HILLARY SMITH: Field finesse only one part of evaluation

2014-05-11T20:30:00Z HILLARY SMITH: Field finesse only one part of evaluationHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
May 11, 2014 8:30 pm  • 

When RailCats manager Greg Tagert is watching what his players are doing on the field, he's acutely aware of how they're meshing in spring training clubhouse.

While previous incarnations of the U.S. Steel Yard locker room may have included loud music and a ping pong table, those were among the first to go when Tagert arrived in 2005.

Since then, his teams have won three league championships, and sat quietly in a calm, serene clubhouse.

So how the newcomers are gelling into a "team" is as important as how they're learning the bunt defense.

"Make no secret about it, what happens in the clubhouse is just as important as what happens on the field," Tagert said last week before a spring training game. "Every club is going to have talent, every guy can play the game and play the game at a high level or they wouldn't be here, so watching some of those other things — certainly at this time there's going to be tough at-bats, but watching the guys in Evansville, there was some enthusiasm."

A few of the first things he's noticed is how his leaders are evolving.

Fourth-year catcher Craig Maddox is doing exactly as he promised in the offseason and teaching the newbies how to be RailCats.

"Today when we ran all of our fundamentals and defense, Craig really just ran with it and took charge," Tagert said. "It reminded me of what (Jay) Pecci used to do, and just knowing what we expect and Craig's been here and he just went over what we do in some situations, whether it's a bunt defense or any of the fundamental type stuff. That's very good for the manager."

With nearly every position an open book, the coaching staff has multiple choices at every spot.

There are six players for four outfield spots and several infielders who can be a multipositional asset.

Camp opened with 15 pitchers for four rotational slots with six relievers.

Finding the nuances — including clubhouse mentality — is what separates those who can pick a uniform number from those who are picked up for a ride home.

"I find myself trying to watch almost everything, and I don't want to overstuff with too much information, but you catch yourself watching almost every detail," Tagert said. "I'm trying to catch what a player does, what he might struggle.

"It's interesting to sit back and watch and not only evaluate every player but watch some of that cohesiveness and comeraderie, the things you look for other than just what happens on the field."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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