Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Alen a master multi-tasker for Goldeyes

Veteran catcher a go-to guy for fresh Fish

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He's listed as a catcher in your Winnipeg Goldeyes program, but if the lineup were to include a true description of Luis Alen's duties, it might read like this: catcher/leader/psychologist/confidant.

 

That's no different than any catcher on any other team, the veteran Alen will insist.

But there is a whole pile of new faces on the Goldeyes' roster heading into 2013, and while manager Rick Forney will be pulling a lot of strings for how his pitching staff is utilized, it's Alen who is out there going to battle with these hurlers every day with every pitch.

So given all that change, Alen's job -- and the pitcher-catcher relationship is one of the most symbiotic in sports -- becomes that much more magnified.

"You have to put yourself in your pitcher's shoes and understand what they're going through and what they feel and then help them understand what they have to do to get better," Alen said this week as the Goldeyes' training camp rolled along. "That's one of the reasons I like being behind the plate. If they're doing a good job out there, I'm doing a good job. Their ERA (earned-run average) is my ERA."

The Fish have just three pitchers returning from last year's championship squad -- Chris Allen, Matt Rusch and Kaohi Downing. That means Alen has been going to school, so to speak, during the Goldeyes camp -- and class isn't just about what happens on the diamond.

"The communication starts in the clubhouse," Alen explained. "I try to get to know (the pitchers) a little bit more than just baseball-wise. Some of the good catchers even know what kind of food pitchers like, how they're doing back home and that kind of stuff. It's about how you feel around them and how they feel around you. If you know them well, they'll get to know you better.

"We've got a lot of new guys on this team, but they've got a lot of tools to go through a lot of lineups in this league.

"We'll find a way to get the communication and I'll try and find out what kind of pitches any pitcher has here. What are their 'out' pitches? What kind of control do they have? What kind of game plan do they use?"

Forney, a former pitcher, understands better than most the value of a reliable everyday catcher. And what Alen brings to the Goldeyes is critical.

"There's two positions on the field in our business that are the hardest guys to find: catcher and shortstop," said Forney. "Luis is as good as it gets back there. He has his days when he's tired mentally and physically where he'll scuffle for a game or two, but he snaps back pretty quick. He's really good at understanding pitching in this league and he is familiar with a lot of hitters in this league and what works and doesn't work.

"We'll lean on him pretty heavily. He's grown into quite the leader around here. When he first came, he was a young guy with no experience and now he's one of the better players in the league, not just one of the better catchers."

Alen is entering his fifth year with the Goldeyes and is now in the franchise's top five in terms of games played. Many of his teammates retired or moved on after last season's title run, but Alen wants more -- and he wants it in Winnipeg.

"I still love playing baseball," he said. "I've been playing professional baseball since 2002 and I feel lucky. You know how many people would want to be in my spot right now? To be in this locker-room right here? I feel blessed.

"No matter where I go, I'm proud to say I was a part of this team. I love the fact that I'm one of the guys that has been here for a long time. Last year was such a great experience, and now we're going to try and do it again. It's not going to be easy, but nothing is impossible."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2013 C4

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