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

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

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