Within minutes of beating the Lincoln Saltdogs on Sunday, the Winnipeg Goldeyes had hit the showers and packed the bus, riding high on more than just a winning buzz.
See, after over two weeks on the road, these Fish are hungry to meet their fans at home.
"Everybody's ready to get back to Winnipeg," said shortstop Tyler Kuhn, shortly after helping dispatch the Saltdogs 6-4 to finish a series sweep. "This has been the longest road trip of my career, and everyone's told me about the fan support we have in Winnipeg. I'm hoping for a packed house tomorrow night, and if we get the results, hopefully a packed house every night."
Safe to say, Kuhn will get that wish. The Fish have led the league in turn-out since they joined the American Association in 2011. But for Kuhn and, indeed, half the players on this roster, tonight's home opener against the Sioux City Explorers will be their first real taste of Shaw Park. Sure, they played a couple of exhibition games here before hitting the road on May 9, but those don't count. They're just not the same.
Now, the Goldeyes are rolling into town on a high note. They swept Lincoln in three games to go to 7-3 on the season -- yeah, it's early still, but that's a fine position to be in. Hitters have been hitting. The bullpen has been sterling. And while there have been some question marks around the starting rotation, perhaps those are being answered.
Consider the case of Chris Salamida. He struggled mightily in his first two starts, an 11-7 loss in Amarillo and a 7-3 loss in Laredo, which left him with a 15.43 ERA. After that, manager Rick Forney said he thought Salamida was ready to turn the page -- and in Lincoln on Sunday, he did. He hurled seven full innings in the win, allowing just four hits and a pair of runs.
"He looked great, he really did," Kuhn said. "He was throwing the ball well, and locating his off-speed pitches. From where I stand, I can really observe how a guy's throwing, and he really came into his own today."
As Salamida rests for this first home series, other starters will get a chance to show fans what they can do. First up is Kyle Anderson, a new addition to the Goldeyes roster this season, and in just his third professional campaign. The 24-year-old comported himself well in his first two games -- one of which he started -- with an ERA of 0.93 through 9.2 innings worth of work. He is slated to take the mound tonight.
On Tuesday, Jason Jarvis will look to rebound in his third start. The returning Goldeye had a mucky outing in Laredo last week, giving up 10 hits and eight earned runs in just 2.2 innings in a grisly 18-5 loss. Finally, Matt Jackson will take the mound against Sioux City on Wednesday, and he's been hammering the plate: two games, two wins, eight strikeouts and a sparkly 1.39 ERA.
This homestand will also give fans a chance to get to know the batting lineup, and there's good news there too. One of the brightest spots, of course, is Kuhn, who batted .404 through 10 games from the lead-off slot and was named the American Association's first player of the week.
He's not the only one who's been coming on strong: former Major Leaguer Ray Sadler, third baseman Ryan Pineda, first baseman Casey Haerther and outfielder Donnie Webb are also all batting over .300 and Sadler has already boomed three home runs.
For Kuhn, fresh off six seasons in affiliated ball, he finds in this crew a growing camaraderie.
"When some guys aren't clicking that day, it seems like there's someone else to pick it up," he said. "It seems like everyone's always helping each other out."