There's no fresh blanket of snow in Fehlandt Lentini's hometown of Santa Rosa, Calif., no prairie winds to nip the nose -- and yet, in the middle of those things in Winnipeg, the veteran outfielder felt at home.
On Monday, the Winnipeg Goldeyes announced they are bringing the centre-fielder back for another season. It'll be Lentini's third stint with the Fish, a relationship that began when he was traded here from the Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2006.
Straight-up: Lentini missed Winnipeg. He missed the fans -- the last time he played with the Fish, during the 2011 season, Goldeyes faithful greeted his return with a standing ovation. He missed the friends he made here, families whose kids he taught to swing. He missed Shaw Park, and the sunlit skyline that rises behind the stands.
"There's no other place where there's a minor-league team in the downtown of a big city," he said, lounging in the Goldeyes office Monday. "You don't get the kind of experience playing that you do here. It's like being in the Big Leagues."
For 13 years, Lentini has done the minor-league grind, he knows. There were teams where the paycheques didn't come on time, there was a team where ownership pushed players into long hours of promotional work without paying an extra dime.
Not in Winnipeg: here, he said, little details were always under control. "For me as a player, is I want to feel appreciated, because I put a lot of work in," he added. "And all that goes into wanting to play and enjoying where you're at. When players feel comfortable, they play better."
Evidence: During Lentini's years with the Goldeyes, he set records. He's the team's all-time leader in doubles (103), and sits second in triples (28) and stolen bases (139). And he's not done yet. He's 35 now, and his numbers are still going strong: Last year, with the Atlantic League's Lancaster Barnstormers, he finished fifth in the league with a .319 batting average.
This year could be even better. For years, Lentini quietly battled the lingering effects of an old wrist injury; scar tissue, probably, but this off-season he finally had a breakthrough stretching it out. His arm feels freer, now. "I feel great," he said. "Now that I know the feeling of it being good, I know how to get it back... I haven't had that the last few seasons."
Besides, Lentini is on a mission: to win the top prize for the Goldeyes. He'd come so close, before. In 2006, there was that heartbreaker in the championship finals, when the Goldeyes were up two games over Fargo before watching it slip away; so watching the Fish take the whole shebang last year was tough, he admitted.
Now, as the team hunts for a repeat, Lentini wonders if he could be a lucky charm. He won his first professional championship in 2001, when he was a Houston Astros prospect playing for the Lexington Legends. Four years later he won a second championship, that time with the RailCats. Four years after that, in 2009, he captured his third championship -- a Golden Baseball League trophy -- with the Calgary Vipers.
It's 2013 now: Do the math. "Every four years of my career," he says, and grins. "I have a feeling we're going to win."
Jose Canseco: merry prankster at work
NO, we Can'tseco: Last Friday, colourful former Major League Baseball star Jose Canseco tweeted the St. Paul Saints' account, urging the team to "please get my agent" and adding, "the pheasants, salt dogs, and goldeyes are all over me now!"
While the entertainment value does sound delightful, sad to say the tweet -- in response to the Saints offering him a promotional gig -- was tongue-in-cheek... or whatever else Canseco's curious social-media utterings happen to be. "I believe Jose Canseco was joking when he tweeted that," Goldeyes media rep Scott Unger said in an email. "The Goldeyes have never had any discussions with him."
Previously on twitter.com/JoseCanseco, the outfielder launched an ill-fated campaign to be the next mayor of Toronto, announced a new scientific theory that gravity was weaker when dinosaurs walked the Earth, and offered to write song lyrics for "any band that needs help."