Pro baseball

RailCats near top of American Association heap

2013-07-11T21:30:00Z 2013-09-03T18:29:12Z RailCats near top of American Association heapHillary Smith hillary.smith@nwi.com, (219) 933-3233 nwitimes.com

GARY | In the 13-team American Association standings, the RailCats sat in second place overall and second in the Central Division.

That has as much to do with the success of the Gary baseball team this season as it does with the success of the league, manager Greg Tagert said.

"I saw an interview with (commissioner) Miles Wolff the other day where he said there are still only two leagues where winning is the main thing, that's the Major Leagues and the independent leagues," Tagert said.

"When you have that kind of emphasis, the players feel it, even though they're very committed to their careers ... once they're a part of the league for the first time, they start to feel that and that's why it proves to be a very difficult and tough league."

Without the Northern League and with the decrease in the number of independent baseball leagues overall, the options for baseball players without a contract diminish.

Good players are flooding managers with their resumes and there are just four major independent baseball leagues now, compared to six major leagues when the RailCats won their first Northern League Championship in 2005.

Players are lengthening their careers, despite not being attached to a franchise, Tagert said.

Case in point: The RailCats Cristian Guerrero has a July 12, 1980 birthday, and Fargo-Moorhead's Nic Jackson was the oldest player at U.S.; Steel Yard on Thursday, born Sept. 25, 1979.

"What you see now is the level of play is maintained throughout the season because first, there are fewer leagues than there were, but second there are more players that are playing longer," Tagert said.

"You had players, the 26-, 27-year-old, sometimes 28-year-old players ending their careers. Now there (1985), '81, '82 birth date. ... These players are playing longer than ever with a stronger commitment to be better than ever.

"They see players reaching the Major League all kinds of ways now. Steve Delabar, who was in the Frontier League five years ago, is now the leading vote getter for the MLB All-Star game."

The diversity of talent has helped breed continuity of success with the teams that have been successful. Quebec, for instance, has won four consecutive Can-Am League titles.

Wichita, which won the Central Division the last two seasons, leads the league and the RailCats entered Thursday's game two games back.

"I think it's the combination of the competition getting better and the adding of more teams to the league," RailCats outfielder Adam Klein said. "When you play more teams, you're facing more pitchers you haven't seen yet, you're facing hitters you haven't seen yet, and the scouting reports get more difficult.

"And the travel, you add that, it gets more difficult."

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