GARY | Danny Pulfer took a phone call during the baseball offseason that moved him back to a position he's always been comfortable at.
RailCats manager Greg Tagert offered Pulfer the first baseman's spot and the shot at leadoff hitter.
Then Tagert called to change the offer.
"He called back about a month later and said, 'How about third base?' and I said, 'Alright,' and that's kind of how Skip is," Pulfer said. "He's always got the wheels turning, but he mentioned he wanted me in the leadoff spot and I'm pretty excited that he said that."
Pulfer is in no easy position. The last four seasons the position was filled by Adam Klein, who used it to lead the American Association in walks. Klein retired as the American Association Championship Series MVP and with a franchise record 268 walks and .409 on-base percentage.
"I'm no Adam Klein, I'll say that. Adam was a special human being," Pulfer said. "He once told me that he's more comfortable 0-2 than he is 2-0, which is unique. We're different style players, I obviously like to swing the bat, but I'm good at fouling pitches off and I like to see the whole arsenal from the opposing pitcher, that's what (Tagert) wanted out of me in the offseason. He said, 'I want someone who can see a lot of pitches for us in the leadoff spot,' and that's what I can do. I led off in college, and it's an honor really to be the leadoff hitter on this team."
Pulfer will take the RailCats' first swing of the season at 7 p.m. today as the team opens the 2014 season on the road against the St. Paul Saints. They will play the season opener at U.S. Steel Yard on May 22.
A second baseman most of last season, Pulfer is more natural at third. When Ryan Brockett was injured in the preseason, there was discussion of moving Pulfer back to second, but the second-year rookie had worked most of the offseason preparing for the corner position.
He also prepared to take over that leadoff spot. He worked on hitting behind in the count, he shortened his swing and said fans can be prepared to catch a few foul balls to start the game.
"You can say it's only one at-bat, but over the course of a season, if I play 80 games, I have to be ready to play and ready to hit," Pulfer said.
While the rest of the lineup works itself out, Tagert was confident in his decision to replace Klein. Prior to Klein, his No. 1 hitter was Mike Massaro, who hit .302 in 2009 and had a career-best 28 doubles.
"When you have to replace Adam, it's going to take a special kind of player," Tagert said. "Replacing him had to be someone, can he give us that kind of excitement, even in a different way. Danny Pulfer's not going to go up there and take five pitches in a row to get to three balls and two strikes without swinging the bat. But, what he might do is foul off a few pitches and he's excited about it, and I think he's the perfect guy for us in that role."
The rest of the team will be like that, trying to replace what kept fans excited. That doesn't mean RailCats baseball will look much different in 2014 than it did winning the American Association title in 2013.
"The names will be different, the numbers will be different, the names will have a different ring to them in the Steel Yard, but Greg Tagert plays baseball one way," Pulfer said. "If you can't play that style of baseball you won't be here. We hit, we bunt, we move guys around, we just saw Wichita and they replenished their lineup with a ton of power, but I was telling guys we can't worry about them because we play baseball differently. We find ways to score when their bats aren't hot, ours are, always."