FORT WAYNE – Justin Hancock doesn’t remember a lot about those elementary school field trips to Memorial Stadium to see the Wizards play.
Well, I do remember the free hot dogs, he said.
And he remembers enough to know he never thought he would end up playing for Fort Wayne’s professional baseball team, now the TinCaps, based at Parkview Field.
I never imagined I’d play for them, so it’s kind of a dream come true, said Hancock, 22, whose Single-A TinCaps open their Midwest League season against Great Lakes today.
Hancock, 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, grew up in Defiance, Ohio. A ninth-round pick of the San Diego Padres in 2011, he pitched at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.
He started last season with the TinCaps, starting twice, and he was 0-4 with a 6.95 ERA, with 23 strikeouts and 20 walks in 33 2/3 innings.
After that he was demoted to the Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, where he flourished, starting 14 games and going 5-2 with a 1.61 ERA with 66 strikeouts and 23 walks in 72 2/3 innings.
The lesson was this: Get used to the rigors of a professional season.
I was just trying to get my body right (in the offseason), he said. Last year, I felt like I got weak in the middle of the season, so I need to get stronger. It was a long season and I got a whiff of it, what to expect and what not to, so this season should be a lot smoother.
TinCaps manager Jose Valentin said Hancock has been throwing consistently in the 90s this spring and has had an excellent changeup.
I don’t think we’re going to see him too much here (before he moves up), Valentin said, adding that Walker Weickel, Zach Eflin and Max Fried have equally big arms.
Valentin thinks that, last year, Hancock put too much pressure on himself.
Justin, last year, he was trying to do too much, Valentin said. Like everybody else, he wants to go out there and do well. But for him it was frustrating because he got off to a horrible start. But then he got everything straight and was good for the rest of the year.
Hancock said he wants to move up soon, but he’s not going to get stressed over it.
I think that’s everyone’s goal, but I want to go game by game and pitch well like I did in Eugene, he said.
He’s happy to be close to home – Defiance is about an hour from Fort Wayne – and expects he will have friends and family in the stands for the majority of the games he’s in this season. He also gets nagged by his teammates for good hangout spots.
After the TinCaps made the league championship series last year – losing 3-1 in the best-of-five series to Wisconsin – he believes the team is well-rounded enough to contend again.
There is a lot to expect because of last year’s team, but we should do well, he said.