Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Gee Whiz, a Live Blog!

The baseball season is here! The RailCats open the spring today at 11 a.m. and we'll have a live blog running all game long live from Silver Cross Field to keep you updated. The best part? Ask a question in the comments today and we'll answer it. We promise.

So have at it RailCats fans. If you've ever wanted to know anything about the 2009 team, the offseason, the traffic on I-80, the economy, swine flu, macroeconomics or anything else, now is the time. You ask, we answer. Let us have it in the comments, we'll be here live at 11 a.m. to get started.

And if you're into it, Tweet at us:
www.twitter.com/railcats We'll follow you back because that's just the way we roll.

And we're off. First live blog of the year underway and the 'Hammers are on the field in Joliet. Aaron Trolia - Joliet's ace in 2008 - will start opposed by Tony Cogan, who is scheduled to pitch the first three innings.

No big surprises in the RailCats lineup, but a couple notes. Isaac Omura will bat cleanup behind McNamee, Pecci & Guerrero, and Paul Bartolucci (a middle infielder) will start in left.

Joliet, meanwhile, has 10 players (two DHs) in the starting lineup.

It's spring.

Drop us a line in the comments.

Eric McNamee gets the game started and strikes out on a hard 3-2 pitch from Trolia. Pecci pops up and Guerrero whiffs to follow, ending a 1-2-3 first.

Press box situation here is nice. The RailCats are well-represented. We've got both Mike Osipoff of the Post-Tribune and The Times Hillary Smith, and they may or may not also be live blogging. No need to check though.

Tony Cogan figures to be the RailCats Opening Day starter, and he makes the start today. Cogan's coming off an unheralded yet terrific 2008 and again faces a lot of pressure to carry an inexpereinced rotation. He's going to need to get out of the gate quickly once the season starts to give the 'Cats a rock to rely on.

A couple new Joliet outfielders start the game off, Adam Klein flies out to center but K.C. Herron rips a long double off the wall one batter later. Cogan gets Joey Gomes (DH #1) to pop out but Freddie Thon follows with a home run to right and the JackHammers break into the scoring column, now leading 2-0.

We've got a question - AND an answer!
Anonymous asks, "What's the linuep today?"

Excellent question, anonymous. Here's what we've got.

Eric McNamee, 2B
Jay Pecci, SS
Cristian Guerrero, RF
Isaac Omura, 3B
Mike Rohde, 1B
Rob Marconi, CF
Mike Massaro, DH
Paul Bartolucci, LF
Nate McKeon, C

Adam Klein, CF
K.C. Herron, LF
Joey Gomes, DH
Freddie Thon, DH
Phil Avlas, C
Andrew Pickney, 3B
Wally Backman, Jr., 2B
Kevin Rios, SS
Mike Coles, RF
Tim Alberts, 1B

Mike Rohde looks like he's in midseason form, stroking a long double off the wall in center. Rohde's worked hard this offseason to try and turn some of those 25 doubles from 2008 into more home runs, and his double today went about 390 feet.

But ... the RailCats can't do anything with it, and Trolia's through two innings scoreless.

This game is NOT open to the public but that has not stopped one die-hard RailCats fan. We need this man's name, because he's broken into Silver Cross Field to watch an exhibition game during work hours just to watch a game that will have 20 pitching changes, 30 lineup quirks and no PA/entertainment or, of course, other fans.

This man is a hero. Take note RailCats fans, that's how you support this team.

Another hard hit ball, this time a triple into the left-center field gap for Andrew Pinckney. He comes in to score on a groundout and it's 3-0 Joliet. After a Mike Coles (former RailCat!) single, Tim Alberts triples him in and Klein bunt single scores another. The 'Hammers lead 5-0 after two and Cogan is glad this game doesn't count.

Another Question
It turns out anonymous is from Texas. Either that or there are two anonymouses (?). Anyways, thanks for checking in.

More Questions!

Rule 10 asks two questions (bonus points for that).

First up, "Any word on the pitching today?" In fact, yes, there is word. Cogan will throw the first three followed in order by Aaron Cook, Eddie De la Cruz and Jon Mueller for two innings each.

Next, "How odd is it to watch a baseball game that's not open to the public?" A little odd, honestly, but not too bad. I will say the stranger thing will be the 10-man lineups, four-out innings and other eccentricities that this game will no doubt feature.

The Questions are Flying In!
Anonymous wants to know the latest on Esquer's hand.

Here's the latest on Esquer's hand. He had 10 stitches put in and will have them removed either today or tomorrow. Once he has that done, Esquer should be here Wednesday and will likely be with the team in St. Paul later this week.

Trolia gets the RailCats in order again in the third, striking out McKeon and McNamee. He looks in midseason form. Still 5-0 Joliet going to the bottom of the third.

Question from Kerouac
What's the update on Tanner Townsend?

Well, Kerouac, I wish the news was better. Tanner did have back surgery and will be out for a while, at least through the rest of the this month. At the moment, he's on the roster at Double-A Jackhsonville (along with Wille Glen), which would lead me to believe when he does get back that should be his starting destination. Tanner had an excellent winter in Puerto Rico where he was crushing the ball, so the injury is obviously disappointing.

Joliet's dueling DHs (Gomes & Thon) hit the ball hard but right at fielders, and Cogan gets through his first 1-2-3 innings in the third. On the the fourth, still 5-0.

Pitching change for Joliet, Trolia allows only one hit in three innings and strikes out five. He was one of the toughest pitchers in the league in the second half last year and he looked dynamite today.

Alex Vanoeveren on now for Joliet, a professional rookie from Washington, and Pecci and Guerrero greet the youngster with back-to-back sharp singles. After two outs, Rob Marconi delievers the RailCats a run, doubling off the wall in left. Guerrero is held at third - a little cautious for my liking but hey, Kenny Graham's in spring training too. [Kidding, Kenny].

More two-out hitting from the RailCats. Newcomer Mike Massaro singles under the glove of second baseman Wally Backman, Jr. to plate Guerrero and Marconi, and the RailCats are back in it at 5-3. Massaro swipes second on top of it, then walks home when Paul Bartolucci smokes a double into the leftfield corner, and now Bartolucci scores on a double from Nate McKeon. That's four straight run-scoring, two-out hits and this game is tied at five!

And we're still going in the fourth, pitching coach Floyd Youans to the mound for a chat.

Pitching change for Joliet.

Here's your first fun spring training moment of the year. The new pitcher is, well, we don't know for sure. The consensus is it's probably non-roster right-hander Jason Novak. We'll got with that.

The RailCats have hit around and Pecci is the first to face Novak with two on. Jay pops out to third and the inning is over, but a five spot on the board - all coming with two outs. It's 5-5 in Joliet.

Tony Cogan is off the hook after a rough day, allowing five runs on six hits in three innings. Aaron Cook is up next. Could be an interesting spring for Cook, especially with the RailCats without a closer. You would have to believe this guy has a shot at nailing down that job after a pretty dominating August last year with the RailCats. He'll be on for two innings.

Whoa. Andrew Pinckney, new Joliet third baseman, follows up his second inning triple with a mammoth home run to straightaway center. Joliet quickly back in front 6-5. Wally Backman, Jr. comes up next and singles, then steals second (questionably ... looked out from here) and scores on a Kevin Rios single.

So much for pitchers being ahead of hitters in the spring. It's 7-5 Joliet after four innings.

Two New Questions
Thanks for the questions, folks, keep 'em coming.

First, for Kerouac, next Tuesday's exhibition game is open to the public, like every RailCats exhibtion game. The Monday and Wednesday games are free, Tuesday's game will be just like a regular season RailCats game with between-inning contests, Tommy Williams on PA and more, but it will also cost $4 to attend. But fear not - proceeds from the game will be donated to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Indiana.

Next up, news for Anonymous on Willie Glen. Unfortunately, I'm in the dark on Willie's current condition. I do know that this offseason he had arm surgery to fix a lingering problem that he pitched through last season (when he went to the Southern League All-Star Game despite the injury). I'll bring you folks an update on the latest from Glen when I get it.

The slugfest continues in the fifth where Guerrero is grazed by a pitch and Isaac Omura checks in with a ringing single to right-center. The RailCats eventually load the bases with one out, but Novak dances out of trouble, getting Massaro to pop up to shortstop and Bartolucci to fly out to center.

We're halfway home, still 7-5 'Hammers.

Aaron Cook settles down for a quick fifth, taking care of Joliet in order in the fifth - and getting a couple pretty good hitters (Gomes & Thon) to ground out.

Still 7-5 Joliet, throught five.

New pitcher for Joliet: Tall lefty Ryan Paul (who despite no resemblance IS in fact Chris Paul's twin brother)

First lineup change for the RailCats as Brett Wallace steps in and flies out to right on a nice play made by Coles. Jeff Beachum also inserted into the lineup, he follows and strikes out. Brandon Morgan checks in for the first time with two outs and walks on four pitches to get on with two outs, but Guerrero grounds out and the inning is over.

Good inning for Paul, and we go to the bottom of the sixth.

Pitching change for the RailCats, with Eddie De la Cruz now on. Final line on Cook: 2 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 1 BB

De la Cruz - second straight sidearmer - looks pretty good in his first inning, striking out Ryan Arcadia and getting Wally Backman, Jr. to fly out to left. Young Brandon Morgan is in left, competing for a job with Paul Bartolucci. Both are infielders by trade, but Tagert wants one of them to be a jack-of-all-trades utility man, so they're showing their stuff in left while Steve Haake takes the day off.

Perfect inning for De la Cruz, the wheels have fallen off the offensive locomotive, it's still 7-5 into the seventh.

Pitching change for Joliet. Drew Shetrone, who was excellent last year for the 'Hammers before the Yankees signed him, is in. Shetrone was released this spring by the Bombers.

The RailCats do little in the seventh, Omura walks to lead off but Shetrone gets the next three in order. The game has lost a lot of steam, still 7-5 Joliet.

Eddie De la Cruz is the best pitcher so far for the RailCats, getting through another inning unscathed. De la Cruz finishes his two innings without allowing a hit, although the Dominican native did walk two in the seventh.
Time for the 'Cats to get some runs as we go to the eighth still 7-5 Joliet.

Pitching chage for Joliet (again). Big (real big) left-hander Devin Anderson into the game. Listed at 6'5", 245 pounds, Anderson is every inch and pound of that.

Jeff Beachum is in the book today, with a two-out swinging bunt single down the third base line. But that's it for the 'Cats in the eighth, only one more chance to score still down two.

The dude is still here, it's incredible. He's taken off the jersey (wearing one of road greys) but he's still in RailCats cap with a black t-shirt and jeans, and sitting in the very last row of the very last section down the third base line. Probably hiding out from security. Good move my man, way to hang in there.

Pitching change for the RailCats. Right-hander Jon Mueller, a former Cubs farmhand, is on. Mueller is the younger brother of former RailCat Dale Mueller and the proud wearer of this tremedous mustache:

That is, by far, the greatest mustache in RailCats history. Welcome to the record books, Jon.

As a pitcher, he's not bad either. Aside from an Andrew Sweet double, Mueller gets through the eighth unscathed. Last chance for the RailCats to tie or win it, going to the ninth down 7-5.

Pitching Change for Joliet: Jason Richardson on. 27-year-old independent league veteran.

John Torres is here today after getting spotted at the team's open tryout. He's played a couple innings in right, and he gets his first at bat here in the ninth, grounding out to third base. The RailCats go in order, so the game is ov ... well, not quite yet. We'll have a bottom of the ninth to give Johnny Mustache another inning of work.

Someone hits into a 4-6-3 double play (interest in this game is waning in the press box since, you know, the game is over). And Mueller gets Mike Coles to roll one back to him to officially end this game. All mustache-loving aside, Mueller actually looked quite impressive in his RailCats debut.

Live blog number on in the books for 2009. Thanks for the questions and comments, and don't forget to check out this blog - the (Rail)Cats Meow, don't you know - during the season, along with our Twitter (twitter.com/railcats) and the all-new www.railcatsbaseball.com.

Final score: Joliet 7, RailCats 5

The RailCats are in Schaumburg tomorrow at 2:30 and we'll have you covered. Check back here to see just how we'll be covering that game.

Now get back to work!

Friday, May 1, 2009

High School Challenge Results: May 1-4

U. S. Steel Yard
Friday, May 1, 2009

T-F North 2, T-F South 1

Notes: T-F North’s Adalberto Galvan threw a complete game no-hitter, allowing only four baserunners; Galvan was named his team’s Most Valuable Player; The Meteors won the game on a ninth inning single by Logan Frey, scoring Elijaben Israel who had tripled; Kyle Zegarac started on the mound for T-F South and allowed one run on two hits in four innings, earning his team’s MVP award.

U. S. Steel Yard
Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hebron 8, Gary West Side 2

Notes: MVPs - Hebron's Larry Spore Jr.; West Side's Mike Swayne

U. S. Steel Yard
Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hammond 13, Bowman Academy 1 (5 innings)

Notes: MVPs - Hammond's Ricky Vasquez; Bowman's LeVon Whittaker

U. S. Steel Yard
Monday, May 4, 2009

LaPorte 4, Chesterton 1

Notes: The total attendance of 707 marks the largest crowd in the seven-year history of the High School Challenge; the record broke the previous mark of 598 also set by Chesterton and LaPorte; Slicers starter Kevin Upp allowed only two hits in a complete game win, earning his team’s Most Valuable Player honors; Chesterton starter Glenn Peterson was named his team’s MVP.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

And We're Back

Just because the (Rail)Cats Meow was on a mini-hiatus, it doesn't mean we don't love you anymore. We just needed a little time. It won't happen again, we promise.

Now that we're back, let's get right into it. Things have certainly been busy around the Steel Yard the last two weeks with the team coming together and season rapidly approaching. Today the ballpark played host to one of our favorite events - the 'Cats annual Open Tryout. Players from all over the country and from all types of baseball backgrounds flocked to the park nearly 70 strong, and there were a few who stuck out.

The RailCats will begin Spring Training May 1, and this weekend when the club starts playing inner-squad games, the following 11 players will be invited back out get a chance to prove their worth. Two players - Dan Soria in 2003 and Mike Coles in 2006 - have made the team out of the open tryout, so keep your eyes on these 11 during the spring to see which one might be the next surprise member of the 2009 RailCats.

Open Tryout Players Invited Back to Camp
Jonathan Guzzo, LHP
Clint Harrelson, OF
Sam Haymon, RHP
Jerry Hodges, IF
Adam Kamuda, C
Kellen Kmiecik, OF
Michael Manns, LHP
Joe Panozzo, RHP
Chris Pfalzgraf, RHP
John Torres, OF
Joe Welsh, LHP

Congratulations to those 11. We'll see you in camp this weekend! Check back to the (Rail)Cats Meow soon for daily updates on the road during the season and more.

The RailCats are also on Twitter (hooray!). Follow us at www.twitter.com/railcats.

High School Challenge Results: April 24-29


Friday, April 24
U. S. Steel Yard

Gary Lew Wallace 11, Gary Wirt 1 (5 innings)

Notes: Lew Wallace's Dabney Hicks named team's Most Valuable Player. William Goffin earned team MVP honors for Wirt.

Friday, April 24
U. S. Steel Yard

Griffith 13, Whiting 6

Notes: Griffith's Ryan Galiher and Whiting's Taylor Pokraka named team MVPs.

U. S. Steel Yard
Saturday, April 25

Andrean 9, Bishop Noll 1 (8 innings)

Notes: Andrean scored eight runs in the eighth inning, including Kenny Mahala’s grand slam to right-center field, capping off an extra inning victory. Mahala captured Andrean’s Most Valuable Player honors; Tony Balcazar grabbed Bishop Noll’s Most Valuable Player honors for Saturday’s game.

U. S. Steel Yard
Saturday, April 25

Calumet 7, East Chicago Central 2

Notes: Game MVPs: Calumet - Mike Greer. East Chicago Central - Eddie Perez.

U. S. Steel Yard
Saturday, April 25

Lowell 6, Hobart 1

Notes: Game MVPs: Lowell – Derek Brandenburg. Hobart – Nicholas Taddei

U. S. Steel Yard
Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wheeler 6, North Newton 4

Notes: MVPs - Wheeler’s Eric Hibbard, North Newton’s Bobby Anderson

Friday, April 17, 2009

High School Challenge Results: April 17 & 18

U. S. Steel Yard
Friday, April 17, 2009

River Forest 6, Lake Station Edison 3

Notes: River Forest catcher Tyler Hanson scored three runs and collected two hits; Ingots starting pitcher Ryan Smith earned the win and was named his team's Most Valuable Player; Lake Station Edison's Dan Bogaski earned his side's MVP honors.

U. S. Steel Yard
Friday, April 17

Portage 5, Hammond Clark 3

Notes: Indians scored two runs in top of seventh to win game; Portage's Dom Reboy pitched complete game and earned team Most Valuable Player honors; Clark's Brandon Beason hit two-run home run to tie game in bottom of fifth and garnered Pioneers' MVP award.

** Game played in front of 444 fans, the fifth-largest crowd in High School Challenge History. First game of day (River Forest vs. Lake Station Edison) drew 390 fans **

U. S. Steel Yard
Saturday, April 18

Morgan Township 11, South Central 9

Notes: South Central scored nine runs in fifth inning to erase 8-0 deficit; Cherokees scored two in sixth and one in seventh to earn win; Morgan Township’s Darren Greiger went 3-for-3 and was the winning pitcher in relief, garnering team Most Valuable Player honors; South Central’s Steve Ames was the Satellite’s MVP.

U. S. Steel Yard
Saturday, April 18

Hanover Central 11, Hebron 1 (5 innings)

Notes: Hanover Central scored nine runs and sent 14 batters to the plate in the fourth inning; Wildcats starting pitcher Jordan Rizo tossed a complete game one-hitter and hit a three-run home run in the fourth; Rizo earned team Most Valuable Player honors; Hebron’s David Laviolette had the only Hawks hit – a second inning double – and was named his club’s MVP.

U. S. Steel Yard
Saturday, April 18

Boone Grove 5, Kouts 4

Notes: Kouts scored four times in bottom of sixth inning to tie game 4-4; Wolves answered with winning run in top of seventh; Boone Grove’s Lynn Strohl struck out three straight batters with two on in the bottom of the seventh to end the game and was named his team’s Most Valuable Player; Kouts’ starting pitcher Morgan Drazer was named the Mustangs MVP.

Friday, April 10, 2009

High School Challenge Results: April 10 & 11

The seventh-annual RailCats High School Challenge got underway tonight at frigid U. S. Steel Yard. From now until May 9, the (Rail)Cats Meow is the place to come for scores and information after every Challenge game.

For a full High School Challenge schedule, visit http://www.railcatsbaseball.com/schedule/highschoolchallenge/. Tickets are available day of game at U. S. Steel Yard Box Office for $5.

U. S. Steel Yard
Friday, April 10, 2009

Washington Township 18, Bowman Academy 0 (5 innings)

Notes: Washington Township junior pitcher Christian Lembke threw a complete game no-hitter (5.0 IP). Washington Township scored 11 runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Lembke was named the Washington Township MVP; Bowman starting pitcher Josiah Moore also earned team MVP honors.

U. S. Steel Yard
Saturday, April 11, 2009

Marquette Catholic 9, Covenant Christian 3

Notes: Marquette Catholic's Cole Tribble earned his team's Most Valuable Player award; Justin Dexter picked up the same honors for Covenant Christian.

* The scheduled 1:30 p.m. game between Hammond & Gary Roosevelt was canceled when Roosvelet failed to appear at the ballpark. Hammond High School will be re-scheduled to play a game at the High School Challenge this spring. Tickets purchased for the game will be good on the re-scheduled date or are valid for $5 off any ticket to a RailCats home game this summer.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Today's How To

Today, the (Rail)Cats Meow is proud to present the first in a brief series of How To lessons as we attempt to broaden our appeal to include fresh-faced youth and other innocents. Also, White Sox fans.

Lesson One
"How to Not Root for the Cubs Without Rooting Against the Cubs"

Answer: Root for Tim Byrdak. The 2003 RailCat is in the major leagues again this season - his eighth in "the show" - and he made his 2009 debut last night in the Astros 3-2 win in 10 innings over the Cubs. Byrdak struck out Koyie Hill and Mike Fontenot back-to-back to start the 10th inning but was denied his first win of the season when stinkin' Miguel Tejada torpedoed a throw from short allowing Aaron Miles to reach. Byrdak was pulled, Doug Brocail came on, and the Astros got the win in the bottom of the 10th.

A native of Oak Lawn, Illinois, Byrdak was a Kansas City Royal from 1998-2000 but came to the Northern League in 2003 trying to recover from a serious injury. Byrdak proved his worth with the 'Cats in 2003 and was back in the major leagues before the end of the 2005 season.

So for you White Sox fans, don't be one of those people who roots for the Cubs to lose, just mask your contempt for the fellas up north by being a RailCats fan.

The more you know.

Tim Byrdak bio [mlb.com]

Monday, April 6, 2009

NY Times Profiles New NL Franchise

Saturday's edition of the New York Times included an enlightening profile on the city of Zion, Ill. and the hope that the town's new baseball team - slated to begin play in the Northern League - will help the town pull out of a rough economic patch. One of the team's principle owners, Kevin Costner, has already given the club plenty of cache and from the sound of the story, the people of Zion are ecstatic about baseball coming to their town.

Some of the most interesting bits of the piece, though, surrounded the town's history. There's interesting stuff on Zion's not-so-distant past, so enjoy a nice read this morning while you try and shake off the snow (!) that covered our field last night.

Major League Hopes Pinned on the Minors [NY Times]

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Season Underway at U. S. Steel Yard

Yes, the Steel Yard hosted a baseball game today, the first of the spring played in downtown Gary. And even while the hosts from IU-Northwest were swept in a doubleheader by Olivet Nazarene, the sun-splashed ballpark was the most visible reminder yet that the 2009 RailCats season is just around the corner.

Only six weeks from Monday, the RailCats will open the gates for the first time in the regular season when the Joliet JackHammers come to town at 7 p.m. The RailCats have already signed eight of their 10 opening day starters from last season to contracts, and with a few more signings expected in the coming weeks, it won't be long before RailCats fans have a good idea about what this year's team will look like.

One thing's for sure, with the Major League season kicking off Monday and the slate of 33 games at the Steel Yard underway this spring, baseball is here. And we at the (Rail)Cats Meow couldn't be happier.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Willie Glen Swims With Fish in Florida

The greatest pitcher in Gary SouthShore RailCats history is one step closer to being a Florida Marlin.

Two years after leaving the ‘Cats, Willie Glen tossed on a Marlins jersey for the first time to take the mound against the Baltimore Orioles in a Major League Spring Training game Wednesday and produced predictable results. Glen pitched the first four innings, allowing just one run and striking out four, and out-dueled Orioles Opening Day starter Jeremy Guthrie to earn the win in a 13-2 game. Glen gave up a leadoff double to Ryan Freel in the first inning – Freel later came in to score – but fired zeros from that point on against a lineup that included most of the Orioles projected starters, like Nick Markakis, Melvin Mora and Aubrey Huff.

Glen – who had been pitching with the New Orleans Zephyrs (AAA) this spring – got the call to the major league game when Ricky Nolasco was given a day off. The 31-year-old Glen is not on the Marlins 40-man roster, but his performance since joining the organization has opened some eyes. Glen was one of the best pitchers in the Southern League (AA) last season, going 9-4 with a 2.01 ERA in 24 appearances (17 starts) and allowing only 59 hits in 94.0 innings (the league hit .180 off Glen).

Glen is expected to start the season with New Orleans where he’ll be at the ready should the major league club have a role to fill. The Marlins have a stacked minor league system but are very young, even at the big league level. Nolasco, at 26, is the most veteran of the Marlins starters, and 32-year-old reliever Scott Proctor is far and away the elder statesman of the bullpen.

Glen was a successful professional before coming to the RailCats in 2005, pitching previously at Double-A and Triple-A, but he credits his former Manager Greg Tagert for his accelerated development in the Northern League. A career reliever, Glen embraced his starting role in Gary and became a dominant pitcher. After two outstanding seasons Glen put together arguably the best year a Northern League pitcher has ever had in 2007, going 12-1 with a 3.03 ERA, striking out a league-record 162 batters in 139.2 innings and holding opponents to a .214 average. Glen’s 2007 postseason was even better – a 4-0 mark that included a storybook 140-pitch, three-hit, 10-strikeout, complete game win over Calgary in the decisive fifth game of the Northern League Championship Series.

Glen is trying to become the third RailCats player to reach the major leagues, joining Tim Byrdak and Nathan Haynes. Byrdak, a 2003 RailCat, will begin his second season with the Houston Astros next week coming off an impressive 2008 in which he struck out 47 in 55.1 innings and boasted a 3.90 ERA out of the bullpen. Byrdak has been back in the major leagues each season since 2005 after spending three years (1998-2000) with the Kansas City Royals before an injury. Haynes played for the RailCats in 2006, Los Angeles Angels in 2007 and Tampa Bay Rays in 2008. Haynes is in minor league camp with the Texas Rangers this spring.

Elsewhere in Marlins camp, former RailCats Andy Haines and Anthony Iapoce have been assigned their coaching duties for the upcoming season. Haines – the RailCats Hitting Coach in 2005 & 2006 – will manage the Jamestown Jammers (A) in the New York-Penn League after working as a hitting coach in Marlins system in 2008. The Most Valuable Player of the 2005 Northern League Championship Series, Iapoce retired to become a coach after that season and will work with the Marlins Florida State League affiliate in Jupiter this summer as a hitting coach.

Tanner Townsend, the 2008 Northern League Most Valuable Player, endured a dose of bad news earlier this week when he was shelved with a back injury. A timetable for Townsend’s return to minor league camp is unknown. Earlier this year, Townsend was the top playoff hitter in the prestigious Puerto Rican Winter League.

Offense Leads Way in Marlins' Rout
Marlins-Orioles Box Score
Andy Haines Update
Tanner Townsend Sold to Marlins

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tony Cogan Back for Another Run

If you had asked me in September what the chances were that Tony Cogan would be in a RailCats uniform in 2009, I would have told you to remember the moments he'd already had in Gary because there probably wouldn't be any more coming. After all, Cogan was 31 at the end of last season (he's celebrated another birthday since), he's already reached the baseball pinnacle (a 39-game stint with the Kansas City Royals in 2001) and he'd proven himself all he could in independent baseball, first as a closer in 2007 and then as a starter last year.

Today, Cogan signed his contract for the 2009 season to come back to Gary for at least one more run at a league championship and another crack at a major league organization. Make no mistake about it, the RailCats are thrilled, thrilled, that Cogan is back for another season (there are no in-house candidates to fill a veteran void in the rotation if Jeremy Plexico does not return), but count me as one who will be pleasantly surprised when Cogan takes the hill for the first time this summer.

Cogan is the first major addition to the RailCats pitching staff this year and should be counted on again to anchor Greg Tagert's four-man starting rotation. The RailCats have filled in the bullpen nicely in recent weeks but the rotation candidates consisted only of unproven right-handers Zach Groh and Garret Holleran.

With the offense returning almost completely intact - only Tanner Townsend and Steve Haake are unsigned from a year ago (and Haake could re-sign soon) - and the bullpen shaping up, the RailCats are a starter or two away from having another title-worthy team to make a run. Cogan's signing - unexpected or not - is certainly a giant leap in that direction.

Read about Cogan's signing here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The RailCats Meet the NCAA Tournament

The annual passage from winter to spring - the NCAA Tournament - is underway now, and for us here at The (Rail)Cats Meow that means we've got one more chance to talk about something other than baseball.

The lives of baseball players - lots of time together on buses, in hotels and in the locker room - mean there's plenty of time for playful competition, and almost nothing gets the juices flowing like when college alma mater's are in action. The College World Series and early-season football get everyone fired up, so with that in mind The (Rail)Cats Meow presents a look at the RailCats (only those signed for 2009) rooting interests in March Madness.

The results, well, let's say just about everyone is ready for baseball:


Aaron Cook (University of Tampa) - The Division II Spartans have now had 10 straight winning seasons, but a 16-12 record kept Tampa out of the NCAAs this year.

Zach Groh (Binghamton) - Here's a man who's dancing. The Bearcats made the field of 65 for the first time in program history by winning the America East. A first round date with Duke, however, ended Binghamton's NCAA run early.

Brian Halford (Louisville) - The man with the highest postseason expectations is Halford, whose Cardinals are the number one overall seed in the tournament. Louisville's terrible first half was a little scary, but Halford's alma mater is still sitting prettier than any of the other RailCats.

Garret Holleran (Wright State) - The good news? Two teams from the mid-major Horizon League made the NCAAs. The bad news? Wright State wasn't one of them, despite a 20-win season.

Anthony Esquer (Cal Poly Ponoma) - Forget Halford and the Cardinals, Esquer's Broncos are going to the Elite Eight after upsetting West Region top-seed BYU-Hawaii Thursday.

Brett Wallace (West Chester) - Another Division II grad, Wallace's Rams did not make the NCAA Tournament but were on the right side of .500, finishing 18-10.

Paul Bartolucci (Nevada) - The Wolfpack have a proud basketball tradition, but the only postseason for Nevada this year was something called the CBI where they lost to UTEP.

Jeff Beachum & Eric McNamee (Middle Tennessee State) - The RailCats have a pipeline through Murfreesboro, but it might be a good thing the 'Cats don't play basketball. The Blue Raiders lost early in the Sun Belt Tournament.

Isaac Omura (Hawaii) - Another pretty proud WAC basketball school (see Nevada), the former Rainbows (now Warriors) were just 13-17.

Jay Pecci (Stanford) - The Cardinal have a new head coach (!), they are going back to the postseason (!) and they won their first tournament game (!). The tournament? The dreaded CBI Invitational (ouch).

Mike Rohde (Illinois) - Ugh. The Illini sure looked like a dangerous team, but without their point guard a pretty lackluster loss to 12-seed Western Kentucky ended the season for Rohde's alma mater.

Rob Marconi (Northern Illinois) - Oh boy, an 11-seed in the MAC Tournament is not a good place to be, and the Huskies endured a 20-loss season.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Is Jeff Beachum the Missing Piece?

Welcome to Northwest Indiana Jeff Beachum, you might have some pretty big shoes to fill.

Acquired by the RailCats back in January, Beachum may be the man to watch in the first half of the 'Cats season, becuase the 25-year-old rookie will be given an opportunity in camp to win the vacant job at third base. Forget the pressure of filling the only open slot on an infield stacked with quality veterans, Beachum could also be asked to replace none other than 2008 Northern League Player of the Year Tanner Townsend.

Beachum's professional statistics don't look impressive - he's been limited to just 156 at bats in two seasons - but his college pedigree is as good as anyone. He's the Sun Belt Conference's all-time leader in hits, and the Middle Tennessee State program he came from has produced several professionals, including 'Cats second baseman Eric McNamee. In fact, McNamee and Beachum were teammates for two years at MTSU, a fact that should no doubt help Beachum ease into the RailCats clubhouse.

Of course, to say Beachum should fill Townsend's shoes is completely unfair, and is not what the RailCats would like him to do. Townsend's defensive ability will never be duplicated and the offensive slack must be picked up by any number of returning players like McNamee, Jay Pecci, Mike Rohde, Rob Marconi and others who will sign in the coming weeks. All Beachum hopes to do is play a competent third base and remain the patient contact hitter he's always been (in an All-Region 2006 season at MTSU, he struck out only 14 times in 248 at bats).

What the RailCats hope Beachum can be is another inexperienced yet productive position player. Talented enough to play in the Northern League -the Winnipeg Goldeyes held Beachum's rights before the start of last season until he was traded to Washington - if Beachum wins the third base job (veterans Paul Bartolucci and Isaac Omura could also be in the running) his rookie status would make him a tremendous asset as an everyday player. While all Northern League teams are required to have four rookie players, the vast majority are either relief pitchers, back-of-the-rotation starting pitchers or backups; maybe a starting catcher at best.

Teams with productive rookies are usually teams playing into the post-season, including the 2008 RailCats who had rookie-status position players Rohde and Brett Wallace both take part in the All-Star Game. By getting rookies who produce under Greg Tagert, the RailCats have been able to spend higher value and higher paying (LS-4, LS-5 and veteran) roster spots on players like all-league closer Koichi Misawa in positions typically reserved for younger, less experienced players. And with the roster slot and money Townsend left open upon heading to the Florida Marlins camp not filled by Beachum, the RailCats are free to spend more to re-sign and add other new pieces to the mix.

So welcome again to Gary, Jeff Beachum. You won't have to be Tanner Townsend - or even Mike Rohde - but if you show me Beachum at third base in August, I'll show you the RailCats playing into September.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Risinger, Australia Continue to Impress

Former RailCat Ben Risinger and the Australian national team gave a major scare to heavily favored Cuba Tuesday night at the World Baseball Classic in Mexico City before falling 5-4. Risinger had another RBI (his fourth of the tournament), and the Aussies led 4-2 after six innings but their bullpen failed to hold the lead.

The Australians will rematch with Mexico Wednesday at 9 p.m. Central on the MLB Network. Risinger hit a three-run home run Sunday when the Aussies blasted Mexico in a stunning 17-7 win. If the Australians can reprise that effort tonight, they will advance to the second round of the tournament, three years after being quickly eliminated in the inaugural event.

To follow all the action at the WBC, check out www.mlb.com/worldbaseballclassic.

And to hold you over until tonight, here's a smiling Risinger celebrating his home run Sunday:

Monday, March 9, 2009

Risinger Leads Australia to Major Upset at WBC

Ben Risinger’s addition to the Gary SouthShore RailCats midway through the 2005 season helped push the ‘Cats to an unlikely Northern League title. Four years later Risinger is again at the center of an underdog story, this time in the World Baseball Classic.

A native of Perth, Australia, Risinger made his national team for this year’s WBC, a squad that had understandably low expectations. After all, in 2006 the Aussies scored only four runs in three games (all losses) and their 2009 opener Sunday was in Mexico City against a Mexican team that boasts major league talent up and down the roster.

The Australians, though, came out slugging Sunday, getting two home runs from the game’s first three hitters en route to a shocking 17-7 rout of Mexico that ended after eight innings. Risinger was right in the middle of the action, starting at first base and batting fifth, going 2-for-5 including a mercy-rule clinching three-run home run in the eighth inning.

Risinger and the Aussies are one win away from advancing to the second round, and will get their first crack Tuesday night against Cuba in Mexico City at 9 p.m. Central. If Cuba wins that game, Australia will get another chance to advance Wednesday night against the winner of tonight’s Mexico-South Africa game.

Signed by the RailCats in July 2005 after being released out of Portland (AAA) in the San Diego Padres system, Risinger batted .310 in 23 regular season games before slugging the ‘Cats to a Northern League title with a big post-season. Risinger played one more game for Portland in 2006 – where he spent parts of four seasons – before retiring and becoming the Padres’ bullpen catcher, a job he still holds.

The 2005 RailCats won the Northern League Championship in their first season under Manager Greg Tagert. Just one year earlier, the RailCats had set a league-record with 65 losses in 96 games. The RailCats have advanced to four straight Northern League Championship Series under Tagert’s leadership (2005-08), adding a second title in 2007.

To follow Risinger and the Australian National Team, visit

Friday, March 6, 2009

'Cats Cooking Some Summer Fun

Much of the RailCats 2009 promotional schedule is now available online. Check it out to see which of your favorite promotions are back for this season, and which new ones you can add to your calendar.


Me, I'm a sucker for the Famous Chicken. I circle the date on my calendar every year and I can't wait to see him again on August 6. As far as the giveaways, though, how can you do better than cash? The RailCats will have two money giveaways (June 5 & August 13) where each of the first 1,000 fans will be handed an envelope containing up to $100 in cash!

What giveaway is your favorite? Let us know in the commens.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

This is Much Better

The RailCats have made some major upgrades to the employee break room.



It's hard to express just what it means to eat a peanut butter sandwich in peace.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Gary Native Added to Team USA

Congratulations to Gary native and longtime friend of the RailCats LaTroy Hawkins on being named to Team USA for the upcoming World Baseball Classic today.

Hawkins joins Team USA as an injury replacement for Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan, and will be with his teammates this weekend when the USA squad kicks off the tournament against Canada in Toronto. Hawkins, who will pitch once again for the Houston Astros this year, has 14 major league seasons and over 1,100 innings under his belt, spending much of his career with the Minnesota Twins (1995-2003).

Hawkins pitched for the Chicago Cubs in 2004 and founded the "Hawk's Nest" at U. S. Steel Yard along with his wife, Anita. The RailCats bleacher seats in right field became the "Hawk's Nest" that season, and LaTroy and Anita purchased tickets for several games and donated them to underprivileged youth in the area.

Hawkins graduated from West Side High School in Gary in 1991 and was a seventh round draft choice of the Twins that summer. You can follow Hawkins and Team USA this summer at the World Baseball Classic by visiting www.mlb.com.

Read the full story

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wrapping Up Winter Ball

The 2009 Caribbean Series is over, bringing the 2008-09 Winter season to an end, so let's take a look back at two notable RailCats performances that you may have missed while digging out of a mountain of snow.

The one-time blogger, one-time closer and 2008 Northern League leader in ERA, Cogan got off to a bit of a slow start in the early going but pitched well down the stretch for Caguas in the Puerto Rican league. The former Kansas City Royal went 4-3 with a 4.32 ERA over 13 appearances, including eight starts. Cogan fired 50.0 innings (third on the team) and allowed only 53 hits and 13 walks for a solid 1.32 WHIP.

After Caguas was eliminated from the postseason, Cogan was dealt to the Dominican Winter League, where he pitched for the Azucareros del Este.

Cogan was looking to impress some big league scouts during his trip to the Caribbean, and his late-season effort could be enough to earn the 32-year-old another crack at affiliated baseball. Cogan rose quickly through the Royals organization and reached the majors in 2001, before arm injuries derailed his career. The Highland Park, Ill. native has spent the last four years in independent baseball, but here's hoping his success in 2009 comes at AA, AAA or above.

The now former RailCats star got his first crack at winter ball in Puerto Rico this year and made the Florida Marlins (who signed him in December) look awfully smart.

Townsend had some ups and downs in the regular season - including some surprising struggles in the field - but still batted .284 with 11 RBIs in 18 games. His club, Arecibo, reached the four team postseason and that's when Townsend found his groove. The Kentucky native hit .378 (third in the league) in nine playoff games, helping Arecibo to the final round of the Puerto Rican playoffs. Townsend collected a league-leading 25 total bases in the playoffs, racking up three doubles, a triple and two home runs. His .676 slugging mark and 1.070 OPS both ranked second in the league.

Townsend will be in minor league camp with the Marlins later this month, looking to latch on at the AA or AA level. Needless to say, if the 2008 Northern League Player of the Year hits like he did in the playoffs in Puerto Rico, his dream of reaching the major leagues may not be that far away.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Costner Bringing New Team to Northern League

The most exciting announcement of the winter came Tuesday morning on the WGN News [watch the clip here] when actor Kevin Costner announced he and Schaumburg Flyers owner Rich Ehrenreich are forming a new independent franchise in Zion, Illinois - just northeast of Six Flags Great America and Gurnee Mills Mall - that will play in the Northern League in 2010 [check out the team website].

Everyone associated with the league agrees there has been a need to expand since the departure of Calgary and Edmonton left the Northern League with only six teams for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. This announcement will have to coincide with the addition of an eighth team to balance the schedule in 2010 - even if that's a traveling team.

On the surface, Zion seems to be an excellent location, far enough from north-suburban Schaumburg but close enough to Chicago where there should be an available fan and advertiser base. And the addition of Costner gives the team instant publicity and, hopefully, credibility.

For more on this story, check out some of the coverage in the local media:

The other sort of under-the-radar story here is that it appears the Flyers are now for sale. Ehrenreich is one of the Flyers three principal owners of the Schaumburg franchise and says of offers to buy the club, "for the first time, I'm listening."

Read the full story here.
So what do you think? Let us know in the comments what you feel about this new team.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Risinger on Provisional Aussie Roster

The mid-season addition of Ben Risinger was one of the major reasons the 2005 RailCats went on to win the Northern League title, as the "Thunder From Down Under" racked up 26 hits in 23 games in the regular season (batting .310) and was the big bat in the middle of the order in the postseason. Risinger, who retired in 2006 and is now the San Diego Padres bullpen catcher, may be on the verge of playing a little more baseball this spring.

The 31-year-old Risinger is on the provisional roster for the Australian team in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. If selected to take part in the two-week competition, Risinger would be trying to help the Aussies to their first ever win in the tournament after Australia went 0-3 in 2006. Australia will begin double-elimination pool play Sunday, March 8 against Mexico on MLB Network, and must win twice to get out of a four-team pool that also includes Cuba and South Africa.

To follow Risinger and the World Baseball Classic, visit http://mlb.mlb.com/wbc/2009/index.jsp?team=aus.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Around the Northern League

With Opening Night now just over 100 days away, rosters across the Northern League are starting to take shape. While the RailCats had a bit of a quiet week as far as on-field moves go - the only update is Jordan Comadena heading to Astros Spring Training - there was plenty of other action.


The Schaumburg Flyers are coming off the worst season in league history, but they have made a couple moves that should have the RailCats Chicagoland rivals back as a serious contender in 2009. Their hiring of Mike Busch as manager was the first sound transaction, bringing in a proven winner who has had success in this league in the past. Busch, if you remember, led Calgary to the Championship Series in 2007 before they were felled by the RailCats, and was one inning away from a Golden League title last season.

One of Busch's first moves as manager was to pull in Brian Nelson - the RailCats Hitting Coach in 2007 - as his hitting coach this year. Nelson managed the Windy City Thunderbolts for the first half of last season and is yet another proven commodity in the highly competitive Northern League.

Then, just a few days ago, the Flyers made a move to acquire former RailCats first baseman Jason Colson (pictured above) from the Can-Am League. Colson was a part of Greg Tagert's first RailCats team in 2005 and made the All-Star team before being traded to the Vipers along with Quintin Oldenburg for Fehlandt Lentini, who would go on to lead the RailCats to a title. Colson, a converted pitcher, has above-average power and will be a mainstay in the middle of the Flyers lineup this year.

The busiest Northern League team this offseason has been the Winnipeg Goldeyes, and Manager Rick Forney has been quickly re-building one of the league's best pitching staffs from 2008. Forey has re-signed pitchers Zach Baldwin, Ace Walker, Bear Bay, Aaron Jackson and Brandon Kintzler (essentially the entire rotation from last year) and has also re-upped with slugger Kevin West and infielder Antoin Gray.
Forney has also brought in a couple new bodies - notably former standout Frontier League infielder Wes Long - but with his rotation in place the only real building that needs to be done is in the bullpen. There Winnipeg has lost rubber-armed lefty Dustin Pease (trade) and Relief Pitcher of the Year Brian Beuning (retired).

The RailCats Fan Fest is February 21 at the Radisson Hotel in Merrillville [BUY TICKETS], and along with the baseball clinics, Q & A sessions and autograph signings, the 'Cats will also announce at least two major player signings. You won't hear about those signings unless you're at Fan Fest, and tickets are going fast at just $15 per person, so make your plans now.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nathan Haynes Now a Ranger

Nathan Haynes, one of two former RailCats to reach the major leagues, is getting a new address. The 29-year-old speedster signed with the Texas Rangers earlier this month, his third team in the last three years.

Haynes was a first-round draft choice of the Oakland A's in 1997 out of high school who joined the RailCats in 2006 after two injury-plagued seasons in the San Francisco Giants system. Haynes played in 31 games for the 'Cats in early 2006 before being picked up by the Los Angeles Angels, and one year later he was on the major league roster. After hitting .267 in 40 games with the Angels in 2007, Haynes was claimed off waivers by the American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 and played 20 games in the big leagues before finishing the year in Triple-A.

Haynes signed a minor league contract with Texas and will not be invited to major league spring training, meaning he is likely to start the year at Triple-A. Haynes has stolen nearly 300 bases in his pro career, including 13 in 77 games with the Durham Bulls (AAA) last season.

Haynes and Tim Byrdak are the only two players to go from the RailCats to a major league roster. Byrdak, an Oak Lawn, Ill. native, will begin his eighth major league season in 2009 with the Houston Astros.

Thanks to RailCats fan Dan Stevenson for the photo.

Dallas Morning News

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rusty's Roundup: Move Over Michael Jordan

Hey there all you rambunctious RailCat radicals! Here's hoping you had as FAN-TASTIC a weekend as I did!

In case you missed it (you better have a good excuse!), I was one of many Chicagoland mascots that descended upon the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion for the Jan. 18 basketball game against Butler. The UIC Pavilion's fire-breathing inhabitant, Flamer, invited a bunch of us out for a frenzied afternoon of dancing, cavorting and our own special halftime basketball game.

Here's a RailCat-eyed view of the day's events:

When I first arrived at the Pavilion, I immediately noticed Skates (of the Wolves), Tommy (the BlackHawk) and (gasp!) RUSTY of the Chicago Steel. Who invited a SECOND Rusty – a dirty DOG Rusty no less?? Yuck! I ran around asking everyone in a red shirt why he was here until finally someone told me to chill out. ME?! Well that made me go straight up to this "Rusty" and yank his tale to assert my dominance. After I cat-ninja'd Rusty #2 into submission, we became fast friends.

As the other mascots showed up (including but not limited to Boomer from the Windy City Thunderbolts, Ozzie from the Kane County Cougars, Sky Guy from the Chicago Sky, Sparky from the Chicago Fire and even the once kidnapped but safely recovered Butler Bulldog), we got into heated discussions of who was going to win the dance off, the basketball game, and who could toss Flamer the farthest. Naturally, if there HAD been a declared winner in the dance-off, if the bball game was officiated fairly, or if Flamer allowed us to test our biceps I would have won all of these competitions. Paws down.

Before the game started I walked around the concourse and met tons of cool cats who came just to see me! They didn't have to say so explicitly, I could tell by their jolly expressions when they saw me…

Then it was time to get down to business. The dance-off was at the four minute media time out and I had my moves ready. There was the worm, lawn mower, moonwalk, fisherman and of course my patented gut thrust. Apparently Flamer & Co. thought this dance-off was "all in good fun" and were too afraid to upset the other mascots by pronouncing me the winner. It's ok though, everyone in that place TOTALLY knew I was the best.

Next came the Mascot basketball game. Obviously, I'm a baseball kind of cat, but I held my own and even attempted a basket of my own (which was thiiiiiiiiis close, I tell ya!). The game quickly erupted into a mass of flying paws and oversized sneakers to the butt and boy, do I have the bruises to prove it. Once the game was over Flamer declared it was a tie. A tie! Now, I know a thing or two about counting and I am 99.96 percent sure my team made more buckets than the other one! The injustice! I've written a formal letter to Flamer appealing this decision.

After all the game's excitement I went home and took an 18 hour cat nap. Hmm, that sounds pretty good right …ZZZZzzzz


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Andy Haines Update

Found a pretty cool story today on former RailCats Hitting Coach Andy Haines (2005-06), who is slated to manage the Jamestown Jammers (A) in the Marlins system this summer.


Haines left the RailCats in 2007 to take over as the manager of the Windy City Thunderbolts and promptly turned what had been a moribund franchise around, winning the Frontier League Championship and Manager of the Year honors after setting a league record for wins during the regular season.

While I didn't personally get to see a ton of Haines up close, to hear people who know him well talk, he has just a bright a future in affiliated baseball as any of the former RailCats. 'Cats Manager Greg Tagert and current Hitting Coach Kenny Graham - who actually played for Haines at Olney Central College and later coached there himself - believe the 31-year-old Haines will be in a major league dugout sometime very soon.

Good luck to Andy and his family this year in Jamestown!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

2009 Roster Shaping Up

It's hot stove season in baseball, and that means it's time to start thinking about the RailCats 2009 roster, something now fifth-year Manager Greg Tagert has been doing for about the last four months. Questions are abound, like what do the RailCats need, who are the key new faces in 2009 and which RailCat is going to see a bigger role this season? Some answers won't come into focus until later this offseason so for now let's start the discussion at the top.

And don't forget to give us your opinion in the comments.

Without being able to predict the future of some of the RailCats veteran players - the RailCats may need more a couple weeks from now than they do today - here are some of the big early holes:

Third Base
When you lose a player the caliber of Tanner Townsend, the number one offseason priority automatically becomes replacing his production, a near impossible task. Without sounding overly cliche, no one will ever replace all Townsend does - the 2008 Northern League MVP was a great fielder, hitter and clubhouse presence - but the bigger question right now is who plays his position.

A candidate to see a little time at the hot corner could be Mike Rohde (pictured), who was the Northern League's Rookie of the Year last season splitting time between several positions, although he was primarily a first baseman. Rohde isn't the defensive third baseman Townsend was, but he was pretty solid when he did see time there last season.

Another early candidate could be Jeff Beachum, the Middle Tennessee State product the RailCats picked up in a trade with Washington in the Frontier League earlier this week. Beachum has only played second base and shortstop so far in his brief professional career, but would be forced to either first or third base if both Jay Pecci and Eric McNamee return for their fifth seasons in Gary.

The most likely replacement, however, is probably not yet under the RailCats control. The 'Cats have a lot of time left this offseason and could still go after a more experienced player at the position, a move that would not only lock down one of the toughest defensive positions on the field but also give the 'Cats a veteran bat in the lineup to try and make up for Townsend's lost production.

First Base/Designated Hitter
This job could be Rohde's from opening day, but with the retirement of Eric Blakeley the RailCats did lose their best defensive player at the position. Rohde was the RailCats designated hitter in the playoffs with Blakeley at first base, and if the RailCats decide to keep him in that role they would need someone to round out the infield at first.

If the RailCats opt to keep Rohde at first base - he played 65 games there last season - then the hole in the RailCats lineup ends up at designated hitter. Tagert has in the past been comfortable using a number of players at the DH spot during a season (using it at times as a half-day off for a regular), but if a middle-of-the-lineup type hitter becomes available to the RailCats they do have the flexibility to plug him in at DH.

Starting Pitching
Everyone needs starting pitching, but the RailCats again have some question marks in their rotation. Brian Forystek's retirement opens one spot on the four-man rotation, and while rookie Garret Holleran showed some very good things late last season in his 10 starts, he has still has only pitched in 14 games in his career. And the RailCats other two starters, Tony Cogan and Jeremy Plexico, are at the point in their careers where next season is never a guarantee, although it would not be surprising to see both back in a RailCats uniform in 2009.

So the RailCats need conservatively one starter, and pessimistically maybe three. The in-house candidates at the moment are limited as only newly acquired Zach Groh has any starting experience, but like Holleran, Groh's only professional season was 2008.

All this means the RailCats will likely be looking long and hard for a few good arms, something Tagert's been great at doing the last few offseasons, with signings like Josh Habel and Jason Shelley in 2006 and Plexico before last season. Look for Tagert to try and add at least one veteran starter with some affiliated experience (the three listed above all pitched in AA), although that move may not come until affiliated rosters thin out in March and April.

The RailCats under Tagert have almost always had a reliable option at the end of the bullpen, from Derek Lopez in 2005 to Cogan in 2007 and the nearly un-hittable Koichi Misawa last year. Sure, Misawa did not arrive until June in 2008, but the RailCats won't be banking on a pitcher of his caliber coming available again in 2009.

Like with the starters, it seems like the best possible candidates for the closers job will come from outside the organization right now. Aaron Cook is a possibility if he returns, although the RailCats really liked him as an eighth inning guy last year, and Tagert would love to have Misawa back, but approaching 35 years old and back in his native Japan, that's a major longshot.

The RailCats best two closers - Lopez and Cogan - both had experience in independent baseball and as closeres (as did P.J. Bevis, who started 2008 in the closers role), and all were guys with pretty impressive resumes. Tagert places a big emphasis on his bullpen and does have one veteran roster spot available with Forystek's retirement, so perhaps the 'Cats will go that route to find someone to get the final three outs.

What do you think is the RailCats biggest need this offseason? Let us know in the comments below, and don't forget to come back in the next few weeks when we'll break down the rest of the RailCats offseason and take a look around the Northern League to see how the 'Cats competition is shaping up.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What is Your Tradition of Excellence?

Happy New Year, Happy Holidays, Happy go-back-to-work and welcome back to the [Rail]Cats Meow. We're right where you left us last year, and we promise a 2009 with significantly more months of activity than we had in 2008!

On to more serious matters, beginning, of course with the new shining beacon of online RailCats-ness that is http://www.railcatsbaseball.com/. It's new (didn't you hear?), so get check it out and stay tuned for the gradual unveiling of a boat-load of new features that should really be pretty cool. I promise.

In the meantime, here is a serious question for you to ponder while you browse http://www.railcatsbaseball.com/. What is your own personal Tradition of Excellence? You've no doubt experienced the RailCats Tradition of Excellence, including the winning on the field, first-class ballpark and staff (yours truly not withstanding), bang for your buck and family fun, but I'm not interested in that. Rather, what tradition or ritual do you have that makes you so darn excellent?

I'll start. One of my more energizing Tradition(s) of Excellence is my evening greeting with my dog, Lee (pictured below, looking customarily sultry). Anyone can just come home and say hi to their dog - it's easy, the little fellas are crazy about people - but I don't think anyone gives it back quite as hard as I do, at least not consistently. Lee knows he's in for a real tussle when I walk through those doors, and an extended one too, there's no wimping out early on either side. We'll both fight through some pain and fatigue. Cuts, scrapes, a little slobber on the pants, it can't stop me from continuing this Tradition of Excellence. It's something I do well (Excellent?) and do every day (a Tradition?) with no exception.

So see, it's easy. And I could have come up with countless others, like never going more than six days without shaving, never going more than two weeks without updating the blog, making peanut butter sandwiches, and I'm sure others.

Give me your best Tradition of Excellence. Either post it in the comments or send it to blogs@railcatsbaseball.com and I'll compile them later this month.

Until then, http://www.railcatsbaseball.com/.