The routine hasn't changed for Casey Haerther, nothing too different this season from last, or from training camp to his recent streak of thrilling at-bats.
Nah, the Goldeyes first baseman just goes through the same practised motions. He gets to the ballpark at noon. (He doesn't like to linger in bed.) Works out a bit. Then he grabs his bat and clomps out to Shaw Park to knock some balls around. "It seems to be working out, so I'm going to stick with it," he said.
Finally, he makes a peanut butter and banana sandwich before the game. Other than that, when it comes to superstitions, he doesn't really have any. "I think those will make you go crazy," Haerther said, his words stretching out with laid-back Californian inflection. "Especially at a time like this."
To be clear: By "a time like this," he means an offensive streak the likes of which the American Association has rarely seen, a slugging outburst that earned him two league player of the week honours in just three weeks.
"It's amazing to watch," pitcher Ethan Hollingsworth said. "His approach right now at the plate is unbelievable. I don't think he's swung at a ball in the last two weeks. He's taking the right pitches and putting them in the right place."
Let's get the numbers out of the way. Through eight games (all wins) last week, Haerther batted .629, and drew four walks. He walloped three home runs in that stretch, doubling his season total in a single week. He drove 11 runners home, slapped out five doubles, got multiple hits in seven of those games. He might have finished with multiple hits in all eight, save one promising whack in Fargo on Sunday night that was ruled a fielding error.
All told, going into Tuesday night's game against the visiting Sioux City Explorers, Haerther was on a 17-game hitting streak. He was leading the league in batting average (.425) and runs created (51.72, the highest by a mile: the second-place contender, Wichita's Ryan Khoury, was at 44.586). He's slammed 20 doubles on the season, more than any other American Association hitter, and is slugging .635, also in first place.
So yeah, if you want to see some offence, Casey Haerther is bringing it. Even manager Rick Forney, as settled in this league as wood grain to a tree, can only remember one other streak like it. That was back in 2001, when outfielder Carmine Cappuccio hit .359 in 90 games with the Goldeyes. As for Casey? "I don't want to talk about Casey Haerther," Forney said, but this was (mostly) kidding: If the first baseman doesn't bear many superstitions, Forney flirts with a few.
"The biggest thing with Casey and the streak he's on, he's making people pitch to him," Forney continued, presiding over batting practice on Tuesday afternoon. "He's just capitalizing on mistakes pitchers are making. At this league, at this level, you're going to get at least two good pitches to hit. He's patiently just waiting it out, and when they leave it up in the zone, he's getting the barrel to it."
No doubt, Haerther was solid for the Fish in his independent ball debut last season, but what's changed? He trimmed up, lost more than 20 pounds in the off-season, changed his workout routine a bit. But he doesn't think that's it, not really. He's learned his swing better, that helps a lot. Mostly, he said, it's just about adapting to independent ball, to the different tendencies of pitchers playing more to win now, than to develop towards the big leagues.
"They pitch me a lot different than in affiliated ball, so it was a big change," said Haerther, who spent four years chugging through the Los Angeles Angels system. "But this year, I came in here knowing what they were going to do, and I haven't let them beat me with the pitch I want. If they're going to throw me that fastball, or hang a breaking ball, right now I'm getting hits on that."
So who else is watching? Haerther is only 26, and it wouldn't be surprising if a major league team comes calling. Sure, he shrugged, the goal is always to climb back on to the affiliated ladder. But for now, he's just riding on the fun of winning.
"Right now, I just feel comfortable," he said. "I feel like I can see it out of the hand, if that's the pitch I want to swing at. I look forward to getting in that batter's box every day."