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

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 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!