Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Fish starting to fill up the pond
Handful of Goldeyes hangin' out, swingin' around as camp nears
As the big leagues opened their spring camps, Casey Haerther watched from his home in California, and waited for the days to creep by.
This has been the longest off-season of the Goldeyes infielder's life.
Oh, Haerther had things to do during the winter months, none of them as fun as swinging bats in front of thousands of fans. He spent some time delivering eggs for his girlfriend's family business, getting up before dawn to make the rounds.
"I got tired of that real fast," he laughed. "Other than that, I was just working out, hitting, trying to keep busy."
So when Haerther landed in Winnipeg Friday, he was one of the first to arrive. He wanted to get into the swing of things, so to speak, and to be there as Shaw Park filled up with the other guys. By Monday afternoon, four players had joined him at the clubhouse. By the time the Fish open their training camp Saturday, that number will have swelled to 26.
-- Casey Haerther
"I'm itching for it," Haerther said. "It's exciting to be back. You know, it's nice to see the guys again, and be around them. You miss them for the whole off-season, so there's a camaraderie when you get back. It'll be fun, this year."
This year, it's just more familiar. There are 13 players returning to camp from last year's roster, and Haerther is one of them. A year ago, the 26-year-old slugger was one of the new kids in town, a robust first baseman with some heft in his arm. It was his first season in independent ball, and he comported himself well: his batting average (.307), slugging percentage (.445), and on-base-plus-slugging numbers (.785) ranked fourth on the team.
Haerther also batted in 66 runs and walloped 10 home runs, to match his career high, as well as 21 doubles and a triple. Still, the hitter thinks he can do better in that department.
"Obviously, I'd like to have more power numbers," Haerther said. "I just want to be consistent all year. I started off strong, then struggled a little bit, then finished strong. So my main goal is just to be consistent the whole time."
Although it's only Haerther's second year with the Fish, in the restless rosters of independent baseball, that makes him something of a Winnipeg veteran.
Meanwhile, there are 13 new faces rolling in for the season, and still getting a handle on this city they signed up in.
"It's really cold," said incoming outfielder Donnie Webb, with a laugh. "I crossed the border and there was snow on the ground, and I was like, 'Oh no, go away, what did I sign up for?' "
Well, that's one way to learn you aren't at home in south Florida anymore.
But the cold will eventually retreat, and when it does, chances are good that Webb will still be here. He is one of the most intriguing additions to the Fish roster, a speedy baserunner who stole 30 bags while playing with the Can-Am League's Rockland Boulders last season. He's also a switch hitter, a reliable center-fielder -- something Forney was hunting for -- and a lead-off hitter with some power. He blasted 10 balls out of the park with Rockland last year, as well as four triples.
He also posted an on-base percentage of .382 through 97 games with Rockland, which would have been second on last year's Goldeyes. Only Ryan Scoma, whose contract was bought by the Blue Jays, had higher. "You gotta just get on base, bottom line, any way you can," Webb said. "That's my goal."
That breakout 2013 campaign was Webb's first experience of independent ball. After the season ended, he was looking to get traded. Forney reeled him in over the winter, handing Rockland the revisionary rights to Cam Kneeland in exchange.
"I just wanted a change of scenery, and to get looked at more by scouts," Webb said. "Winnipeg wanted me, and it's always nice to feel wanted by somebody. So when they said 'Hey, we want you,' I said 'Let's do it.' "
At 28, maybe it's now or never for Webb to try to climb back into affiliated ball. He's been there before. After being drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 2008, he played five seasons in their organization, making it up to the AAA level on a couple of occasions. Rockland was his best season and, Webb hopes, a sign that his career has plenty more in the tank.
"Your dream is always to make it to the big leagues," Webb said. "I think I have what it takes. There's potential. I just have to put it all together... and having the right person see me perform -- the right person, and the right team. Hopefully, that happens."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 29, 2014 D4
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