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OnBaseMachine
06-29-2008, 09:01 PM
End nears for Mustangs' long, 14-game road trip
Ponies slowing down after hot start but still consider trip an early success

By MIKE SCHERTING
Of The Gazette Staff

GREAT FALLS - The fast-starting Billings Mustangs were starting to show some wear as they entered the final leg of their 14-game road trip.

But even as they fought their way to the end of their initial trip, having won just three of their last eight games, the Mustangs couldn't help but feel a sense of accomplishment.

Starting the season with fifteen days and fourteen games living out of a suitcase, spending way too many hours on a bus with little time to yourself, could have buried the Mustangs.

Instead, they find themselves keeping their heads above water with a 7-5 record after a 5-2 come-from-behind victory over the Great Falls Voyagers Saturday night. The Mustangs were forced to have such a long road trip to allow more time to put the finishing touches on their new home, Dehler Park, where they'll open the home portion of their schedule on Tuesday.
Even before beating Great Falls, which ended a two-game losing streak, the Mustangs had labeled the road trip a success.

"I think it's gone real well," Mustangs manager Julio Garcia said. "The way the guys have been playing and the way the guys have been pitching, I've been very, very happy. How they go about their business has been great and that's the only thing I ask for is a good effort.

"The chips will land where they may, but they're going about their work in a professional manner, they're playing the game hard, and that's all I can ask for."

The Mustangs won their first four games of the season, then had three heart-breaking losses. They entered the ninth inning in all three of those games with the lead, but the back end of the bullpen couldn't hold the leads and the Mustangs wound up losing all three on walk-off hits.

Still, the Mustangs have shown resiliency. Thursday's 5-4 loss to the Helena Brewers, the 10th game of the season, marked the first time the Mustangs hadn't gone into the ninth inning with the lead. And it took until the 11th game of the season, an 8-2 loss to the Brewers, for the Mustangs to finally not have a competitive game. Then came Saturday's game, when the Mustangs scored four times in the top of the ninth and Jordan Hotchkiss threw a 1-2-3 ninth to seal the win.

"It's a little tough, but at the same time, being on the road, it makes you come together as a team more," Mustangs outfielder Tyler Stovall said. "It's kind of you against the world. I think we actually got closer by starting out on the road than if we would have just started at home."

North of the border
Joey Votto played in Billings as a member of the Mustangs in 2003. Philippe Valiquette donned a Mustangs jersey in 2005 and 2007. And now there is catcher Jordan Wideman.

What's the connection? All are Canadian and are part of what is a continuing trend of more players north of the border getting drafted and signed by major-league clubs. The Helena Brewers, for example, have four Canadians on their roster and Wideman's older brother - A.J. - plays for the Toronto Blue Jays' Single-A affiliate in Dunedin.

"I'd say in the last few years the scouting in Canada has been a lot better," Jordan Wideman said. "And guys in Canada have been getting out in the U.S. and been able to play more, getting seen more (by scouts), which is great, you know."

Wideman, who is from Mississauga, Ontario, was selected in the 11th round in the 2007 draft by the Cincinnati Reds and he spent all of last year in the Gulf Coast League, batting just .213.

But the 19-year-old has gotten off to a hot start with the Mustangs. Through his first 10 games he was batting .324 with six doubles and he led the Mustangs with 10 RBIs.

"My first year in pro ball, I was just trying too hard," said Wideman of his struggles last season. "I've been very fortunate with my playing time here, to get the at-bats I need. I've done pretty well this year. It's been good. Hopefully it keeps up, though."

Crowded roster
A Pioneer League roster always causes challenges for a team's manager and this year's roster is no different. The Cincinnati Reds have stocked the Mustangs with seven outfielders and four catchers. Brett Bartles, who is listed as an outfielder, plays mostly on the infield, and catcher Frank Meade has a hamstring injury that could keep him out for up to three weeks, so the crunch is eased somewhat.

It's still a tough balancing act for Garcia, though, who said he simply tries to "mix and match," based on Garcia's feel for the team that day and how things are going on the field.

"I feel bad for the players because they all want to play and they all feel they should be in the linuep, and rightfully so, they all should feel that way," Garcia said. "Usually if somebody gets hot, for example like Carlos (Mendez) is right now, then I'll let him play a few more days until he's not so.

"That's what I try to do is just get everybody in and keep everybody as happy as humanly possible."

Notes and quotes
It's a strange sight to see Garcia stroll to the pitcher's mound to make a pitching change wearing a batting helmet, but that's what he does. As a result of the death of Mike Coolbaugh, who died in the first-base coach's box after getting hit in the neck by a line drive in a minor-league game last summer, minor league base coaches and major league base coaches are required to wear helmets. Since Garica also coaches in the third-base box when his team is batting, Garcia simply wears the helmet at all times. He said it's too easy to forget to put the helmet back on if he were to switch to his Mustangs cap when his team is in the field. ... So what was Garcia's beverage of choice on a hot, sunny Saturday afternoon in Great Falls as his team got ready to play the Voyagers? Hot coffee. No iced coffee instead? "No, I don't think that would do it for me," Garcia said with a chuckle. "I've always believed coffee should be hot."

http://www.billingsgazette.net/articles/2008/06/29/sports/local/27-mustangs.txt

redsmetz
06-30-2008, 10:10 AM
North of the border
Joey Votto played in Billings as a member of the Mustangs in 2003. Philippe Valiquette donned a Mustangs jersey in 2005 and 2007. And now there is catcher Jordan Wideman.

What's the connection? All are Canadian and are part of what is a continuing trend of more players north of the border getting drafted and signed by major-league clubs. The Helena Brewers, for example, have four Canadians on their roster and Wideman's older brother - A.J. - plays for the Toronto Blue Jays' Single-A affiliate in Dunedin.

"I'd say in the last few years the scouting in Canada has been a lot better," Jordan Wideman said. "And guys in Canada have been getting out in the U.S. and been able to play more, getting seen more (by scouts), which is great, you know."

Wideman, who is from Mississauga, Ontario, was selected in the 11th round in the 2007 draft by the Cincinnati Reds and he spent all of last year in the Gulf Coast League, batting just .213.

But the 19-year-old has gotten off to a hot start with the Mustangs. Through his first 10 games he was batting .324 with six doubles and he led the Mustangs with 10 RBIs.

"My first year in pro ball, I was just trying too hard," said Wideman of his struggles last season. "I've been very fortunate with my playing time here, to get the at-bats I need. I've done pretty well this year. It's been good. Hopefully it keeps up, though."


This kids twenty years too late - he'd have been a natural for an endorsement deal with Wiedeman Beer - "Wideman Loves Wiedeman!" Of course, he'd have to reach 21 years old first!