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Full Count

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June 11: TinCaps celebrate playoff berth

Fort Wayne celebrates a playoff berth-clinching win against Lake County on Tuesday at Parkview Field. The TinCaps locked up the wildcard bid for the first half of the Midwest League season.

TinCaps celebrate playoff berth

This is what joy, in its youthful prime, looks like.

This is swagger. This is cockiness. This is a team that feels like it can beat anyone, because it can, and it has.

These TinCaps clinched a Midwest League playoff berth in the first half for the first time since 2009, when Fort Wayne last won the MWL championship.

And as young players should, they know how to celebrate.

The clubhouse filled with cheers you could hear from two floors up, echoing off the walls of the stairwell from the press box of Parkview Field. The players doused themselves in sparkling grape juice -- there are some under-21 guys on this team, you see -- as president Mike Nutter stood outside the doors and smiled.

TinCaps manager Jose Valentin got an ice bath and joined on the act himself, popping bottles and celebrating like his 15-year professional career wasn't really over. The youngsters danced. They pelted each other with ice. The ones that were old enough opened beers, drank some Grey Goose and orange juice and celebrated with some songs -- a mix of Latino music and Fall Out Boy.

The clubhouse floor, covered in plastic, turned into a Slip-n-Slide. The hooting and hollering dwindled a bit, but never stopped, and soon enough someone would step in to rile it back up again.

Just like this first half of the season. After a five-game losing streak, the TinCaps put together 15 wins in 16 games. Someone was always the hero. Someone turned a sure loss into a thrilling victory.

The wins kept coming. And this -- the kind of celebration seen on TV cameras from MLB locker rooms -- is the reward, far from the glamour of bright lights and 50,000-seat ballparks.

No matter the crowd, or the league, this is a victory. This is a shot at a championship.

This, Valentin said, is a hell of a lot of fun.

"Let me tell you what," he said from his office, drenched in water and who knows what else. "It doesn't matter what kind of level. When you celebrate as champions, and see the guys hollering at each other, celebrating, having fun, it's something you gotta enjoy.

"You gotta enjoy the moment. It's a great feeling. I'm proud of them, and I'm happy to be a part of this."