In the hours before fans flooded into Shaw Park on Saturday night, the music pumping from the Winnipeg Goldeyes clubhouse brimmed with the kind of bravado that it takes to win ballgames -- or at least, to believe you can win ballgames, which is half the mental battle.
The tune in question was a classic Metallica song, Master of Puppets, and overtop Kirk Hammett's crunchy guitar a voice from inside the clubhouse growled along with the chorus -- "obeyyyyy your master" -- as laughter bounced off the walls. So yeah, this Goldeyes team was feeling good going into the evening's double-header against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks.
Unfortunately, the feeling wouldn't last, as the Fish dropped the first game of the night in a 9-1 flop. This wasn't for lack of preparation: even as the music blared, the veil of media silence fell across the pitching rotation's leader, Matt Rusch, who was getting ready to hurl in the first of the two tilts. It fell too over Alex Capaul, who took the first turn on the mound in the second game. They needed to prepare for the task ahead.
Instead, pitcher Mark Hardy moseyed out of the clubhouse, ready to talk -- and ready to take down some notes of his own. "We always sit in the stands and chart pitches, watch their hitters, where they're swinging, where they're not swinging," Hardy said. "It's always nice to watch. Usually it's only nine innings, so an extra five today is a lot better."
With any luck, that little extra look will give Hardy the edge he needs to hurl today, as he starts the last of the Goldeyes' three-game home series against Fargo. The southpaw pitcher came here on a mission to prove the San Diego Padres were wrong to let him go from their organization, and so far he's made a case for that early in this American Association season, winning all three games he's started with a sparkling ERA of 1.37.
To keep that going, of course, he must look across the plate to Luis Alen. Since Hardy arrived in Winnipeg, he's developed a solid working relationship with the catcher. "Me and Luis are on the same page at all times," Hardy said. "He's calling good pitches that I want to throw. We talk a lot when we're not in the game, and when we are, it's just go with the flow."
Alen has made a point of getting to know the new pitchers who flooded into the Goldeyes' clubhouse this spring. He won a championship with Rusch last year, and rookie Kaohi Downing took turns at the Goldeyes mound last season as well; for the rest, dinners at spots like the Keg to talk about family and the business of ball are regularly in order.
"That's how I'm trying to get to the other guys," Alen said of the 10 new faces in the Goldeyes rotation this year. "So we can be a little bit stronger on the field, and off the field as well."