Fort Wayne manager Jose Valentin, in his second year with the TinCaps, is a different man.
This year seems easier, he said, be it because of a different roster, better clubhouse chemistry or another year of experience as a coach.
Regardless of the reason, after his TinCaps went 43-26 in the first half – the third-best record in a half in franchise history – Valentin doesnt want the good times to end.
So far, everything has been great, he said, knocking on his desk. Hopefully, I can keep it that way or even make it better.
The only way for this team to get better is to be the best in the second half.
Fort Wayne finished the first half a game behind South Bend (44-25), which won the Midwest League Eastern Division. The TinCaps ended the half by going 18-5 in their last 23 games to nearly catch the Silver Hawks.
Valentins squad secured a playoff berth in the first half, and just a few minutes into his news conference June 11 as the team celebrated that feat, he said he wanted more.
I wont stop, Valentin said. Thats what I told them. Im not satisfied yet because we havent gotten what we want.
Its not over yet. We want to get another celebration, but its the one with the title at our side.
The second-year manager is a players coach, one that has the trust of his squad but can lay into them when he needs to. By doing so, he sparked a stellar finish to the first half and, perhaps, some momentum going into the second.
His team thinks so.
We really have a knack for winning, and the coaches and the coaching staff have done a great job of keeping us in there, keeping us in each game, closer Roman Madrid said Tuesday at the MWL All-Star game in Dayton. The numbers that weve put up have been awesome.
The group doesnt lack confidence or motivation despite clinching a playoff spot. Individual players have extra incentive to continue to excel.
While the San Diego Padres have not made an official announcement yet, the TinCaps will lose designated hitter Jeremy Baltz and starting pitcher Justin Hancock to the clubs Advanced-A team in Lake Elsinore, Calif.
Baltz was one of the TinCaps most consistent hitters before a groin injury, and Hancock boasted the best ERA in the MWL – a 1.73 in 67 2/3 innings pitched.
The TinCaps will have to replace those two, and more departures could be on the way. But seeing a pair of their teammates called up gives those remaining in Fort Wayne reason to keep winning.
I think thats going to be a major factor in us starting hot in the second half, you know? starting pitcher Joe Ross said. People wanting to be that guy, the next dude that plays well and gets called up.
There are plenty of reasons the TinCaps could slack off, and many more for them not to. With a young roster and a different look to the clubhouse, it is tough to say what will happen.
But the players, like catcher Dane Phillips, are confident there wont be any hangover from the success of the first half.
I want to win it all, he said. And I think we can do it. I look forward to it.