tummy]

And they even handed you the ball on the first play of the game

[spontaneously breaks into cha-cha slide, transitions into The Worm]

But on that first play, six-year-old Krissy Thomas caught you from behind, stripped the ball and returned it for a touchdown.

[collapses dramatically]

At least it seemed like a lot of fun Rusty. How do you plan on spending your day today?

[falls asleep]

Well thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

[zzzzzzzzz ...]

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tanner Townsend Sold to Marlins

Tanner Townsend is arguably the greatest RailCat ever, and today his storied 'Cats career has come to an end. But it is with great joy that the RailCats announce Townsend's sale to the Florida Marlins, where the 28-year-old will get his first real shot at affiliated baseball and pursue every ballplayer's dream of making the major leagues.

There is no more quintessential Northern League story than Townsend's - that of the overlooked college player who worked tirelessly for six years in independent baseball before getting his shot. His improvement at the plate this year combined with his gold glove caliber play at third base made him the complete package on the field, and his work ethic and magnetic personality made him the unquestioned leader in the RailCats clubhouse.

With the RailCats since 2005, Townsend has created a bevy of memories for RailCats fans, including countless - like an inside-the-park home run and a couple walk-off hits - in his MVP season of 2008. But for me personally, nothing stands out more than a big blow he struck in the championship series in 2005.

Down 2-0 in a five-game series to the best regular season team in Northern League history (the 2005 Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks went a league-record 68-28), the RailCats won game three of the Northern League Championship Series to force a game four. Down 2-1 into the fifth inning against former RailCat Todd George, the 'Cats used small ball (four singles - two on the infield - and an error) to tie the game, before Townsend stepped up and drilled a majestic three-run home run to left to cap a seven-run inning and an eventual 12-4 win.

In my second year with the RailCats - after withstanding the 2004 season - there was no greater sound inside U. S. Steel Yard than the unbridled roar that accompanied Tanner's blast, a roar that would be duplicated one day later when the RailCats won the Northern League Championship. Every 2005 RailCat holds a special place in the hearts of every fan who witnessed the turnaround from 2004 to 2005, but Townsend would cement his place as one of the greatest of all-time with three more years of memories.

So what's your favorite Tanner Townsend memory?
Let us know in the Comments!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rusty's RailCats Roundup: Getting in the Holiday Spirit

Hello hello! Rusty the RailCat here! I know if you're like me, you're just itching (and believe me – I do get itchy) to get to May already so we can play baseball again. But alas, it's still six long months until we see our favorite RailCats take the field and watch in awe at their breakneck base running, first-class fielding, powerful pitching and bang-up batting skills!

In the meantime, my trouble-making brother Rascal just reminded me that one of our favorite holidays is right around the corner: Thanksgiving! We look forward to this holiday almost as much as Spring Training because it involves our second favorite thing on earth (next to RailCats baseball games, obviously): FOOD!

I can't wait to dig into the famous cranberry sauce of RailCats Manager Greg Tagert. He even throws in a pinch of cat nip to really make the dish hit home. Oh, and Roger Wexelberg makes the yummiest pumpkin pie this side of Wednesday. My tummy is growling up a storm right now just thinking about it!

But even a fat cat like me recognizes that Turkey Day is about more than just food. So, in preparation for the big T, I've made a list of 10 things I'm thankful for this year:

10. My little brother Rascal. As much as a pain in the you-know-what he can be sometimes, RailCats games wouldn't be the same without him.
9. The Mascot Race. Could you imagine what a really big fat cat I'd be if I didn't get that exercise? I couldn't even climb out of the dugout!
8. Cat nip. Man – that stuff is crazy!
7. The 2008 RailCats. What a season! We broke so many Northern League and team records. And who could forget the dramatic playoffs – those RailCats really did a cat proud.
6. Size XXXXL. Wouldn't I be a humiliated kitty if my jerseys didn't cover my bum!
5. Spring Training. Seeing all my favorite players like Jay Pecci, Steve Haake and Tanner Townsend descend upon the Steel Yard puts a spring in my step and purr in my throat. I can't wait for the 2009 season!
4. Garfield. He's the coolest cat around (aside from yours truly, of course). Plus, I can totally relate to his love of lasagna.
3. SouthShore Depot II. The RailCats have a new store at the mall, and I couldn’t be more pumped to be dressing up as Santa Claus (Santa Cat?) in December. It’ll be great as long as no little JackHammers or Flyers are hanging around.
2. All the people behind the scenes who work so hard to build and maintain the RailCats Tradition of Excellence. From sponsors to staff – you are what make the RailCats affordable family fun! I tip my hat to you all.
1. YOU THE FANS! There's no other fan quite like a RailCat fan! You guys are some of the most loyal, enthusiastic people around. I get such a rush from the energy you bring to the Steel Yard on game day!

And that's just my top 10! Now where's RascaI? I got a hankering to practice my dance moves so I can kick his scrawny tush in our dance-offs next season...

Go RailCats!


Monday, November 17, 2008

So Long to One of the Good Guys

RailCats infielder Eric Blakeley, who retired Monday after six seasons as a professional, will no doubt be missed on the field next season, when the RailCats will need to find someone else to ably fill in around the infield and deliver clutch late-inning hits.

But something tells me Blakeley’s departure will be felt more off the field, where the 29-year-old was not only a model citizen but was every bit of his staff-anointed title as the “Nicest Guy in the Northern League.”

Easy-going and always available, Blakeley endured his fair share of tough times after finishing a stellar college career at Indiana, battling injuries and struggling to find playing time for four years in the Seattle system despite hitting well when given the opportunity. Like other low-round (21st) draft choices, Blakeley was released by the Mariners in 2005 when he was stuck behind and in front of more highly-touted prospects.

After a year away from baseball in 2006 – during which time he founded his burgeoning baseball business, Diamond Kings – Blakeley came back to the RailCats in 2007 to, in his own words, play the way he played when he was 12 years old. And the RailCats did not disappoint, reaffirming Blakeley’s love of the game by pairing the veteran with players and coaches who shared his appetite for winning, a departure from the sometimes cutthroat, climb-the-ladder world of affiliated baseball. Blakeley won his championship in 2007 and actually had the best offensive year of his career in 2008, saying he had felt as good at the plate during last season as he had in any of his pro seasons.

So here’s to the “Nicest Guy in the Northern League.” The RailCats’ loss is Diamond Kings’ gain, but here’s one ballplayer whose bat and glove are the least of what we’ll be missing.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Anatomy of a Tricky Trade

Follow me on this, if you can.

Friday, the RailCats acquired infielders Joe Anthonsen and Brad Dutton from Rockford of the Frontier League to complete a trade they made nearly one year ago. That’s when the ‘Cats traded Jim Paduch to the RiverHawks in exchange for these players to be named later.

But it’s not that simple. The move to acquire the players to be named later (now Anthonsen and Dutton) also completed a 2006 trade in which the RailCats traded none other than Anthonsen himself to Rockford for future considerations. Anthonsen was signed by the RailCats after the completion of his college career and was with the team through spring training in 2006 before being traded to Rockford, where he has spent the last three seasons. So essentially, the RailCats traded Anthonsen for himself (three seasons later) and sent Paduch out in exchange for Dutton.

Again, if only it were that simple.

Dutton and Anthonsen may never actually suit up for the RailCats, who now must send one of the two to Joliet, completing a July trade for Brian Forystek. If that player happens to be Anthonsen, the career .293 hitter (who hit a career-best .352 and drove in 50 runs in 2008) will have enjoyed one of the strangest and briefest careers a RailCat has ever had.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cogan's Corner: It's Always Sunny in Puerto Rico

RailCats left-hander Tony Cogan has become a fan-favorite at U. S. Steel Yard in only two seasons, setting the team's single-season saves record in 2007 before converting to a starter in 2008 and carrying a 2.08 ERA, the lowest ever by a RailCats pitcher. This winter, Cogan is pitching in Puerto Rico for a chance to get picked up by a Major League organization and return to the big leagues, where he pitched in 2001 for the Kansas City Royals. When he's not on the mound, Cogan will be sharing his thoughts here for The (Rail)Cats Meow. If you have questions for Tony, either leave a comment below or send an e-mail to blogs@railcatsbaseball.com.

This is the first installment: "It's Always Sunny in Puerto Rico"

Buenos Dias from Puerto Rico.

This is my first blog so bear with me as I try to get the hang of it. I know September didn’t end the way the RailCats fans and players wanted, but this is baseball so “there’s always next year”. Fortunately for me I get to move on to Winter Ball here in the sunny, warm Caribbean.

After about ten days, I’m settling in to the consistent 85 degree sunny days with an afternoon shower you can set a clock to. At night it’s a frigid 75 degrees and humid. It’s similar to Indiana in June. Did I mention how warm it is here, what’s the weather like up there? (Ed: It's raining a cold, thanks for asking) Sorry for rubbing it in, but I know all too well what the Midwest is like in winter since Chicago is my home.

Back to baseball…

I guess I should start by explaining the Puerto Rican Baseball League and winter ball in general. The Puerto Rican Baseball League is one of four major winter leagues. The others are Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. The champion of each league advances to the Caribbean World Series, which will take place in Mexico in January. The competition level down here is really strong. Each roster has at least three current Major League players plus several others that have had at some big league time. There are also lots of top prospects that affiliated teams have sent down here to keep “working” over the winter.

The teams are comprised of mostly native Puerto Rican players and an allotment of “importados” or imported players that are not Puerto Rican. There are also several Puerto Rican born players on the roster that don’t play a full season. Typically, these are MLB All-Star caliber players that spend the winter with their families and also want to play in their native land and prepare for spring training. Not to brag, but on my team (the Caquas Criollos) this has presented the opportunity to be teammates with and possibly pitch to I-Rod, Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez. When and if he catches for me, I’m sure I’ll write an entire blog on it.

There are some familiar faces from the Northern League down here too. My roommate, Vince Perkins, pitched for Joliet down the stretch and is signed to play with the Cubs organization next season. Also, my team’s manager is none other than famed New York Mets infielder and Joliet Manager Wally Backman.

That’s all for my first blog. I hope you all enjoyed hearing about baseball in the Caribbean. I would like to answer any questions, but I don’t have frequent access to the Internet. I’ll do my best to include your interests in my future blogs. In the meantime, for those of you who are Spanish speaking or want to give it a try, you can log on to the teams website
www.caguascriollos.com. There are up to date stats and the games are broadcast just like they are on the Cats site, only in Spanish.

(Ed.: you can also get stats here)

Until next time … Adios

Tony Cogan

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

To Option, or Not to Option

Just this week, the RailCats picked up the 2009 roster option on 21 players from the 2008 team. What does that mean? Well, for most guys it means very little. None of the 21 players – including four-year stars Tanner Townsend, Jay Pecci, Steve Haake and Eric McNamee – have contracts for next season, but they are under the RailCats’ control. Basically, those 21 players will either be playing for the RailCats or out of baseball, unless the RailCats trade that player or sell his contract to a major league organization.

The RailCats can have up to 28 players under contract during spring training (the regular season roster limit is 22) and can also have non-roster players with them during those two weeks in early May. So the RailCats will still be plenty busy this winter, likely filling at least the seven spots they have available and maybe more, as some of the ‘Cats announce their intentions for 2009.

As for the players whose options were not picked up, they can hit the free agent market if they decide to continue their professional careers. Two 2008 RailCats – pitchers Brian Forystek and Travis Kerber – have announced their retirement (this is Kerber’s second, not that we’re counting), and it is possible that others could go that direction as well.

Elsewhere in the Northern League, some player option decisions had more significant consequences. Take Winnipeg, where the Fish declined the options on veteran stars Kevin West, Tydus Meadows and, most notably, shortstop Max Poulin. The slick-fielding Poulin came to the Goldeyes in 2001 and has likely seen his decorated eight-year Winnipeg career come to an end.

Welcome to The (Rail)Cats Meow

RailCats fans around the world, welcome to the (Rail)Cat’s Meow, the brand new blog of the Gary SouthShore RailCats, two-time champions of the Northern League. In the coming weeks and months, this blog will be the place to get your fix for all the latest RailCats news, promotions, player signings and, most of all, completely random RailCats info you won’t get anywhere else.

Bookmark this page and come back soon for the first installment in RailCats lefty Tony Cogan’s new blog from Puerto Rico where he’s playing in the Winter League, or for more news and notes on your favorite big cats Rusty and Rascal.

Got a thought for the blog? Leave a comment and say hi or drop us a note at

Happy reading, and Go RailCats!