ALTOONA, Pa. – Michael Ryan is one of the most relaxed men I’ve dealt with in baseball. On Monday night, all of the frustrations from his team’s most recent performance compounded into a 20-second eruption.
Ryan’s team just got beat by Bowie, 2-0, and they were only capable of one hit during the one hour and 51 minute game. This was a game where their output of errors tripled their number of hits. This is also a game where Joe Musgrove threw 34 pitches in four innings of work and looked great in his rehab start minus a first inning solo home run that ended up tagging him with the loss.
Enough was enough.
“You walk in after the worst offensive competitive game of my career, hands down,” Ryan said. “You can write it down, you can do whatever, you can highlight it. I don’t give a crap. Six minutes after the game, you have guys on their telephone texting, you got guys in the corner giggling. What bothers me is: if you got guys that don’t care, why are you here? If you don’t care that you just got embarrassed, why are you here? What do you have to say to text somebody? ‘Awful game. I went 0-for-4.’ We had more errors than hits. This is ridiculous. It’s routine stuff, and nobody cares. You have guys giggling, and they don’t care.”
Ryan was overheard screaming at his players before the locker room was made open for media availability. It obviously stems from the lack of offensive production from his hitters recently, as the Curve as a whole have plummeted down the Eastern League in most statistical categories. They are second to last in major categories like batting average (.226), slugging percentage (.335), home runs (14), and on-base percentage (.296). Without digging deeper into the depressing numbers, let’s just say that they have not been up to par.
“It’s not good enough, and they know it,” Ryan said. “[The message] was sent today before this series even started. Do you want to be average or do you want to be better than average? If you’re ok being average, then it’s going to be a tough career for you.”
Ryan went on the explain that the coaches have worked hard on game planning and giving the players data for opposing pitchers, but “it’s like they do the total opposite”.
“We’re giving you information,” said Ryan. “Do you want to apply it or not? Ultimately, it’s up to you in the box. We can’t hit for you.”
“When you do the opposite, and you do things on your own, good luck to you. I feel sorry for our pitchers. I honestly do.”
I could end this story right now and leave everyone with feeling dejected about the Curve position players. Sure, things are rough right now, but I’m the type of guy who likes to search for a silver lining. That silver lining came by the way of Cole Tucker after this affair.
Tucker, being one of the most likable and well-spoken guys on the team, was asked to respond from a player’s perspective on what Ryan had to say. Tucker immediately agreed to speaking on record. He did not hesitate once.
“We do care,” Tucker said. “I don’t want that to be misconstrued. However, some guys came in and got on their phones right after the game. On a day where we go out and have our asses handed to us, that comes off as us not really caring. I understand where Mikey is coming from. He expects us to be a professional when we come to the yard everyday. I’m seeing it from the guys. We have an intent to go out there, play, and contribute, including myself. It’s not showing up right now, which sucks obviously. It will get better. I have no doubt in my mind and have faith in these guys that it will get better. I totally understand his frustration, because he knows how good of a team we could be. It’s not popping up right now, and that sucks. We know that and acknowledge that.”
Let’s back up for just a second. Tucker is one of those players whose numbers aren’t popping up right now. During his first 15 games of the season, Tucker hit .321 with an .862 OPS. In the 11 games previous to and including that Monday’s game, Tucker was 2-for-40 and has struck out 14 times. Translation: Tucker is going through one of those slumps where you almost can’t even label it a slump anymore… it’s just been really, really bad.
But, who was the player to step up and speak for the team less than 20 minutes after being screamed at? It was Cole Tucker and his .050 AVG in his last 11 games.
This is where the silver lining comes in. Cole Tucker has every single intangible thing you look for when you are assessing character. He is always smiling. He is extremely personable. He is great with fans. Simply enough, he is a very good person.
Cole Tucker stepped up to the plate to be the voice of his teammates when a response was necessary. He’s not just another high draft pick for the Pirates. Tucker is the player that can become the face and voice of a franchise. That’s the potential that Cole Tucker offers.
Tucker is a very good baseball player. Right now, his confidence looks to be shaken in the box. He looks all out of whack, and his swing doesn’t look as smooth as it typically does. All it might take is one big day at the plate, and I believe that Tucker will break out of this nasty slump.
“We always talk about us having really, really high standards,” Tucker said. “It starts in Spring Training, and it’s still the case on April 7th or May 7th, June 7th, and carries into September 7th. That matters, and the standards need to be high. It’s not being met right now. We need to go back and commit to that.
“I think, honestly, we get so much information, and it’s great and valuable. But, at the end of the day, we need to just go out, throw the bats and balls around, and play. You can talk numbers – what he’s done and what he’s been – all you want, but at the end of the day, you get in that box. There’s a guy on the mound, and you need to go kick his ass.”
Michael Ryan has sent the message. According to Cole Tucker, the message has been received. That’s only half of the story, though.
It’s said that you truly find out who you are when times are the toughest. Right now might be the worst stretch of Cole Tucker’s baseball career. He’s still willing to be the guy that everyone looks up in the clubhouse. That’s the sign of an undeniable leader.
“Cole’s our Energizer bunny and leader of our team,” Ke’Bryan Hayes said. “When he is going, everybody is on board. It’s like a domino effect.”
That sounds like a lot of pressure to put on the second youngest player on the team (21 years old). For anyone else, it probable would be. For Cole Tucker, I doubt it. Once he breaks out of this cold stretch at the plate, there’s no doubt in my mind that the dominos will fall, and this team is going to get hot offensively.
Pittsburgh, you’re going to love this guy someday soon.