PRO BASEBALL

RailCats catchers bring veteran leadership to clubhouse

2014-05-03T18:00:00Z 2014-05-03T23:11:07Z RailCats catchers bring veteran leadership to clubhouseHillary Smith hillary.smith@nwi.com, (219) 933-3233 nwitimes.com

GARY | When Craig Maddox talked with Greg Tagert during the offseason about why he wanted to come back for his fourth season with the RailCats.

When Maddox talked with fellow catcher Ryan Babineau, he talked about how they were going to do it.

"It was a lot about continuing the tradition of the RailCats," Maddox said. "With losing Mike Massaro and Adam Klein and Cristian Guerrero, so much of their leadership that was here for so long, those guys leave and we've been here for so long and we understand The RailCat Way as they call it. We wanted to leave our stamp and impressing on these young guys what we've bought into and what we believe in, the RailCat tradition."

With 13 rookies in the clubhouse and 15 new faces on the preseason roster, Maddox has spent the most seasons in Gary. In his eight-year play career, Maddox is in his fourth with the RailCats. Babineau enters his sixth season of pro ball and third in Gary as spring training opened Saturday.

In addition to sharing space under the television in the locker room, Maddox and Babineau share a position and a vision on how to prepare for opponents.

The two are in a catching situation that is rare for most teams, but normal for the RailCats. They split time at catcher, each at the backstop about half of the season.

They talk after games about how to prepare for the next day, the next game and how opponents are reacting to the pitches.

"It's a really unique situation, because most teams there's two catchers and one catches ever day and the other catches one day a week or so," Babineau said. "But, here you have two guys who are so competitive and want to be in the lineup so bad, but work so hard to help each other. We're fortunate to have each other because we've grown close through the RailCats but our mentalities have brought us together because we want to win."

It's hard, though, for manager Tagert to keep the two bats out of the lineup. Last season, Maddox hit .261 with a career-best 15 doubles and 29 RBIs, while Babineau was .251 with 24 RBIs and a career-best eight stolen bases.

"It's a manager's dream to have both of those guys behind the plate and willing to split time, and both have the ability to be an everyday catcher," Tagert said. "Having both of those guys back was so important to me, I'm going to make as strong a commitment as I can, with no promises because it depends on how it mixes out with the rest of the roster, to get them in the lineup other than when they're behind the plate."

In the postseason, both earned their way into an almost everyday role. Maddox hit a team-best .429 in five of the eight games in the playoffs and Babineau hit .313 in six games as the RailCats won their first American Association championship and third in franchise history.

The 2013 title was unexpected because the RailCats were the wild card team and the last to reach the postseason. After a .500 record in 2012, they followed the leadership of Massaro, Klein and Guerrero -- all outfielders -- to the title. They also followed the tenet that Maddox and Babineau returned to pass on.

"You go up against a team on paper that looks like (a) big league roster and we came in and played the game the right way. At the end of the day in the playoffs, you can sit back and wait for the home run to come and it didn't for Wichita," Maddox said. "The thing that stands out to me the most about the championship game, Zac Mitchell's triple was huge, but it's not characteristic of what we do. Zac Mitchell coming up and hitting a gapper. But it was in the fifth or sixth inning, and I remember because I was on base, but Brian Kolb, who has been in this organization a long time and knows how to play the game, nobody gave him the sign, lays down a bunt, moves me over. Drew Martinez flares one over the shortstops head and moves me over. That's what we have to instill in some of these young guys' heads is Brian (Kolb's approach). (He) could have come up, we're up 4-0 in the championship game, 'I'm going to seize the moment and drive one into the gap', (but he) understood how to play the game."

The history, the tradition, and how to play winning baseball is the legacy they hope to leave. Babineau is 27 and Maddox is 29. In baseball years, they're closing in on retirement.

In the meantime, they're teaching about The RailCat Way.

"It's handling your business as a professional, not trying to be more than who you are," Maddox said. "It's playing the game the right way, respecting the game the right way, hustling, taking advantage of opportunities."

"The RailCat Way, there's a mentality behind that, what we call 'RailCatting,' is the game's never over until it's over," Babineau said. "It's having the mentality that regardless of what happens throughout the game, if we continue to play hard and continue to stay together, we can overcome any adversity."

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