LINCOLN, Neb. -- If the thunderstorm that battered Nebraska's capital in the early morning blue left scars on Haymarket Park, they were gone by the time the first pitch flew towards the plate.
Indeed, as fans began to trickle in for the Saturday evening ball game, sun broke through clouds. A muggy mid-day heat gave way to a cottonwood-scented breeze, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes, they stretched on the grass in workout shorts and soaked it all in. They were laughing a lot, during the light pre-game workout. They looked loose.
"We're all pulling together," infielder Fehlandt Lentini said, tapping his bat against his calf. "It makes it easy.
"We're having fun on the field and in the clubhouse, and we're playing good ball."
This team, they keep saying that they're having a blast together, on the final days of a 16-day road trip. No doubt, the winning helps: eight in a row to start the season, coming into Saturday night's tilt against the Lincoln Saltdogs.
On Thursday, manager Rick Forney smirked and suggested the buzzwords that keep falling from players lips -- how the team "gels," how "tight" the room is -- might be different if (or rather, when) the team hits a skid.
That's probably true. But for now, those are the words the players keep coming back to, and the cooking team chemistry bubbles into moments of levity. It showed on Saturday night, when Josh Mazzola grinned as he bounced to the dugout fence to slap hands with outfielder Tim Smith, who'd just hit a homer. It shows too when rookie pitcher Kaohi Downing cracked a joke, and the Goldeyes around him laugh.
Oh, it also shows when Lentini and friends razz designated hitter Ryan Scoma over his recent red-hot bat.
"We'll be like, 'Oh, you gonna go hit more? Seventeen rounds?'" Lentini said with a laugh. "He gives it back. It's co-operative, we just like to rag each other."
They can laugh a little bit, now. They know they have a big test coming on Monday night, when they face the Laredo Lemurs for the Shaw Park home opener. On Saturday, pitcher Matt Rusch -- who won both games he started on the roadie -- was on a plane back to Winnipeg to rest up and get ready. The Lemurs won all of their first nine games, so it's going to be a tilt of the early-season titans.
"It could potentially be like that in the playoffs, you never know," said pitcher Alex Capaul, 24, who came to the Goldeyes this season after the Arizona Diamondbacks let him go from their organization. "It gives us another challenge, and the fans at home something to look forward to -- 'these guys are going to be challenged, it's going to be a good game.'"
Meanwhile, Capaul -- who gave up only four hits and zero runs in five full innings of work in his first Goldeyes start on May 22 -- was getting ready to start the Sunday afternoon matinee against the Saltdogs. He liked watching for the first three days of the Lincoln stand, and getting an idea of how to throw towards the Saltdogs' bats and get his mind "right for the game."
Enough standing around. Time to play. "It's definitely fun being out there," Capaul said -- just like his teammates, using that "f" word again.