Life in the Minors
Being second in command means hoping your boss never gets hurt
It has been one of those seasons -- one filled with injuries, ill-timed miscues and disappointments.
It began the first week of the season when we lost our projected No. 2 starter, Tom Thornton, to an injury after his first start. Tom's tweak kept him out of action for 10 weeks. Just a few days later, on the same road trip, third baseman and leadoff hitter Alex Fonseca was drilled in the right eye by a line drive during batting practice. Paramedics rushed Alex to the hospital, where he underwent reconstructive surgery. We lost our starting first baseman, Daniel Burton, after he was hit in the wrist by a fastball two weeks ago as well.
Along the way we've incurred several other key injuries, which made keeping a consistent lineup quite challenging. Over the past week, it seemed as though things had settled a bit. But just when I thought I could show up to the ballpark and have a normal day, one in which there were no bad surprises or letdowns, came the biggest shock of the year.
Walking into the coaches' office at Bosse Field to prepare for our night game against the Washington Wild Things on Friday, it really felt like any other day. The sun was out in Evansville as we prepared for our series opener.
As I do on the second day of our home series during the season, I ran a session of PFPs -- or Pitchers' Fielding Practice. Today we worked on covering first on ground balls up the right-field line, turning double plays up the middle on come backers, covering first base on 3-6-1 double plays, bunts to third and force plays at home on grounders to the mound.
As he does on occasion, our manager, Jason Verdugo, a former San Francisco Giants farmhand who pitched up to the Triple-A level, jumped in and participated in PFPs with our guys. He looked just like one of the guys, hopping around and making plays.
Just 5 minutes later we headed into our pregame batting practice, with Jason throwing to the first of our four hitting groups, as he does on just about every other day. It really seemed like a regular early evening at the yard.
Until, that is, the end of the first group. After throwing his final pitch to the last hitter of the group, Jason began to feel very ill from the heat, and had to leave the field with medical personnel to go to the hospital, where he was treated.
With Jason departing, I was left with the responsibility of managing for the night, as our skipper went home to get well, which was no big deal, since I've done it before whenever the manager I was working for was suspended for an ejection or the like.
Over the next 2 hours, I had a lot of preparation to do for the game. Besides my normal paperwork and chart organizing for my pitching coach duties, I also had to make sure that all the stat packs and matchup information to manage was available.
To free me to manage the game, I had our right-handed starting pitcher Adam Rogers handle the pitch counts and scouting reports I usually take care of during games.
The game itself went rather well. It was very tightly played for the first few innings, as we were able to scrap out a 1-0 lead early and hold onto it into the middle of the game. With Thornton making just his second start since his return from the injury, I had him on a 70-pitch limit, so once we went to our bullpen, we really had to work the matchups over the final four innings of the game.
We had a little more drama in the third, when our starting catcher for the night, Tom Pennino, went down when he was struck in the side of the head by a hitter's backswing. Tommy got hit on his left jaw as the hitter finished his swing and made his way out of the batter's box on a groundout.
Tommy passed out momentarily and had to leave the game. Problem was, our backup catcher, Chris Crescenzi, was nursing a jammed thumb on his catching hand, and has been sidelined as we try to give him time to recuperate.
In the end, our guys put together a pretty good effort as we defeated Washington 8-0.
With all that had happened with Jason and Tom, our thoughts quickly turned to them once the final out was recorded. Both guys will be fine with time to recover.
Heading into today's game against Washington, we should all be able to focus on the game a little more, knowing everyone is all right. I'm hoping it's just another day at the ballpark.