Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lightning-quick deal gives Fish speed

Base-thieving Graham picked up by Goldeyes

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It was not Goldeyes manager Rick Forney's birthday last weekend -- that comes in October -- but the skip got a gift nonetheless.

On Sunday afternoon, after the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks handed the Fish a 7-2 trouncing to seal a series sweep, RedHawks manager Doug Simunic called Hawk hitter Tyler Graham into his office, and told the outfielder he'd be leaving with the opposing team. A few hours later and Graham, 29, was on the bus to Winnipeg with the rest of his new team.

It's not often that the American Association division rivals do each other a roster solid. But Forney had hinted on Sunday afternoon that changes would be coming, as he looks to shore up an offence that has been a little toothless of late. So he let outfielder Tim Smith walk, and brought Graham along for the ride instead.

"We weren't getting enough production from Tim," Forney said simply on Monday afternoon, back in the Goldeyes clubhouse after a seven-day road swing that saw the Fish go 2-5. "We're looking for some speed at the top of the order, so hopefully (Graham) can put some more energy in the lineup, score some more runs."

And a speedster is how Graham sees himself, and a base-stealer too, something the Goldeyes needed at the top of their order, in front of heavy hitters like first baseman Casey Haerther. Coming into Monday night's game, Smith had stolen 228 bases in his seven-year career, most of which were spent in the San Francisco Giants organization. "Hopefully I'll just get this team going, get on base and do whatever I can to help the team," Graham said on Monday, shortly before making his Goldeyes debut. "I use my speed to my advantage."

Last year, the 29-year-old, who grew up in Montana and has since settled in California, even clambered his way up to the major leagues, appearing in 10 games with the Arizona Diamondbacks with two at-bats and a pile of pinch-running assignments. In 29 games this season between Fargo and the Atlantic League, he's batted .250 and driven in 11 scores.

He's also bumped around a lot -- four different organizations in the last year alone -- and after spending so long with the Giants, falling into the daily battle of independent ball has opened his eyes.

"With the (Giants) organization, the thought of getting traded, or getting released, just never really goes through your head," Graham said. "But then it goes through your head that this game is a business. You just have to do the best you can wherever you go, and hopefully it's good enough."

The gift of Graham wasn't just a nice thing for Forney, but also for the player too. Graham's mother's family hails from a small town about 45 minutes outside of Fargo, N.D., so Simunic thought he'd give the centre-fielder a chance to stay close. "It was nice to play in front of some family," Graham said. "It's not too much farther north, so they'll be able to come and watch."

And if Graham fills the role as Forney hopes, hopefully they'll get a chance to see some wins, as the Goldeyes look to get back the swagger that won them such a stretch of season-opening games.

"You're not going to win in this league if you're scoring two, three, four runs a game," Forney said. "Your pitching won't hold up, the defence will make some mistakes, that's just how it is. We got to get some people on base."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 11, 2013 C4

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