Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Birth of daughter gives Boyer new perspective on and off the field

Father’s Day was a little bit different for Grizzlies’ starting pitcher Josh Boyer this year.

Instead of spending it like most of his teammates, or how he had in years past, Boyer spent Father’s Day 2010 with his newborn baby girl, Emery Bell.

“It was nice,” Boyer said. “I got a nice Father’s Day card. People were calling me at like 1 in the morning, sending me texts and congratulating me. It was awkward, but I got a good kick out of it."

Boyer and his girlfriend Krista Renneisen gave birth to Emery Bell on May 25, just days before he went on the mound to begin the summer season for the Grizzlies.

“She was there for daddy’s first game,” Boyer said. “I guess you could say I pitched that game and got the win for her.”

Ever since, Boyer has had one extra fan in the stands cheering her dad on.

“She’s been there for pretty much every ballgame and I know deep down she’s cheering for me,” he said. “She comes to my games wearing her Grizzly gear. She has a little Grizzly sock hat with my number on it.”

Boyer gets to spend most afternoons with his daughter before coming to the ballpark, but the biggest change for him has been the added responsibility.

“Doing things like getting up in the middle of the night and changing her diapers,” Boyer said. “Mom takes care of most of that, though. For me, I really need to find a job. I don’t know how it’s so hard, but not a lot of people want to hire for a month and a half during the summer. I’m trying my best.”

Despite the added responsibilities and time, though, Boyer will be back in school in the fall to finish his undergraduate degree at the University of Northern Colorado.

“I had to sit out this past year because I transferred from St. Cloud State in Minnesota,” he said. “It’ll be my last year of eligibility so I’ll definitely be back in Greeley and am looking forward to being on the field and finishing up my schooling.”

He will graduate with a degree in finance this coming May.

Boyer and Renneisen met two years ago when he was in Cheyenne playing his second season with the Grizzlies.

“We met at a Relay for Life event at East High School,” Boyer said. “We dated that summer and then I moved to Minnesota to go to school. In October she moved out there with me.”

When Boyer transferred to UNC, Renneisen came with.

Despite being born for just over a month, Emery Bell has changed her dad, both as a baseball player and as a person.

"I get frustrated less easily when I’m on the mound now,” Boyer said. “Knowing I get to go home and see her puts things in a different perspective.

“As for how she’s changed me as a person, being a dad gives you a different mentality. It’s definitely a life changing experience. Everyone seems to have a lot more respect for me. I get a lot of comments from guys where I feel like they respect me and kind of look up to me. It’s not something I expected to be doing at this age, but now that she’s here I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Boyer’s favorite memory with his daughter so far was his first, but expects many more to come.

“The birth was outrageous,” he said. “It was absolutely mind blowing just being in there and seeing that. She’s only a month old so there’ll be plenty of other great memories to come with her. I can’t wait.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ask A Grizzly: Bryce Reid

You submitted the questions and Grizzlies pitcher Bryce Reid has the answers.

Reid is a second-year pitcher for the Cheyenne Grizzlies and is entering his senior season at Vanguard University in Lake Ellsinore, Calif. Reid is majoring in Marketing and has compiled a 4-0 record with a 2.54 ERA this summer for the Grizzlies. He has struck out 28 batters in 28.33 innings and has limited opposing batters to a .182 batting average.

What is your favorite baseball memory?
Bryce Reid:
I don’t really have one specific favorite memory but instead several favorites. In high school I threw a combined no-hitter with one other pitcher on the team. Probably another one was my first start in college during my sophomore year. It was actually against Coach Luke’s (Wetmore) team. I went seven innings giving up an unearned run. Probably another one would have to be this past year, I threw eight innings against Madonna University in a regional game. We lost the game but I came in in the second inning and we were already down 4-0. I threw eight innings and threw really well. It was really good for me and a lot of fun. Hopefully that transfers into next year. Of course, almost throwing a no-hitter this summer was a lot of fun, too.

What do you like most about pitching?
The thing I most like about pitching is the feeling of the game being on my shoulders; I’m the one in charge. I have to throw strikes to allow my fielders to get outs. The pressure I get from it, I thrive from. I love the feeling of being out there on the mound and just knowing I can stand out there and look at a batter like, ‘Yes, I can get you out.’

What pitch do you consider as your “out pitch”?
My curveball. When I get the right feel for it, it’s definitely my out pitch. I love throwing it. It usually has a bite to it so I just love going to that pitch when I wanna get some guy out.

Earlier in the season you had a no-hitter going pretty late in the game. What were you thinking about during that game? Have you ever thrown a no-hitter before?
Like I said, I threw one in high school with another pitcher. Usually when that goes on I’m aware of it because I’m pitching, but I don’t think about it because I just try to go out there and I pitch. I feel like the more you think about it, the more likely it’s going to be that you’re going to give up a pitch. If someone eventually gets a hit, like the guy did, I’ll tip my hat to him and move on because there’s nothing I can do about it anymore.

I noticed a man at a game clocking you with a radar gun. Are you thinking about trying to play professionally?
I would love to play professional baseball. I know it’s rare to get there but I work my butt off to hopefully get there someday. I had no idea there was even a guy with a radar gun at the game. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time. Hopefully I get drafted next year but if not, I have a back-up plan. (Reid is majoring in Marketing and is getting his master’s in finance and is also going to take the CPA Exam.)

What’s the biggest difference between your hometown and Cheyenne? What’s your favorite part about Cheyenne?
Where I mostly live is at school and my school is in Orange County. So I’m five minutes away from Newport Beach and the ocean. The biggest difference is the whole lifestyle. Being in southern California, life is hectic; you’re always on the run, always having to go somewhere. When you do wanna go somewhere you always have to think about traffic and leave a half-hour or even an hour earlier than you need to be there. Being up here, life is so much easier. It’s care-free, no one’s in a rush, people are a lot nicer, too.

My favorite part about Cheyenne, and you could ask any guy on the team, is probably Frontier Days. I love Frontier Days. I went to the George Strait concert last year, I went to the PBR, the rodeo. I love the country. I’d like to move up to Colorado or Cheyenne after I graduate to get away from the busy life and all of the busyness of life in California.

Before each inning, I’ve noticed you squat behind the mound and pause for a moment before beginning the inning. What is the ritual or superstition behind this?
My school is a private Christian school. I’m strong in my faith so I say a prayer, it’s the same prayer each time. It’s just saying a prayer right before I get on the mound each time.

Who is your favorite professional team and player?
My favorite team is the Angels. I’ve been an Angels fan since I was born; that’s how I was raised. My favorite player is Johan Santana. I love the way the guy pitches. Every time I watch him I notice he’s not scared on the mound and I think he has one of the best changeups in the league. When he came down to Angel Stadium I went down just to see him pitch. I think he has a good head on his shoulders and I love watching him pitch.

What is your favorite hobby outside of baseball?
My father got me into deep sea fishing. I love doing that with him. Another hobby would be going to the drag races. My father makes parts, so I’ve been into that for awhile, too. Other than that, just hanging out with friends and having a good time. As long as I’m with my friends I’m having a good time.

Being a pitcher you don’t get to hit much. Do you miss that aspect of the game?
BR: Yeah, I do. I’ve only been pitching since my junior year of high school, so before that I played outfield. I always used to hit. I love being up there and the feeling you get when you swing the bat and you feel that connection between the bat and the ball and you know you got a good piece of it. I wish I could hit but I wouldn’t change it for pitching.

Do you have a job while you’re in Cheyenne?
BR: I work for the Cheyenne Junior League. I also mow lawns and stain fences, so I’m pretty busy up here. But for the Cheyenne Junior League, there are a couple guys from the team there, and basically what we do is make sure everything is open, turn the lights on, hang the flag, make sure all of the coaches get the proper scorebook for the proper field and proper division of playing for the players. We make a couple announcements, play the National Anthem, and answer any questions. Once all that’s done, we record scores, close everything up, make sure everything is safe and that’s basically it. It’s a pretty simple job, but I got lucky enough to get the job. It’s easier to get a job when you have a car. Last summer I didn’t have one at all, but it’s been nice to be able to make some money while up here.

Stay tuned to learn about who next week’s Ask A Grizzly will feature. E-mail questions to Nic at nic.cheyennegrizzlies@gmail.com by Sunday morning to get them answered.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Grays silence Grizzlies

Base runners were hard to come by Saturday afternoon, as the Cheyenne Grizzlies (14-5) fell to the Greeley Grays 8-2 at Pioneer Park.

A night after putting up 21 runs, the Grizzlies, a team that averages 8.4 runs per game, couldn’t buy a hit.

“They kept us off-balanced,” head coach Aaron Holley said. “The key for them was they could throw their breaking ball for strikes in any count they wanted. We just never made the adjustment at the plate.”

Grizzlies’ starter Howard Heinrich cruised through the first three innings, allowing just two base runners and striking out three.

“I was just able to establish the off-speed pitch,” Heinrich said. “My fastball was spotting up and they were doing a good job of getting themselves out.”

But in the fourth inning, a fielding error by shortstop Jose Jauregui to lead off the inning, and an error due to miscommunication in the outfield two batters later, extended Heinrich’s inning, resulting in three unearned runs.

“As a pitcher there’s not much you can do about that,” Heinrich said. “I try to just stay focused and do the best I can to give the guys opportunities to make plays. Today was a day that some of those plays weren’t made, and those days are gonna come, but for the most part our guys do a good job, and we’ll be able to shake this one off.”

Heinrich worked 5 1/3 innings, allowing seven runs on seven hits but got the loss despite just four of the runs being earned and walking just a single batter.

“I think Howard did a great job,” Holley said. “He pitched into the sixth even though we made the errors and different stuff extended innings for him. He threw very efficient. You can’t ask your pitcher to do much more than what he did today. He threw strikes, letting the defense make the plays, which unfortunately didn’t happen. He should hang his head up high knowing that he pitched well.”

Reliever Taylor Fallon came in to finish the sixth, hitting his first two batters before settling down and getting the final two outs.

Fallon worked scoreless seventh and eighth innings, and Willie Vizoso pitched the ninth, only allowing an infield single.

But the offense never came to life.

Cheyenne got one base runner after the fifth inning, a ninth-inning pinch-hit single by Ryan Schwenn, as Greeley starter Logan Hall set down 13 of the final 14 batters.

On the evening, Hall threw a complete game, allowing eight hits on one walk, striking out seven.

“He threw well. I think we can hit him, but we didn’t have guys go up there and make the adjustment. We kept looking to hit the fastball instead of waiting on the off-speed pitch.”

While the offense struggled, what upset Holley the most were the mental mistakes. With runners on the corners and one out in the fourth inning, catcher Mike Henrichs was caught between second and third on a groundball to third base. One batter later, second baseman Mike Wido ran himself out of the inning when Hall threw a pickoff attempt to second base and Wido was caught in a pickle before getting tagged out.

“You’re gonna have games where your offense isn’t on or where, defensively, you make errors,” Holley said. “We made some bonehead mistakes on the bases. The physical mistakes we can live with. You don’t want to see them and you hate them but it’s the mental mistakes, not knowing that you’re not supposed to go on a groundball to the left side of the infield when you’re on second, that absolutely kill you.”

Cheyenne’s two runs came in the third and fourth innings when centerfielder Kevin Logan singled to lead off the third, stole second, reached third on a base hit by Jauregui and scored on designated hitter Mike Domenick’s sacrifice fly. Third baseman Ryan Javech began the fourth with a single to left field. He was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by right fielder Andy Athans, to third on Henrich’s single and came home on a wild pitch.

Holley was ejected in the sixth inning for arguing a call when Wido was taken out on a potential inning-ending double play. With one out and the bases loaded, Greeley’s Yogi Gunther grounded to Jauregui at short. Jauregui flipped to Wido to get the first out, but Wido was never able to attempt the throw to first because third baseman Derrick Bleeker plowed him over.

One run came in to score, but with Wido on the ground and Holley out to argue the call, a second run came in, putting the Grays up 8-2.

The loss snapped Cheyenne’s five-game win streak dating back to June 19 and was the first loss to Greeley of the season.

The Grizzlies will take a few days off before traveling to Laramie for a 6:30 game Wednesday night. Please note that the original schedule had this game listed as a home game.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Grizzlies clobber Colts

A night after runs were hard to come by and a stolen base of home accounted for the fourth and winning run in the 14th inning, the Cheyenne Grizzlies (14-4) needed no late-game magic on Saturday night, clobbering the visiting Laramie Colts 21-11.

The Grizzlies recorded a season-high 22 hits and reached base a total of 32 times through hits, walks and hit batters. Every Grizzly starter had a hit and nine different players scored, while eight drove in at least one run.

Shortstop Jose Jauregui scored in each of the first three innings and finished the night going 4-for-5 with three runs batted in. First baseman Mike Domenick and third baseman Ryan Javech also had big offensive games, combining for eight RBI. Javech singled in all six of his at-bats, scoring three times.

“I’m just seeing the ball well and everyone’s hitting the ball well, which is pretty contagious,” Javech said.

“We know we can hit and it’s good to get runs for our pitchers,” added Jauregui. “I was just trying to get on base any way I could. The first time I was just trying to slap the ball to the right side, and with (Kevin) Logan stealing second, it opened up a big hole. After that it was just base hit after base hit.”

The game didn’t start well for the Grizzlies, as three infield errors accounted for four unearned runs given up by starter Bryce Reid. Cheyenne would get two runs back in the first, though, and by the second inning had regained the lead, 5-4.

“It’s always hard to come back, but the way we’ve been hitting the ball and running the bases I knew we could get back on top real quick, and we did,” head coach Aaron Holley said.

Still, the game was full of comebacks as Laramie tied it up in the third, 5-5. In the bottom half of the third, though, the Grizzlies sent 10 men to the plate, with seven reaching base, and chased Colts’ starter Jason Bell out of the game after just 2 1/3 innings. The Grizzlies scored six times in the inning to seemingly take control of the game.

But again in the next frame, Laramie came fighting back, scoring four runs to cut the deficit to two and finishing the night for Reid.

After pitching so well in his first four starts (4-0, 1.07 ERA), Reid struggled with location Saturday for a rare off night. He left the game after just three-plus innings, surrendering five earned (nine total) runs on seven hits, five walks, a hit batter and just two strikeouts.

“I just couldn’t find the strike zone,” Reid said. “I felt fine but the biggest thing for me is finishing my pitches. I tried, tried, tried but just couldn’t do it. It’s something to work on for my next start. We win as a team we lose as a team, though. It’s nice to get the W under your name but it’s a team win and that’s what counts.”

Ryan Schwenn, who ended up recording the win, his first of the season, came in to relieve Reid, tossing two innings and allowing two runs on three hits. The two runs allowed Laramie to tie the game up again, after trailing by six two innings prior.

But just like the last two times, when the Grizzlies trailed, their offense prevailed, scoring three runs from the middle of the order to take a 14-11 lead. Cheyenne would get four insurance runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth to put away the Colts for good.

Cheyenne got three quality innings of relief out of Chad Correa from the sixth through eighth innings, allowing no runs on four hits, and the most important stat, just one walk.

“I was just able to get ahead of hitters,” Correa said. “When I did that I could go to my changeup or curveball, so I was able to throw everything for strikes. My arm’s been fresh so it felt really good to be out on the mound again.”

In the five innings prior, Cheyenne pitchers had allowed eight free bases, a big part of Laramie’s comebacks.

“Offensively, we’re just hitting the ball well,” Holley said. “We knew we could throw up runs but the question was can we stop them from scoring runs? Chad went out there and threw up a bunch of zeroes and allowed us to build off our lead.”

Joe Luft came in to pitch the ninth, allowing a couple base runners before finishing off the Colts.

“It feels good to get the win,” Javech said. “Every time they put up runs we were confident we could answer them, and we did.”

With the win, the Grizzlies have won five consecutive games and stand a game ahead of Fort Collins in the MCBL standings. They host Greeley Sunday at 4 p.m.

“We’re continuing to play well,” Holley said. “We continue to hit well, we continue to have guys come off the bench and play well, we continue to have guys come out of the pen and throw strikes. They make it pretty easy to coach. The hardest thing is finding the playing time for the guys who want and deserve to play more when we have such a big roster that’s full of talent.”

Friday, June 25, 2010

Little big league: The tale of a little leaguer trying out for the big leagues

It is every young boy’s dream to become a professional athlete when he gets older. For me, it was baseball. Baseball wasn’t merely a game or a sport that I idolized; it was a lifestyle and passion. My every thought, action and breath involved the innocent bliss that baseball offered. I loved the sound of the bat connecting with the ball, the smell of the freshly cut grass and the feel of lathering up a new baseball, getting ready to throw a pitch. For me, baseball was my paradise, my escape and the foundation of my biggest dreams.

At my elementary school graduation we were told to write down what we aspired to be when we got older. Most boys my age said an athlete. I tried to hide my desire and said pediatrician, but who was I kidding? Secretly, I didn’t even know what a pediatrician was. I, too, wanted to be an athlete.

Not just an athlete, but a professional baseball player.

I wanted to hear my name announced as I walked to the plate in front of a sold-out stadium. I wanted to connect on a fastball and line it into the gap, taking a wide turn around first and sliding into second, popping up to see the umpire signal me safe. I wanted to hit a towering home run and be greeted by my teammates at home plate to celebrate a walk-off victory.

Growing up, we all had these dreams of one day having that chance to play in the big leagues. A 2003 study by the New Jersey Institute of Technology reported that for every 500,000 males in the world, one will successfully play baseball professionally. In comparison, a person has 1:6,250 odds of being struck by lightning in his or her lifetime.

Yes, it’s that difficult to live out these dreams.

But all that we dreamers can ask for is a shot, and on June 16, 2010, my shot came . . . Who knew, though, that my call would come more than five years after I hung up my spikes and sold all of my gear away—literally.

The Call

In April, while searching for a summer internship, I came across the Cheyenne Grizzlies, a summer collegiate baseball league across southern Wyoming and northern Colorado. With a major interest in media and writing, and still holding on to my love for baseball, it seemed like the perfect fit. I would get real-world experience in my desired field while still being part of the game I loved.

I was talking with owner Ron Kailey and was ready to accept the position when he threw a curveball at me.

“There are lots of great stories you could write for us. For example, there’s a tryout this summer with scouts for the Colorado Rockies. I think it would be a fun story for you to write about the tryout process.”

Seeing a real professional tryout? Sign me up!

“Actually,” Ron continued, “what would real neat is if you tried out with the players and wrote about the experience of trying out.”

I almost dropped the phone in shock. I assume Ron must have thought he was getting a bad signal because I fell silent. Finally, I told him what an opportunity that was and that I was in.

The Preparation

Nine months out of the year I’m a student at Colorado State University, studying journalism. But once final exams were complete and summer break was officially underway I got my priorities straight. Throw the books out the window, I had to get ready for my professional tryout.

I was getting the opportunity to do something that so many men dream of but so few get to actually experience. As Grizzlies outfielder K.C. Judge said after the tryout, “Unless you get drafted, no one gets to experience trying out in front of professional scouts.”

So since the opportunity arose for me, I was going to take full advantage of it. What’s that saying? Grab the bull by its horns? Forget the story I was instructed to write, I was determined to try out and make the squad.

So I called up my old baseball coach and mentor, Leighton Thorne. I told him about what I was doing and I’m sure, deep down, he wanted to laugh at me. Even my mom laughed at me every time I talked about the tryout. But Leighton was kind of enough not to let it show. He also kindly agreed to work with me on my swing to get it back to where it was during my prime. You know, when I was 15 years old.

So for three weeks leading up to the tryout, I went over to Leighton’s house to hit in his batting cage.

That’s where I hit my first detour.

I showed up for my first hitting lesson on May 27. He greeted me and told me to grab my bat and follow him over to a screen where we were going to do some soft toss drills. He took one look at my bat and looked at my peculiarly.

“It’s the only bat I still have,” I mumbled to him. “I sold the rest of my gear.”

Leighton went back into his garage and brought out a couple adult-sized Akadema wood bats. He had me swing a few and see which one felt best. I found one I liked and tossed my 29-inch Louisville Slugger youth bat to the curb.

The first detour was solved, at least the bat part of it (I still needed the rest of my gear), and I was ready to start swinging.

That lasted about three swings before Leighton told me to sit down with him and we spent the next half hour or so talking about the basic fundamentals of hitting. He reminded me of things once engraved in my memory. Things like the positioning of my feet and the movement of my hands during my load; he reminded me to swing through the ball and keep my swing short.

With each hitting lesson, things started coming back to me and my swing became more and more comfortable.

We worked on pitch sequences and off-speed pitches; hitting the ball to opposite field and tracking the seams from the pitcher’s hand.

By my final lesson, I was even hitting line drives back to the L-screen on occasion rather than being laughed at by the 10-year-old kid who had a lesson after me.

I owe a lot of my baseball success, both during my playing days and leading up to my tryout, to Leighton. He is an incredible coach, but also has been influential in my life.

The Preparation, Part Two

I mentioned above that Leighton let me use his bat (two, actually. He jammed me and I cracked the first one). But I still needed the rest of the gear that I had gotten rid of after my playing days were finished (or so I thought).

My mom is a school teacher and one of her teaching partner’s sons plays college ball in Nebraska. She casually mentioned the tryout to her one day and a few days later, Sandy had brought me Bryan’s old cleats. Sure, they were his football cleats, but they were cleats nonetheless. Again a few weeks later, Sandy came back in with a pair of Bryan’s baseball pants.

As each day passed I was beginning to look more like a true baseball player.

After my first hitting lesson I went to Sports Authority and got myself a pair of batting gloves. Batting gloves were never an essential I used back in the day, but that big blister on the inside of my thumb that was beginning to bleed didn’t make me think twice this go around.

The day before the tryout I went back to Sports Authority and got the remaining needs.

I picked up a couple wood bats as backups in case my other bat broke during the tryout. I purchased a pair of baseball socks so I could wear them like stirrups as players used to do. I even had to pick up a new protective cup, for goodness sake. I know some players can go without this piece of equipment, but when you don’t know what you’re doing out there, like myself, you don’t take any chances.

I still didn’t have a baseball bag but I figured I could do without that. I had all my gear and was set for the tryout.

The Glory Years

Before I go any further, I think it’s imperative to explain that I haven’t always been such a baseball slouch. I began playing T-ball at the ripe age of six and played for more than a decade before throwing in the towel my sophomore year of high school.

During my career, I played competitive baseball at the highest level possible all throughout little league. One year, I was the No. 1 pick in the city of Fort Collins for my age group and the last year I played, I laid down a bunt that scored the game-winning run of the state championship. I played at a school that has won four consecutive Colorado high school state championships and have batted alongside players who now play ball at schools like Southern California, Stanford, Nebraska and Kentucky. A couple former teammates have even been selected in the Major League Baseball Draft.

But who was I kidding? I was past my prime.

The Big Day

The night before, I got to bed by 10 o’clock sharp. It’s something I haven’t done in three years of college, but since I had an early tryout and a big day ahead of me, I figured sleep was important.

So much for that idea, though. I was like a little kid again on Christmas Eve, not being able to sleep because I was anxious about the next day.

I’m not sure how much sleep I actually accumulated, but the blaring sound of my alarm woke me up promptly at 3:30 a.m. Yes, 3:30 in the morning. We were meeting in Cheyenne at 5:30 and with me living an hour away, I still had to make the morning commute.

I set two alarms and seven reminders on my phone to make sure there was no way I missed this day. The first alert was the only one I needed to get me out of bed, though. I was exhausted but eager at the same time.

Putting on my gear that morning brought back memories—memories of being up early for weekend tournaments, sitting on my floor as I pulled my socks up and threaded my belt through the loops of my pants. Polishing my cleats and adjusting my cap. I even considered the notion of sleeping with my bat like I used to do from time to time.

I stopped shaving for a week and a half leading up to the tryout—although I had little to show for it—to try to hide my baby face and “look the part” of a big leaguer. I looked at myself in the mirror and figured it was now or never.

I walked downstairs and poured myself a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. Only today, I pretended like those Cheerios were Wheaties, “The Breakfast of Champions.”

My mom always talks about renovations she wants done to the house and yard—things like building a deck or adding more hardwood floor. Before I left the house, I told her not to worry, that I’d be back with a contract in hand and a signing bonus in my pocket.

This was my one shot, my 15-minutes of fame (more like embarrassment). I wasn’t going to let being cut from my jayvee baseball team and not swinging a bat for more than five years (besides that yellow, plastic wiffleball bat in the backyard with friends on summer evenings) stop me from becoming a Major League Baseball player.

The Drive

4:34 a.m. – I start up my car and head out onto the dark, lonely streets. The streetlights are still flashing and hardly a single car is on the road. I listen to the radio as the deejay voices, “This is after midnight on K99.” The normally dull drive from Fort Collins to Cheyenne is a bit more exciting in anticipation of seeing the sun rise, but unfortunately, I make it to Cheyenne before the sun actually rises. In the 46-mile stretch of highway, I see a mere eight other cars driving north on Interstate-25. Oh yeah, and a fox.

5:23 a.m. – I arrive to Pioneer Park only behind Stephon Parker (he must be a morning person). At 5:35 the third person arrives and moments after the cars start piling in.

5:55 a.m. – The three team vans are packed and ready to go. We hop in and are off to Casper, a 178-mile road trip along I-25.

6:10 a.m. – The ride is pretty quiet. We see a sign that reads, “Casper, 170 miles” and I realize it’s going to be a long drive.

6:59 a.m. – We stop for gas in Wheatland and several players go inside the gas station to pick up breakfast. They come out with muffins, breakfast sandwiches and energy drinks. I bet they wish they had the “Breakfast of Champions” like I did.

7:14 a.m. – The ride starts to liven up as the team talks about Coach Luke Wetmore’s coffee addiction and they start playing a hunting game, pretending to shoot deer as we pass by open fields and grasslands.

7:41 a.m. – At this point, the hunting game is in full swing and I’m pretty sure pitcher Ryan Schwenn has the lead. Josh Boyer fires at a false target and loses two points.

8:12 a.m. – The deer hunting game is still going strong and has now expanded from shooting deer only to deer and hawks.

8:33 a.m. – We reach the top of a hill and can see the city of Casper out the front windshield. It’s at this point that I realize that my dreams are becoming actuality. I start to think about the scenario and realize this would be one heck of a Hollywood movie: A kid goes from being cut from his jayvee baseball team and being out of the game for five years without any gear to trying out in front of professional scouts and getting signed.

Disney loves these types of feel-good movies. I needed to get them on a flight to Casper immediately so they could document this.

8:44 a.m. – We take exit 188B and are moments away from Mike Lansing Field, home of the Rookie-level Casper Ghosts, a minor league affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. I’m surprised to realize that not once during the nearly three-hour drive was the tryout mentioned. That’s all that was consuming my thoughts during the car ride but the players didn’t seem a bit nervous about what was about to take place.

“I think part of it was being tired,” Schwenn said afterward. “Also, I was going out there knowing that I’m the player I am and I’m not going to try to fake that. There’s no need to be nervous; all I can do is go out there and be me.”

Judge added, “I was nervous up until the day before. But then I realized that this is a game I’ve been playing my whole life. I can’t let who is on the field with me change how I approach it.”

Still, I was eager to learn more about the structure of the tryout, but I didn’t dare be the first to bring it up.

The Rookie

We unloaded the vans and started walking toward the registration tables. My stomach began to turn when Taylor Fallon turned to me and asked if I was excited?

I told him I was, but that I was going to make a fool out of myself.

“Don’t be so sure, haven’t you ever seen The Rookie?”

I had seen the movie, which portrays a true story of a former minor league baseball player who has to give up on his dream of playing professionally when an arm injury arises. Twelve years later, he makes a bet with the high school team he coaches that if the team wins districts, he’ll go to a professional tryout.

As I proceeded to the registration table it got me thinking, Maybe this dream of mine is possible . . .

The Tryout

Ron gave me the signal that I was checked in and good to go. I approached the field and paused in admiration as I looked out at the diamond. The grass so plush, the dirt perfectly raked. I took my first step onto the field and was drawn back, realizing I was about to play on a minor league baseball field. I set my gear down on the visiting dugout bench and took a couple deep breaths, fully absorbing the moment.

I laced up my cleats and grabbed my glove to start warming up and getting loose. I spent the next 15 minutes or so stretching, lightly throwing and adjusting my uniform to make sure I looked good.

I was interrupted by the voice of one of the scouts.

Quickly, the 56 tryout hopefuls and myself formed a semicircle around him. I made sure to get near the front where I could see and also be seen.

"Welcome to Mike Lansing Field, the baseball stadium of the Casper Ghosts. Today you will have the opportunity to compete in front of us and we will have the opportunity to evaluate you. Before each drill, I want you to yell out the number that was assigned to you at check-in so we know who you are. Let’s have some fun, and good luck.”

Part One: The first station was running the 60-yard dash. As I mentioned before, I haven’t always been vulnerable to baseball. When I was 11 years old I was the team’s leadoff hitter, many games trying to get the game started with a drag bunt. That year I led my team in bunts for hits, triples and was among the team leaders in stolen bases. Since then, however, I have been a hazard on the base paths and running has been a hazard to my health.

I stood in one of the three lines along the left-field foul line of the outfield grass as thoughts raced through my head, desperately trying to remember advice on good form to run faster. I needed it quickly. The line kept moving and I kept thinking but nothing came back to me besides keeping my head down.

I looked up and realized no one was standing in front of me, anymore.

I took a couple steps forward and placed my right foot on the white line, called out my tryout number, “Media 1,” and waited for the scout to wave his hat down, signaling go. I was in the far right line and looked at who my competition would be. I lucked out, running against two other media members, both older than me and in much worse shape than I was.

The scout’s arm lowered down in a brisk motion and I was off, careful not to slip and fall.

I got out to an early lead and never looked back, racing past the finish line to a tune of 7.8 seconds.

A good time? Absolutely not. But hey, I beat both of my competitors so at least I looked kind of fast.

Part Two: At this point, we were split up into three groups: pitchers, infielders and outfielders.

I wanted to pitch, but considering I spent the last month working on my hitting, I needed to make sure pitchers were allowed to hit.

“Yeah, we’ll let pitchers take BP,” Butch Hughes, one of the Rockies scouts said to me.

I lined up in foul territory near the visiting dugout with the rest of the pitchers and we watched the outfielders get critiqued.

They were placed in right field and were given the chance to showcase their fielding and arm strength. One of the scouts would hit three balls, the first a fly ball, the second a roller and the third a ball the fielder had to chase down in the gap. Outfielders were instructed to throw to third base, allowing the scouts to evaluate their throws across the entire field.

The tasks performed by the infielders were similar. The players stood at shortstop and received four groundballs. One was a grounder to the fielder, one was to the fielder’s forehand side, another to his backhand and the last a slow roller he had to run in on and throw to first off-balanced.

I then went with the pitchers to warm up in the outfield and off of the visitor’s bullpen mound before moving to the Casper bullpen to get clocked and critiqued. We were told beforehand that the scouts would be grading us based off of our speed and off-speed pitches.

Perfect, I thought to myself.

I always considered myself a decent pitcher. Not to sound cocky, because I wasn’t a star or anything, but pitching was my strength growing up.

The thing was, though, I never threw hard. I was probably the softest-throwing pitcher on all of my teams, but I had the accuracy and pitch location to fool hitters, especially when they brought me in to relieve a hard-throwing starter.

But now that they were telling me they were looking for speed (something I’ve never had) and off-speed pitches (something I barely learned considering I gave up on the game shortly after curveballs were deemed acceptable for my age), I knew pitching would no longer be my strength.

I stayed positive, though, thinking this would be just another roadblock in the script of my Hollywood movie. Now, not only was I out of the game for five years without any gear, but I also threw two-thirds the speed of the rest of the competition. I was convinced this story would win an Oscar and inspire thousands of youths all across the nation.

My turn to warm up on the visitor’s mound had arrived. I don’t remember how many pitches I threw but it wasn’t many. I figured throwing an additional five or six pitches wouldn’t exactly give me an extra 10 mph of velocity or add an additional six inches of break to my curve by the time I relocated to the scouts.

I was ready to move on to the real deal.

I jogged over to the mound (my coach always taught me to hustle and I figured this was an appropriate time to run, showing the scouts I had good work ethic and was eager to begin) and approached the pitching scout. Trying to hide my heavy breathing from running across the field, I introduced myself. He didn’t seem too interested in knowing who I was, though. Or maybe he noticed my scrawny 170-pound frame and had already written me off? Either way, he proceeded to tell me to begin throwing.

“Just throw?” I asked. “Throw my fastball or what?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “Throw. I’ll tell you when to switch it up to your off-speed stuff.”

So I did just that: I threw. I threw like I always did, not trying to overpower the pitches but instead focusing on my control and pitch location.

The first pitch was in there for a strike.

Hey, I thought to myself, I’ve still got it.

Pitch Two was also in there and I was feeling pretty good about myself. Maybe this dream of mine wasn’t so far-fetched after all.

I continued to throw and continued to be impressed by the fact that I was throwing strikes after pitching off a mound for the first time in a half-decade.

Sure I had played catch with friends since then, but never throwing off an elevated mound or to my full ability.

The scout had me switch to my curveball, where I threw two pitches with poor movement and poor location, before he told me to finish up by throwing two fastballs.

The last two were in there for strikes, and, according to my strike zone, I threw 11 of 15 pitches for strikes.

I shook the scout’s hand as he told me, ‘Good job,’ and I proceeded to the man holding the radar gun.

I don’t think he was supposed to tell me how hard I threw, but since I told him I was writing a story about my experience, he cycled back through the gun’s readings and looked at me saying, “73.”

73 mph?

OK, who cares if that’s 20 mph less than what they’re looking for. I figured I never threw harder than mid-60s during my playing days and after collecting rust on my arm for the past five years I’d be lucky to make it the full 60-feet, 6-inches from the rubber to home plate.

But 73 mph? Maybe it was purely the adrenaline pumping through my body, but consider my day a success, so far.

Part Three: It was time for the area I had prepared for most, but the same area I knew I would have the most trouble with. It doesn’t matter how much you practice, either you can hit a 90 mph fastball or you can’t.
Hitting a baseball is no easy feat and not everyone can do it. I guess that’s why the best hitters fail 70 percent of the time.

Each hitter saw around 10 pitches but it really depended on what the scouts were seeing in you and how quickly they wanted you to get out of the cage. Some guys were told to stay in there and swing the bat a few more times, giving the scouts more time to evaluate them.

I wasn’t asked to perform an encore, though. I had to settle for 10 pitches.

I walked to home plate more nervous than at any other point of the tryout. This is the area where I envisioned myself getting sawed off on the first pitch and shattering my bat. Or never adjusting to the speed and whiffing on all of my pitches.


Before I knew it, the first ball came firing out of the pitching machine and sped toward me.

I started to load my hands back, tracked the ball all the way in and pulled the trigger on the bat toward the ball.


I looked up and was pleasantly surprised to see the ball tailing down the left-field line into the grass. Assuming there would be a shift on me since I’m a left-handed hitter, I figured the drive would be good enough for a double in an actual game.

Not a bad start at all.

It took me several pitches to adjust to the speed, though, as I was late on the second and third pitches, fouling them up into the screen. I was again late on Pitch 4, but I put it in play, grounding out to the shortstop position.

Looking back, this was the time where I needed to step out of the box and take a deep breath. I needed to relax and think about some of the things my coach had been telling me. Things like keeping my hands loose and getting them going early.

Everything went so quick, though. I never stepped foot out of the box. I’m not even sure if I took a breath during the entire sequence. I barely had time to push my helmet up, which was too big on my head, after each pitch so the bill wasn’t covering my eyes. I was so tense my knuckles were probably white from gripping the bat so tight.

By Pitch 5 I started to get my timing down, lining the ball to right field for a base hit. I hit another grounder and a foul tip before singling up the middle for my third solid hit.

Pitch 9 was a swing and a miss, which gave me one last chance to put the ball in play. I was convinced to finish on a strong note, but instead grounded out to first base.

Just like pitching, though, I was pleasantly surprised by my performance in the cage, hitting better than I thought I would. But no power means no interest.

The Waiting Game

I talked with Hughes after the tryout about what he saw and what he and the other scouts were looking for.

“A misconception I think a lot of players have is that they will walk out of the tryout and be handed a contract,” Hughes said. “It’s more of a chance for scouts to see the players, and if they like what they see, get them on the radar and make sure a scout is out there evaluating them.”

Hughes also made it clear that the purpose of the tryout wasn’t to sign a certain number of players, but instead to see what type of competition is out there.

“It’s not that we don’t have enough players in the organization,” he said. “We’re just always looking to upgrade. The things you look for in these tryouts are how fast the young man can run and we look at his arm and we look for power. Those are the tools that we look for.

“You never know where you can find somebody. We have a philosophy of bringing kids in and seeing how they can do. There’s a kid right now in Triple-A, his name is (Nick) Bierbrodt, and we signed him out of our tryout during spring training. I expect him to get to the big leagues.”

Still, the chances of getting picked up are very slim and it was at this point that I came to full realization and acceptance to the fact that my baseball career was done, for real this time.

I guess there would be no fairytale ending to this story.

Back to Reality

The Grizzlies played the Ghosts that evening in an exhibition game that gave the Cheyenne players an opportunity to compete against professional competition. Once we arrived back to Cheyenne, it was past midnight and I still had the hour drive back to Fort Collins.

I got back on to I-25, this time to make the trip home, but found the drive eerily similar. Again, the sun had set behind the mountains and the streetlights were flashing. There were a total of four other cars visible along I-25 South as I came home, and on the radio the voice of the deejay still rang, “It’s after midnight on K99.”

I woke up Thursday morning with my legs brutally beaten from the tryout the day before. I walked into my bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror once more, this time without my baseball gear on and the optimism within me.

I shaved away my scruff, ridding myself of the baseball identity I tried to restore back in me, and walked downstairs. There, I grabbed a bowl, spoon, carton of milk and a box of cereal and sat down to enjoy a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, this time, just plain old Honey Nut Cheerios. No “Breakfast of Champions” today.

I ate my breakfast realizing there would be no big contracts—in a few hours I would be back to my regular job, making regular (more like no) pay. There would be no bus rides across the country. No early morning wake-up calls to button up my jersey for a big game. No signing autographs for eager fans or playing in front of packed stadiums. I would never hear the sweet noise of my metal cleats hitting the cement as I walked up the dugout steps or feel the power in my hands as the barrel of my bat connected with a low-and-inside fastball.

My fairytale ride was over.

Instead, I was left with the chance to check something off of my bucket list that not many others can say they have accomplished. I got back into the game that I had loved so much growing up. I never thought I’d miss it so much after being burned out of it when I left the game. I played in a beautiful stadium and got to watch minor league baseball players practice and play all day. I spent the day playing the game I loved and got to shag flyballs in the outfield as players hit, just like I see before professional games. I was given the chance to be a kid again and was reminded not to give up on my dreams. I wasn’t given a contract or signing bonus, but was left with a memory and experience that I’ll tell the rest of my life.

I guess there was a fairytale ending to my story after all.

To read more about the tryout and game against the Casper Ghosts, click here.

This was part two of Nic Knows, a weekly series that gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at different aspects of the Cheyenne Grizzlies organization. From the sights and sounds of a game inside the dugout to traveling with the team on a road trip; from the role of the grounds crew to what it takes to try out for the big leagues, fans will feel so close it’s like they’re actually with the team.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ask A Grizzly: Aaron Holley

You submitted the questions and Grizzlies head coach Aaron Holley has the answers.

Holley is in his first year at the helm of the Cheyenne Grizzlies. He also has served as an assistant coach for his alma mater, University of Redlands, for the past five seasons and is a former assistant coach of the Grizzlies.

How did you get in to coaching?
Aaron Holley: I knew that I wanted to stay in sports someway, and once I realized my playing days were done, coaching was the next best thing to playing. I got into it not really thinking what I was getting into, but once I started coaching I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Why did you choose to coach the Grizzlies?
AH: Scott Laverty, who is the head coach at Redlands, was the former coach here for the Grizzlies. In 2008 he invited me to join him for the summer. Now I’m back as the head coach.

Did you select some of the players on the current roster?
AH: The local kids were all signed by (general manager/owner) Ron (Kailey). Every single person other than that, besides maybe one or two players, I contacted them or spoke with their coach. I contacted coaches I knew and trusted, knowing I could trust the caliber of player they were giving me. Some of the players that play out in the Midwest, I didn’t know much about, so I had to look at stats online and talk to their coaches about the type of player and person they are.

How did you decide the lineups at the beginning of the season when you were just getting to know the players?
AH: originally our plan was to go into the season trying to see as many guys as we could. We were trying to give everyone at-bats and defensive innings. Pitching wise, for the first week, we limited pitchers to three innings so I could see everybody. We kind of juggled the lineup a little bit, put out different lineups for the first week and tried to see where we thought different players fit in and what roles they were going to play this summer.

Now that you've been playing for a couple of weeks, do you feel like you have a feel for the team?

AH: I think we know them pretty well. We can definitely sit there and make a lineup and say, ‘this is the best offensive lineup’ or ‘this is the best defensive lineup’. That doesn’t mean that will always be the lineup. Guys need rest and also, guys need to play. They came out here to play. You want to win, but it’s not like school ball where you play your best guys at all times. You have to try to juggle that as much as possible, and I think that’s the hardest thing.

What were some of the verbal exchanges between you and the umpire in Fort Collins last week? Do you think that you being ejected fired your team up?
AH: I don’t know if it was a spark; that’s not why I did it. It was only the second inning and we were down 2-1. I will say, I tell my players they aren’t allowed to argue balls or do anything like that. It’s my job to back them up and have their back when there are bad calls or calls they don’t think go their way because I’m requiring them not to say a word. It wasn’t just that call, it was a culmination of a few games.

After getting ejected how did you spend the rest of the game?AH: The rule is you’re supposed to be out of sight, out of mind, which means you’re not allowed to be near the ballpark at all. Originally I was down the right-field line but they had the owner come and tell me I had to leave. So I actually took the team van and parked it in center field and watched the game from sitting in the van.

When you got ejected, did you say anything to your assistant coach before leaving the dugout regarding how you wanted the game or your pitching staff run?
AH: The only thing we really needed to talk about was arms and who we had available to pitch that day. He asked who we had and I said ‘everybody.’

Now that you've seen the team for several weeks, what would you say are its biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses?
AH: our biggest strengths definitely are we don’t have personalities on our team. Summer ball can be very, very selfish, and that’s the best way to tear a team apart. We have a great group of guys, and that’s our biggest strength, really. Obviously they can all play and we can do things with the sticks and gloves that can help us win, but what’s going to ultimately determine it is just the guys themselves.

There’s always a weakness when you come into a summer season with guys you don’t know. Different schools run things differently, they communicate things differently, so I think that’s the hardest part of it, just getting that continuity and familiarity and getting everybody on the same page. I think it’s coming, though.

Did you or the team set any goals for the season? If so, what are they?
AH: We didn’t verbalize any goals, but when there’s only three other teams in the league, I think it’s pretty easy to determine what your goal is and it’s to win the league. It just kind of goes unsaid.

This week’s Ask A Grizzly is starting pitcher Bryce Reid. E-mail questions to Nic at nic.cheyennegrizzlies@gmail.com by Sunday morning to get them answered by Bryce.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Grizzlies sink Bombers

Hits were hard to come by in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Denver Bombers, but between terrific pitching and finding ways to get on base, the Grizzlies were able to get the sweep, winning Game 2, 2-1.

Bryce Reid, making his first start in Cheyenne this season after three starts in Greeley, had to pitch from behind despite not letting up an earned run.

The one run that came across for the Bombers came in the fourth inning when leadoff hitter Chandler Griffin reached on a Mike Lessig error. Reid allowed four hits over six innings of work in the game that was shortened to seven innings because it was the second of the doubleheader.

“Bryce continues to impress me by getting ahead of hitters and getting the first outs of innings,” head coach Aaron Holley said.

Despite allowing just four hits, Reid worked through traffic most of the game and wasn’t as sharp as he has been in his previous starts.

“My breaking balls weren’t moving a lot so I had to rely on my fastballs more,” Reid said, “but I was proud that I was able to limit my walks.”

The fact that he didn’t have his best stuff but didn’t allow an earned run shows how dominant he has been in his starts this year.

“Bryce is an arm that we can rely on,” Holley said. “You’re not going to win a lot of games when scoring just two runs, but a lot of times, that’s all that he needs.”

The game was a pitchers’ duel from the start and the Grizzlies struggled tremendously against Bombers’ starter Ben Packard.

Packard threw five innings, not allowing a single earned run or hit.

The Grizzlies went into the bottom of the sixth, their final at-bat, in line to win the game without recording a hit until Kevin Logan singled off Bombers’ reliever Andy Herrman with one out. It was their only hit of the game.

“It’s not every day you see a game like that,” Holley said, “but the key thing is that, while we didn’t get many hits, we still found ways to score a couple runs and get the W.”

Both Cheyenne runs came in the fifth inning.

Shortstop Jose Jauregiu led off with a five-pitch walk before stealing second base. The next batter, K.C. Judge, grounded one to Denver shortstop Wes Keelan, but Keelan overthrew first base, allowing Judge to reach.

The overthrow allowed Jauregiu to advance to third, but first baseman Doran Schulthies, trying to throw Jauregiu out, overthrew third base, allowing Jauregiu to score.

Judge advanced to second on Schulthies’ error, third on a wild pitch and home on a fielding error by third baseman Ty Jacobs.

Closer Jack Winters came in to pitch the seventh, working out of trouble to finish the game. He got the first out on a great diving catch by Logan in center, but the next two batters recorded singles up the middle before a flyout to center and a groundout to third ended the game.

“It wasn’t the prettiest game but it’s always nice to get two wins in a day,” Holley said. “We saw a lot of positives out of our pitchers (Saturday).

Bombs away

Grizzlies’ starter Josh Boyer threw 6 2/3 of no-hit baseball as Cheyenne cruised to a 7-1 victory in the opening game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Denver Bombers.

“Josh pitched awesome,” head coach Aaron Holley said afterward. “He got ahead of hitters and kept the leadoff hitters off base.”

The Bombers are part of the Rocky Mountain Baseball League, a 16-team collegiate league located in the Denver area similar to the MCBL.

Boyer walked three batters but induced two double-play groundouts and flashed a little leather of his own to help his cause. In the fourth inning, Denver’s Ty Jacobs hit a comebacker to the mound. The ball deflected off Boyer’s foot and into his glove where he threw to first to get the out. Boyer struck out the next hitter before getting Daron Schulties to weakly ground out to him again.

“He got ground balls and double plays when he needed them,” Holley said. “Hats off to Josh who pitched a terrific game.”

He worked a 1-2-3 fifth to retire the side and eight consecutive hitters.

“I felt really good out there,” Boyer said. “It’s easy pitching when you have a lead like I did today but my pitches were just working.”

It wasn’t until two outs in the sixth that Boyer allowed his first base runner through a hit.

“Actually, I wasn’t aware of it (the no-hitter) until my teammates told me when I got back to the dugout,” he said. “It would have been my first one.”

Boyer exited after seven innings of work, allowing three hits and striking out four.

The Grizzlies put up three runs in the second inning, two coming off of Jose Gonzalez’s opposite-field triple down the right-field line. The triple scored K.C. Judge, who singled, and Mike Lessig, who walked. Right fielder Rory Kolo brought home Gonzalez on the next pitch with a groundout.

Center fielder Kevin Logan led off the third inning with a single to right, one of two in the game, followed by a single by Jose Jauregiu. After a strikeout, the Grizzlies again hit back-to-back singles, bringing home a pair more.

The game got more interesting in the fourth when Bombers’ starter Cameron Tallman struck out Gonzalez to get the second out of the inning, but was ejected from the game immediately after.

“There was some chipping back and forth between their players and some of our players,” Holley said. “I didn’t hear specifically what was said but the umpire tried to put a stop to it but their guy continued to chip."

Bombers’ head coach Kent Gregory was tossed moments later after arguing his pitcher’s ejection.

“After that I pulled the team aside and I told them that what’s happened has happened and it’s done now,” Holley said. “I said they might try to retaliate, and sure enough, Rory was hit, but I told our team to cheer for each other and drop whatever was going on between them.”

Denver brought in reliever Zack Cleveland who cooled the Grizzlies’ bats, allowing an unearned run on two hits and six strikeouts in 3 1/3.

With Boyer still cruising, however, the game was already out of reach for the Bombers.

The one run allowed by Cleveland came in the fifth when Logan led off the inning with a single. He stole second, but when the throw bounced off his leg and toward the shortstop position, he decided to take off for third.

“I looked down and realized it was the ball that had hit me and that no one was near the ball or covering third so I broke toward third,” Logan said.

With Logan’s speed, why stop there?

“As I was running to third I realized no one had gotten to the ball yet so I kept going,” he said.

The speedy center fielder advanced three bases without the ball ever leaving the infield.

Ryan Schwenn came in to work the eighth for the Grizzlies, striking out three batters, and Willie Vizoso got the call to close out the ninth, striking out the final batter to end the game.

“Schwenn came in and struck three guys out and Willie came in and shut them down,” Holley said. “It was a solid game all around.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

Grizzlies’ 9th-inning rally falls 1 hit short

The situation was set up perfectly for the team’s first walk-off hit of the season. Trailing by one run, 7-6, entering the bottom of the ninth, Laramie’s closer Justin Kanas walked three consecutive batters to load the bases with one out and Cheyenne’s cleanup hitter, K.C. Judge coming to the plate.

“We put ourselves in position to win the game,” head coach Aaron Holley said. “It’s exactly what we wanted—we have our No. 4 hitter up with the bases loaded and one out. You can’t ask for anything else.”

But Judge connected on the first pitch he saw from Kanas, hitting it directly back up the middle where shortstop Robert Lawrence fielded it, tossed it to second for the first out, and fired it to first for the game-ending, rally-killing double play.

The final out looked as if first baseman Cody Voelker may have come off the bag trying to field the low throw, or even dropped the ball. Holley argued the call, his third time of the night, but the call stood and the Colts hung on for the win.

“You couldn’t ask for anything more than a hit there to win the game,” Holley said. “Hats off to them (Laramie). They’ve improved a lot and it’s going to be a battle. I’m glad that now they’re competing. We’ve got us and Fort Collins competing, I think Greeley’s going to start competing, it’s going to be a fun season.”

Earlier in the game, the Grizzlies had to rally to even get in position to win it in the ninth, trailing 7-1 halfway through the fifth inning.

Despite letting up a first-inning home run to Laramie’s Nate Smith, Cheyenne’s starting pitcher Joe Luft looked strong through four innings, allowing two runs, one earned, and two hits.

The fifth inning is when he started to get into trouble, however, allowing six singles and five runs.

“I got guys 0-2 but you just have to learn how to finish your pitches,” Luft said about the fifth inning. “I’ll learn to be smarter with my pitches in order to put hitters away.”

After allowing a single to open the frame, Colts’ third baseman Alex Marse reached base on a Judge throwing error after fielding what would have been a sacrifice bunt. Due to the error, only one of the runs in the fifth inning was charged to Luft.

He allowed two earned runs on eight hits and two walks over five innings on the night, striking out four.

“The one big inning we had two errors,” Holley said. “When you’re playing defense like that it’s hard to win. I don’t think we pitched bad, and really, other than the defense, we played well.”

The Grizzlies were able to chip away, though, getting three back in the bottom of the fifth and a pair in the sixth.

Right fielder Rory Kolo, who had two hits, two runs, an RBI and a stolen base, led off the fifth with a single to left field, followed by second baseman Mike Wido being hit by a pitch and center fielder Kyle Dodge reaching on a fielder’s choice when Marse tried to tag out Kolo at third. With the bases loaded, Colts’ starter Andres Wiltz threw two wild pitches, resulting in two runs, and designated hitter Mike Domenick was able to bring in a third run on a groundout.

“Guys were doing the right thing to put us in position to chip away and come back,” Kolo said. “I was just looking for a good pitch to hit and got enough wood on it to bloop it into the outfield.”

In the sixth, third baseman Ryan Javech reached on an error. Javech then stole second and was moved to third on an Andy Athans sacrifice bunt before scoring on Kolo’s double to right-center. Wido then brought around Kolo on a hard single to left field before being thrown out trying to steal second.

It was one of three times that the Grizzlies were thrown out on the bases, killing potential chances to score.

In the second inning, Javech, who reached base on a single, was thrown out at the plate trying to score on Jefre Johnson’s double to deep left-center.

In the seventh inning, Jose Jauregiu reached base on a fielding error but was picked off at first base. The next two batters singled.

“We preach aggressiveness on the bases,” Holley said. “We’ve probably stolen more bases and taken more extra bases than we have gotten thrown out so I’m going to take it. If they’re going hard, doing the right things and being smart about it, sometimes you get thrown out, that’s just the way it is. We have good team speed so we’re going to try to take advantage of that.”

All season, preventing runs in the late innings has been a struggle for relievers. Thirty-six of the 47 runs (77 percent) allowed this season coming into Friday have come after the fifth inning.

But Friday, reliever Howard Heinrich did all he was called upon to do.

“I knew I could bring him in and he was going to throw strikes and keep us in the game,” Holley said. “Once he started rolling I let him keep going.”

Heinrich threw three innings, striking out two and allowing just one base runner, which came on a walk.

Jack Winters came in to throw the ninth, allowing a bunt single and hitting a batter before escaping the jam.

“From the sixth inning on, we held them and shut them out, which is exactly what we need and talk about,” Holley said.

The loss is the team’s first since June 9, and, although the Grizzlies couldn’t complete the rally, it gives them confidence.

“We did everything we could we were just one play short,” Kolo said. “We can look back on this and know we were one hit away and we can do it.”

Nic Knows: A view from the press box

Nic Knows is a weekly series that gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at different aspects of the Cheyenne Grizzlies organization. From the sights and sounds of a game inside the dugout to traveling with the team on a road trip; from the role of the grounds crew to what it takes to try out for the Big Leagues, fans will feel so close it’s like they’re actually with the team.

I’ve been to the four fields that host MCBL teams and it is quite evident that Cheyenne’s Pioneer Park has the most history behind it. Pioneer Park, though, also is host to the nicest press box in the MCBL.

Most press boxes mean a small shed that is attached to the top of the bleachers. They are cramped when more than two people step foot inside and experience extreme heat variations depending on the weather outside.

On Monday I went inside Greeley’s press box because it began to rain. Little good it did of keeping me out of the rain, as a mixture of the liquid and wind blew all of the water straight into our faces, soaking the score books and computers inside the box. I was fourth person to ender the press box. It fits two. I was crammed in the back corner, having to lower my head each pitch to see the play. With four people inside, the door could barely open to let someone out.

Fortunately, we do not experience this in Cheyenne. Pioneer Park’s press box is the five-star of press boxes.

June 17, 2010 - 6:11 p.m.
I enter the press box and precede up the stairs—yes, I said stairs, and did I mention the box is carpeted? The press box features a granite table right up against the window (seats four) and has room behind for several others to stand or sit.

I meet Brian Box, the new public address announcer and say hi to Zach Ward, who is in charge of music and sound effects. Brian, Zach and myself are the three people who work inside the press box, Zach in front of the computer, Brian behind the mike and myself running the scoreboard and score book.

Jeremiah Johnke of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle is also in attendance tonight.

6:23 p.m. - Pregame
Brian: “Good evening fans and welcome to historic Pioneer Park.”

Sheryl of Magic City, who was the game’s sponsor, makes her way up the press box steps to prepare for the singing of the National Anthem. Brian introduces Sheryl, she sings and it’s now time to play ball.

6:52 – Middle of 2nd
Margarita Smith, in charge of marketing and promotions, comes in and gives us a few announcements to make. The Grizzlies have just taken the lead and all is good in the press box.

7:11 – Middle of 3nd
Brian, Zach and myself look through a baseball trivia book to find a question for our first trivia of the night. We find a quote and Brian reads it off.

Brian: Who once said, “If it weren’t for baseball I’d either be in the penitentiary or the cemetery?” Come up to the press box with your answer to win a can of worms.”

Don is the first fan to come up and he correctly identifies the quote as being said by Babe Ruth. Don wins the gummy worms and Brian announces that “Don has worms.”

7:42 – 4th inning
Zach explains to Brian, who is announcing for the first time, about the Dizzy Bat Race.

Zach: You really have to encourage them. Make them keep spinning; when they get to nine spins keep counting, you know, like, nine, nine and a half, nine and three-quarters. The crowd loves it if they fall down.

The three contestants come out, Brian makes them spin more than they should and, sure enough, one of the contestants falls down while trying to run to first base to claim the free T-shirt.

8:06 – Bottom of 5th
It’s time to select another trivia question.

Brian: In 1941, Willie Mays became the first African American player to receive what team distinction?

A fan comes bolting up the stairs, “Is it MVP?”
Brian: Not MVP

Two more come up several minutes later.
Woman: Gold glove?
Girl: MVP?
Brian: No, nope. Try again, keep working, Google it.

Several moments pass and it looks like we might have stumped the fans. Brian looks at the can of gummy worms and is shocked to see the container contains 700 calories. He’s interrupted by a girl.

Girl: Is it team captain?
Brian: (Pause) Yes, persistence pays off.

Over the speakers, he announces, “Congrats Angelina, good work and enjoy your worms.”

8:06 p.m. – Still 5th inning
Owner and general manager Ron Kailey enjoys the view from the press box for an inning. Walks haunt the Foxes and the Grizzlies come around four more times to bring the score to 9-0. There’s a traditional rule in press boxes that no cheering is allowed. Ron breaks that rule.

8:18 p.m. – 6th inning

Zach shows me his computer that is filled with 20 gigabytes worth of music. I ask him how he got involved with this gig and he explains that he wants to become a radio host.

“I’m running music, but instead of being on air, I’m on a field right now,” he says.

He shows me more of his library. The program he uses has tabs with different kinds of audio: music, rock music, movie clips, soundbites, etc.

“When the team is warming up I’ll play some some good music to get them fired up,” Zach explains. “When we’re winning I’ll play some rock music because it’s a good adrenaline boost and when we’re losing I’ll play something like “Don’t Stop Believing” to get the fans back into it. It’s fun getting fans into the music and pumping them up.”

Fortunately there was no losing Thursday night.

His favorite part of the job is finding more clips and adding them to his personal collection. He enjoys playing movie clips that poke fun at the opposing team and his favorite byte is “the explosion with debris when a foul ball is hit. It really gets people to jump.”

8:29 p.m. – Top of 7th
Cannibals Concessions brings us up some complimentary food and drinks to enjoy while working. You don’t want the media to go hungry.

Brian: “This is what I’m most looking forward to this summer.”

8:42 p.m. – Bottom of 7th
The fans sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and I begin to notice what a beautiful evening it is. There is a good crowd on hand and really nice weather.

Pioneer Park is the only field that has sliding windows in the press box. As mentioned above, if it’s cold outside, it’s cold inside the press box at most fields. If it’s cold at Pioneer Park, we can shut the windows and watch the game in warmth. If it’s a nice evening, we’ll keep the windows open and enjoy the sounds of the game.

9:02 p.m. – 8th inning
I take time in between batters to talk to Brian about his role.

Brian wants to get into PA announcing professionally for the Rockies so he’s using this as a springboard to jumpstart his career in announcing. Thursday was his first game but he received several compliments from fans in attendance.

“It’s just something I’ve always been interesting in doing. I like interacting with the fans and getting them excited.”

9:17 p.m. – Top of 9th inning
Margarita does her infamous “Tequila Dance”, the Grizzlies record the final three outs and Brian thanks the fans for coming out.

Brian: Tonight’s final score: Fort Collins Foxes two, your Cheyenne Grizzlies 10. Drive home safely and enjoy your night.

Next week, in the second installment of Nic Knows, Nic tells his personal experience of what it’s like to try out for the Big Leagues.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Grizzlies dominate Foxes, tied for first place

A night after playing with professionals, the Cheyenne Grizzlies came out and looked as professional as they have all season, dominating the Fort Collins Foxes 10-2 and claiming a first-place tie with the Fort Collins in the MCBL standings.

Starting pitcher Mike Lessig shut down Foxes hitters while the Grizzly offense exploded for 10 runs on 11 hits in the win.

“I think they’re (the Foxes) the second best team in the league to us so it’s good to always battle with those guys,” head coach Aaron Holley said. “What we’re doing better now is, first of all, we didn’t make an error defensively until that last inning, and secondly, we limited our walks, which is huge.”

Lessig pounded the zone, throwing several first-pitch strikes and continually getting ahead in the count.

“Mike got ahead of hitters early,” Holley said. “He threw less than 100 pitches in seven innings. When you get a pitching performance like that, that sets the tone. He came out, struck out two in the first inning, was throwing strikes and we just rolled from there.”

After one trip through the lineup, Lessig set down all nine hitters he faced in just 27 pitches, striking out four. In all, he finished the night hurling seven frames allowing just three walks and two hits, both coming in the fourth inning. He struck out 10 batters.

“I felt great (Thursday night),” Lessig said. “My arm was a little tight from the tryout (Wednesday) but it loosened up and I was throwing strikes, which is important. I had two pitches working well today; I was able to get ahead of guys with my fastball and keep guys off-balanced with my curveball.”

Cheyenne’s offense got behind Lessig early, scoring twice in the second, twice in the third and once in the fourth.

In the fifth, they took advantage of six Fort Collins walks to bat through the order and put up four runs to make it 9-0. In that inning, the Foxes used three pitchers.

“We got on base 14 times from free bases,” Holley said. “When we weren’t getting hit or walking, though, we had good approaches at the plate. Guys are starting to understand certain things about themselves and how different teams are going to pitch them. They’re getting a lot more comfortable off the plate.”

Eight different plays recorded hits Thursday, including K.C. Judge, who went 3-for-4 with a walk, two runs scored and an RBI, Mike Wido, who drove in two runs and Mike Hendricks, who went 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and a run driven in.

“With lefties I’m usually letting the ball travel a little more,” Hendricks said. “That was just my plan, see a fastball out and drive it to opposite field, especially with runners on, trying to put something on the right side.”

The Grizzlies have now won three in a row and six out of their last seven games, including consecutive wins against the Foxes after dropping the first three meetings against Fort Collins.

Chad Correa relieved Lessig throwing a 1-2-3 eighth and Taylor Fallon finished the game, allowing two runs, both coming unearned.

“I think we knew we could beat them earlier in the year, we just had a couple bad games where we made a few errors early in the game and got ourselves behind,” Hendricks said. “(Thursday night) we jumped on them right away.”

Professional tryout, game a “life-changing experience” for Grizzly players

CASPER, Wyo.—On Wednesday, Grizzly players got the opportunity to live out life-long dreams.

The full-day event included a morning tryout in front of two Rockies scouts and several team representatives and an evening game against the Rookie-level Casper Ghosts, a minor league affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.

“It was great, you dream about this as a kid,” said pitcher Willie Vizoso. “It was a life-changing experience for me.”

“The whole day was fun,” said outfielder K.C. Judge. “If you don’t get drafted, nobody gets the opportunity to do what we got to do. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I was just happy to be out there. I didn’t really care about the outcome, but just to be out on the field with that caliber of players was awesome.”

The day began at the crack of dawn with the team meeting at Pioneer Park at 5:30 a.m. From there, three vans transported the team north on Interstate-25 177 miles to Mike Lansing Field in Casper.

Upon arriving, the players registered and checked in before proceeding to the field to get warmed up. In all, there were 56 players trying out from Colorado and its surrounding states.

“This is the second year they’ve run the open tryout here in Wyoming,” said Chris Maxwell, assistant general manager of the Ghosts. “We get people from all over who come to this tryout. The odds are long but it’s good for everybody—it gives players a chance to be seen and gives the Rockies a chance to see players that might have been overlooked originally.”

The History:
The tryout and game between the Ghosts and Grizzlies began in 2009, and, due to success, was brought back this summer.

“At the baseball winter meetings in December, the general manager, myself and the director of player personnel sat down and we talked about things for the upcoming year,” Maxwell said. “One of the things we discussed is if we could do an open tryout. Obviously, it’s great for us because it’s good publicity, our name is out there and a lot of people come into town for a few days.”

The Ghosts’ responsibility is to notify the Rocky Mountain region of the tryout through press releases and on their Web site.

“We have people call here and we book them if we believe they’re legitimate prospects and then set them up for coming in,” Maxwell said. “The Rockies bring in coaching staffs for the Ghosts, professional scouts and, today, we had the assistant director of player personnel to evaluate the talent.”

The combination of the tryout and the game is a good opportunity for both sides, with the Ghosts receiving some similar competition before their first game on June 21.

“Being a wood-bat league, it gives us (Ghosts) good competition for a preseason game,” Maxwell said. “It gives us a team to play with a similar age range and it also gives the Grizzlies a chance to judge their competition versus guys that have been drafted. It gives them a chance to see how close they are and what they have to do in order to get to this next level.”

The Tryout:
The players were split up into three groups (pitchers, infielders and outfielders) and the tryout was divided into three sections (running, fielding/pitching and hitting).

“It’s not that we don’t have enough players in the organization,” said Butch Hughes, one of the Rockies scouts on hand. “We’re just always looking to upgrade. The things you look for in these tryouts are how fast the young man can run and we look at his arm and we look for power. Those are the tools that we look for.”

Part 1: Each player was timed running the 60-yard dash. They lined up with their right foot on the left-field foul line in the outfield grass and took off when the scout waved his hat down.

Part 2: Outfielders went first, being placed in right-field and given the chance to showcase their fielding and arm strength. One of the scouts would hit three balls, the first a fly ball, the second a roller and the third a ball the fielder had to chase down in the right-center gap. Outfielders were instructed to throw to third base, allowing the scouts to see throws across the entire field.

The tasks performed by the infielders were similar. The players stood at shortstop and received four groundballs.

“One was a grounder to you, one was to your forehand side, another to your backhand and the last a slow roller you had to run in on and throw to first off-balanced,” infielder Taylor Fallon said. “I felt pretty good about how I did; I felt like I was chucking my throws over to first base pretty hard.”

The pitchers were given a chance to warm up and throw pitches on the visitor’s bullpen before moving to the Casper bullpen to get clocked and critiqued. They were told beforehand that what the scouts are looking for is speed and off-speed pitches.

“I felt like I threw well,” reliever Chad Correa said, “but I don’t throw 90 mph or anything, so I’m not sure what their take was. I threw strikes and had good movement, though.”

Part 3: Hitters saw around 10 pitches, depending on what the scouts were seeing and how long they wanted them swinging. The pitches came from a pitching machine.

“Usually at every ballpark, we allow a tryout like this,” Hughes said. “We have six minor league teams and we either have a tryout at spring training, which is usually limited to invitation only, or throughout the year like this. And usually, we sign two or three guys at our tryouts throughout the year. You never know where you can find somebody. We have a philosophy of bringing kids in and seeing how they can do.

“There’s a kid right now in AAA, his name is (Nick) Bierbrodt, and we signed him out of our tryout during spring training. I expect him to get to the big leagues.”

Once the tryout was complete, the team got the afternoon to relax, spending several hours at a local restaurant, Sidelines, and several hours hanging out in the clubhouse or watching the Ghosts take early batting practice.

“It was a great opportunity to get out there and get noticed,” said pitcher Ryan Schwenn. “I enjoyed watching them (Ghosts) practice before the game and see the similarities and differences between how we do things.”

The Game:
The game gave Casper’s Legion seniors a chance to face minor leaguers with the first five batters being from the Legion team. They also played in the field for the first inning. After the first five batters, though, it was purely Grizzlies vs. Ghosts. And while Cheyenne fell 6-1, each player saw action in the game and all saw it as a valuable experience.

“It was definitely an experience I will cherish and be able to look back on and say I played against professionals,” Schwenn said.

“I’ll take that any day,” said Stephon Parker, who recorded the Grizzlies’ only RBI. “It was great.”

The game was especially moving for pitcher Willie Vizoso.

Vizoso was brought in to face one batter in the seventh. The one batter happened to be former University of Miami star, David DiNatale.

“He went to Miami and I’m from Miami,” Vizoso said. “I went to all of his games when he played. Me and him had a neat conversation before the game.”

Vizoso struck out DiNatale, leaving him with a lifelong memory.

“I’ll remember that moment forever,” he said. “Somebody that I had seen so much, to actually get to do that and strike him out. It was awesome.”

The Waiting Game:
“A misconception I think a lot of players have is that they will walk out of the tryout and be handed a contract,” Hughes said. “It’s more of a chance for scouts to see the players, and if they like what they see, get them on the radar and make sure a scout is out there evaluating them.”

For many, the likelihood of getting a call back is slim, but the opportunity that the tryout presented is getting them on the right track.

“For me, I was able to see what the scouts like and what they are looking for,” Vizoso said. “Right now, unfortunately, I’m not there, but I’m going to keep working at it to hopefully be at that point sometime soon.”

Grizzlies’ head coach Aaron Holley also saw the tryout as a learning experience for his players.

“A lot of our guys are younger so they still have a few years of school ball left,” he said. “It’s good to go out and see what’s expected of you at the next level. It allows you to put in perspective what you’re playing for or what you might be playing for in the future. It gives them a good grasp of what they need to work on or what they need to do in order to make it to the next level.”

Baseball at altitude:
The Casper Ghosts, then the Casper Rockies, were formed in 2001, and to this day, remain the only current professional sports team in the state of Wyoming.

“We’re the only affiliated team,” Maxwell said. “Minor league baseball fits in perfectly here; it’s great for the state. One of the great things is we’re a Rockies affiliate. We could be, if fate were different, a Yankees affiliate or a Florida Marlins affiliate. But we’re lucky that this is Colorado Rockies territory and we’re a Rockies affiliate and I think that is a big part of our success.

“We have a great thing going here and I think it’s in the spirit of all of us to promote baseball in Wyoming.”

For more on the tryout, look for the second installment of the Nic Knows series, giving fans a behind-the-scenes look at different aspects of the Grizzlies organization, set to be published on Friday, June 25.

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