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

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 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 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 and I'll compile them later this month.

Until then,