Whole Lotta Hittin’ Goin’ On: Starting with Star Wars night at Delta Dental on July 23, The Fisher Cats bats went on an eight-game tear during which they went 6-2. Their 40 round-trippers for the month of July are believed to be a franchise record. Was the harbinger the lack of a Wookie of the Year in the 96-degree heat? Just too darn hot to don a Chewbacca suit. The 7,000+ fans were satisfied with Princess Leia, Han Solo and player jerseys that featured Yoda. “Home runs we hit, Hmmmm…” That was also the night the Blue Jays pounded the Red Sox at Fenway Park to the tune of four touchdowns with extra points. The Jays won 28-5 with former Fisher Cats going 17-for-30 and accounting for 16 of the runs batted in.
Blue Jays #2 prospect Orelvis Martinez had five homers for the F-Cats with a pair of two home run games during the 6-2 stretch. If he stays healthy, Martinez should easily break the F-Cats record for home runs in a single season.
It’s a Strong Man’s Game: Hottest of all is infielder Addison Barger, promoted from High A Vancouver during July. As I write this, Barger is hitting over .400 and with power that belies his modest size. His three home runs contributed to the 20 the Fisher Cats hit during their 6-2 run. His eighth-inning home run vs. the Portland Sea Dogs was the game winner on 7/23.
“No, I wouldn’t say my success has been a surprise,” the 22-year-old said. “It’s due to the work I put in. Off-season, I lift a lot of weights and work on bat speed, better swing decisions, seeing the ball longer, hitting with more power. Bat speed and pitch recognition are key.”
To assist in this Barger has invested in a $13,000 iPitch machine. The machine can be programmed to throw different pitches in different locations at different speeds. It can even be programmed to simulate the mix, speeds and locations a particular pitcher uses.
“It helps me to get live at bats in the off season, Barger explained. “It helps to recognize spin and location.”
Barger has played both third base and shortstop for the F-Cats, but considers shortstop his natural position. Anyone who has seen his strong arm would find it as no surprise that he pitched some in high school.
The infielder also shared a few tips for high-school players: “Work on your physicality. It’s a strong man’s game for a reason. You’ve got to be strong. I was always a smaller guy growing up, so I dealt with that a lot. Once I started taking my physicality seriously, it all came together.
Adopt a Minor Leaguer: Mother and daughter Barbara and Bella Chautin from Maynard, Mass., were on hand July 23 to promote awareness of the needs of minor league players, many of who deal with stress, road weariness and modest salaries. If the majors are “The Show,” the minors can be every bit community theater. The 501-c3 charity Adopt a Minor Leaguer is helping 860 players this year with a mailed box of snacks, anxiety-reduction tips and friendly online, phone and even in-person contact. There are approximately 4,800 minor league players.
According to the Chauntins, the cost is $150-$200 per month.
“Our goal for next year is public relations,” the elder Chautin said.” A lot of players don’t know this exists.”
And More About Muscles: Fisher Cats Strength and Conditioning Coach Casey Callison is passionate about his work. “I’m proud of all of them,” he replied when asked to name particular players he was honored to have helped.
The Blue Jays use dieticians and other performance staff to work alongside the baseball staff.
“We’re all just focused around keeping the guys in shape, maintaining what we have, and then reassessing what we have in the off season,” Callison said. “I feel like some people think of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s definitely not what we’re doing with the baseball players.”
Old school players and fans remember the days when weights were frowned upon because of the belief that more muscles meant more injuries. Hall of Fame slugger Ralph Kiner has talked about that time, but those days are gone.
“The big thing is there’s a time and a place,” the strength coach said, echoing Addison Barger’s work ethic.
The time conditioning is obvious to the fans now is pre-game when players are running against resistance belts and high-stepping in the outfield.
At my age, a resistance belt means trying to shed a notch before tucking it into the belt buckle.
According to Callison, the serious conditioning work gets done in the off-season.
“That’s when the guys aren’t doing much baseball and we dedicate all of the time to basically working on their physical make-up,” the coach explained. “And when we get to in season there’s a lot more of maintaining strength.”
Callison has been with the Blue Jays organization since 2018.
Extra Innings: Will Robertson was back in the lineup Tuesday after a bizarre injury he suffered a month ago on a ground-rule double in which he never left the batter’s box. He strained a knee when a cleat failed to rotate on the swing. It was scary to see him go down in a heap. He can now joke about it and advises figure skaters not to wear cleats.
Last month I referred to the F-Cats dugout home run award as an ostentatious set of chains. Turns out a picture of Zeus, complete with lightning bolts, is part of the light-hearted award.
Luis Quinones’s Mom Brenda Morales was at the stadium Tuesday night to throw out a first pitch and to see her son pitch for the first time since 2017. The Puerto Rican native dubs Morales “Super Mom” for raising him as a single mother.
Also last month, I misspelled pitcher Paxton Schultz’s name. Sorry to a pitcher who continues to bring it. Then again, I had the wrong month on the notes! As dear old Mom liked to say when she wrote a check, “At least I had the right year.”
Strange day play of this period was an almost perfect Rafael Antigua bunt on July 23. Sea Dogs’ third baseman Alex Binelas charged in and tripped. The ball missed Binelas in fair territory by a gnat’s eyelash and then missed hitting third base by the other eyelash. An eventful foul ball.
Hot Time in the City: When Fisher Cats pitcher Jimmy Burnette struck out Richmond shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald to end the top of the ninth inning Thursday night, it set a team record of 19 whiffs by Cats pitchers in a 9-inning game. It also meant that the Flying Squirrels made their last 13 outs via the strikeout. Moments later Fisher Cats first baseman John Aiello won the game with a booming home run to right field.
5,580 fans were thus treated to a 7-6 win on the hottest day of the summer with the Cats coming back from a 6-1 deficit. DH Zach Britton had tied the game in the bottom of the 8th with a two-run bomb.
The Flying Squirrels had seemingly put the game away with a 6-run 5th inning, including a tremendous home run to left by catcher Ricardo Genoves. When second baseman Carter Aldrete struck out to the end the inning, the Squirrels would subsequently hit only two more fair balls, a bunt single and a double. Hot arms on a hot night.