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!