HILLARY SMITH: Month away is worth the play

2013-03-17T19:00:00Z HILLARY SMITH: Month away is worth the playHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
March 17, 2013 7:00 pm  • 

Greg Tagert quickly changed roles, from one of an observer at the Texas Winter League to a manager of one of the teams.

He hasn't permanently left the RailCats; this is one more avenue he's using to find players..

The Texas Winter League is a four-team league that plays one month worth of games during February when it is much warmer in Texas than in Northwest Indiana.

That suited Tagert, a California native, just fine, but the bigger bonus was the opportunity to find and pick up talented players.

The Texas Winter League is the equivalent of a very long open tryout. Independent League teams are there, Major League scouts come to some of the games, and for the most part the pitching schedule is preset.

Tagert was there for instruction, he said, not for the player selection and managing that he does for the RailCats.

"The word 'manager' is a little overrated," Tagert said. "I was asked if I'd be interested in staying the month to work with the team. It was a lot more instructing."

The "Manager of the Year" title he won wasn't overrated. Tagert, like in his first season with the RailCats, took the McAllen Thunder from last in the four-team league to the championship.

By the end of the season, 40 players from the league were "drafted" to teams from the United League, the Frontier League, the American Association and the Atlantic League. Tagert nabbed two — outfielder Alex Foltz and right-handed pitcher Michael Oros — for the RailCats. Clark grad Albert Carpen was picked up by the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings of the United League.

"Some players use it like a fantasy camp, to go through the drills and see if they can get on a team," Tagert said. "Some players are older, 28, 29, and have been out a few years, they've been injured or life threw them a twist, and they're trying to get back in. Some are the undrafted seniors, who aren't done playing yet."

Even though it meant a month away from his home in Chesterton, Tagert said it was worth the time.

Managers across the American Association are doing the same thing, he said. He was joined in the Texas Winter League by Amarillo Sox manager John Harris. Meanwhile, in Palm Springs, Calif., El Paso manager Tim Johson, Sioux City manager Stan Cliburn, Grand Prairie manager Ricky VanAsselberg, Laredo manager Pete Incaviglia and Kansas City manager Kenny Hook were instructors in the eight-team California Winter League. 

The time away didn't stop Tagert from signing players for the RailCats. The deal to bring back heavy hitter Cristian Guerrero was made when Tagert was in Texas.

"It's not a winter league like Puerto Rico," Tagert said. "It's purely a showcase. It's more than what you can see in a one-day tryout. I was nudged along when I see other managers like Sioux City signed a player out of the winter league, and Grand Prairie's starting shortstop came from a winter League."

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

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