Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Position Breakdown: Outfield (by Zach Bigley)

As the Walla Walla Sweets’ season draws even closer, we take a look at the outfield for the ball-club. Playing outfield at Borleske Stadium can be difficult because of the deep gaps and very deep centerfield, so that led to manager Frank Mutz, general manager Katie Biagi and team president Zachary Fraser to search for guys who are athletic and can cover some ground. They came up with a class of outfielders that can all play center and that, for Mutz, is the best case scenario.

At this point I really don't know where each guy will fit in. I do know however they all can play centerfield and that's a good problem to have,” Mutz said.

One of the stars of the outfield looks to be Hunter Villanueva (Fresno Pacific) who won the West Coast League MVP award playing for Kelowna last season. He hit .378 for the Falcons with seven home runs and 33 RBIs. He also swiped three bases and walked 34 times in 46 games. He played infield on the left side for the Falcons, but he will take his athleticism to the grass for the Sweets.

“We had to plan to pitch around Hunter last year and I know we weren't the only ball club which did that,” Mutz said. “Hunter is a contact hitter with power and will fit very well in our number three slot in the line-up.”

He is not the only one that may impress this summer. There are a slew of young ballplayers that just finished their freshman season in college and will be making their way up north. Jordan Myrow (UCLA), Ryan Johnston (UC Irvine), Connor Doyle (San Diego) and Alex Muzzi (Long Beach State) all fall into that category. The youngest member of the class is Zach Weisz (Cal State Fullerton) who will be heading to Fullerton for his freshman season after this summer.

While the focus is on defense, Mutz wants his outfielders to produce on the offensive side as well.

“Having six outstanding athletes on offence allows me to create run production throughout the entire line-up,” Mutz said. “With the way these guys run and the way they put the ball in play, we will be very difficult to contain. Having athletes throughout the line-up gives us many options how we run the offence each series.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Position Breakdown: Infield (by Zach Bigley)

            The Sweets have put an infield together that has a potential to not only save a lot of runs, but score and produce a fair share as well. The infield looks to improve from a position group that last season had its problems in both of those facets.
            “Last season we could score runs but continued to give teams extra opportunities to score,” manager Frank Mutz said. “At times are pitching had to get 4 and 5 outs each inning. Our focus this off season was to shore up the defense particularly the infield and I believe we accomplished that.”
            One of the most impressive parts about this group looking at it from afar is the ability of the players to field at multiple positions. There is Myles Hager (Cal State Monterey Bay) who played second, shortstop and third for the Sweets last season and he is joined by Nick Nyquist and Patrick Chung (Gonzaga) who can also play different positions. Jarren Duran and Chris Fife (Long Beach State) can both play up the middle on either side and so can Coby Kauhaahaa (Cal State Fullerton). Ben Baird (Washington) presents young talent up the middle and Cole Rutherford (Cornell) brings veteran leadership to first base.
            Mutz is pleased with the polished playing style that these players bring into Walla Walla.
            “I believe all of these guys are special players,” he said. “What I like about all of them, is they are all MLB prospects and not projects. They are all steady players which will give our ball club a chance to be competitive every game.”

            This allows Mutz and the rest of the coaching staff to trust their durability throughout the season, but it also gives him options in the different positions. He says that there are no favorites for the starting positions currently, but he is sure that a lot of the players will get significant playing time over the long season. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Position Breakdowns: Pitchers (by Zach Bigley)

            The Sweets bring an almost entirely new set of faces to the mound in the 2016 season after the staff struggled last year.
            It was a staff that saw a strong starting rotation last season, but the bullpen was shaky at times. It ended the year with a 4.15 team ERA, but the Sweets saw great performances by Joe DeMers (Washington) with a 2.07 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 30 and a third innings pitched and Easton Lucas (Pepperdine) with 2.43 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 48 innings pitched.
            “After last season was completed we took a good look at where we could get better,” manager Frank Mutz said. “We would get through most of our games with a lead or in every game if we fell behind. I feel great about all the arms we have signed for the 2016 season.”
            “I believe we did a great job last year keeping starters in reasonable pitch counts and this coming summer it should be the same,” Mutz added.
            While there is no clear direction as to who will start or pitch in the bullpen, Mutz is confident about the back end of the ‘pen as compared to last season.  
            “You never knew what to expect when one of the relievers took the mound [last season],” Mutz said. “We had some great relief appearances throughout the summer but it was not consistent enough to help us hold leads. We lost over 15 games last summer late with the lead. I'm very excited to have the arms we have coming out of the pen this summer.”
            It will be a diverse pitching staff this summer as well. As the roster currently stands, Mutz and pitching coach Michael Dingilian will have five lefties and seven right-handers to work with.
            There is also a large range of ages on the squad, but most are young. There are seven pitchers who will be a freshman in college next year and three who are currently in their first year of college. The staff in anchored age-wise by senior returners Clayten Ayers (Georgia College and State) and AJ Carkner (Pikeville). This youth did not escape Mutz’ concerns, but he is looking at the positives of the situation.
            “I'm excited to see the young high school arms we have signed for this summer,” Mutz said. “Last year’s arms Demers, Molnar, and Lucas were incredible. My hope is we are better overall this coming summer.”
            The duties of controlling these talented pitchers fall not only on Mutz, but mostly on the shoulders of Dingilian. Mutz feels good about was Dingilian can do with the arms. He is just in his second season of coaching, but he and Mutz work well together as Dingilian played for the Sweets’ manager back in high school.
            “Michael is a very intelligent baseball guy and is becoming a fast study rather quickly,” Mutz said. “Michael will handle the majority of dealing with the pitchers during pre-game and bullpen sessions. My responsibility will be to work with the catchers calling the games, setting up the rotation and helping pitchers with the mental part of pitching.”
            Mutz said he is not sure who will start game one against Victoria, or who will fill in at the other roles in the bullpen.

            He and the rest of us will find out on June 3 when the HarbourCats come to Walla Walla for the season opener.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Position Breakdowns: Catchers (By Zach Bigley)

            The most important position on the field may be behind the dish. Whether or not that is the case, the Sweets are set to have an excellent platoon of players at the catcher position in 2016.
            The three catchers that will be wearing the red, white and blue this summer are Willie MacIver (Washington), Hayden Duer (Cal State Monterey Bay) and Griffin Mazur (UC Irvine). Each bring their own traits to field and the batter’s box.
            “All three catchers either start or play significant innings for their teams,” Head Coach Frank Mutz said. “All three catchers can really throw and are offensive. It's a strong catching core and they are interchangeable. It's also possible there will be games all three are in the lineup at the same time. Duer is the most offensive, MacIver is the most athletic and Mazur has a great balance of offense and defense.”
            MacIver returns for his second season with the Sweets. In his first West Coast League campaign, he hit .215 in 32 games where he played catcher, designated hitter and also played a game at second base. He added four doubles and eight RBIs, but he led all Sweets’ catchers with a .984 fielding percentage and was one of the more consistent catchers defensively with his lateral movement. 
            “MacIver returning not only brings leadership to the catching core but leadership for the entire team,” Mutz said. “He is a very talented player, is well liked by his teammates and wants to win!”
            “You will see his [offensive] numbers jump up,” Mutz added. “He's facing Pac 12 pitching on a regular basis and he won't have to catch 60% of the games this summer. With injuries to a couple of catchers last summer we had to over extend Willie which was tough for any player coming straight out of High School.”
            One of the most important focuses for any catcher is to handle a pitching staff and wood bat league catchers must handle a young, sometimes wild and frustrated group of pitchers.
            The Sweets last year saw a pitching rotation that finished ninth out of 12 teams in ERA (4.15) in the West Coast League. Those numbers were elevated because of struggles down the stretch in the season, but there were some instances that the pitching staff did not perform up to the standards that Coach Mutz and company had set for them. Mutz is confident that this group of catchers can handle the pitchers that will be in Walla Walla this summer.
            “I believe all three catchers are intelligent and will surely be able to handle the pitching staff” Mutz said. “MacIver and Mazur both have played for me and understand my expectations and how I call a game. Duer is a seasoned catcher who plays for a quality program and will definitely be able to handle a pitching staff.”
            At the beginning of the season, Hayden Duer will be the starting catcher for the Sweets because both MacIver and Mazur will be in school in early June. He has shown his offensive capabilities so far this season at CSUMB. Through April 10th, he is hitting .292 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in 32 games.
            Duer will be behind the plate on June 3rd when the Sweets welcome in the Victoria HarborCats to Borleske Stadium for opening day. To purchase tickets, you can go to or check out the Sweets Shoppe in downtown Walla Walla.

            Check out the blog in a couple weeks for when we breakdown the pitching staff that these catchers will be relaying the signs to!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Position Breakdown Announcement 2016 (by Zach Bigley)

While 2016 is bound to be a great year for the Walla Walla Sweets, it is going to take special performances at different positions for the Sweets to make it truly memorable. To get you as a fan more excited for this season and to get to know the positions a little bit better, I am going to break down this team position group by position group.

Every other week, I will release a breakdown and here is the schedule:
April 12: Catchers
April 26: Pitchers
May 10: Infielders
May 24: Outfielders

These breakdown will include quotes from coaches and analysis of what they have done in their careers and their possible impacts on the Sweets this summer.

If you have an idea of what you want to see in these recaps or any other videos, interviews or previews you want to see, feel free to email me at

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

You've been a host family if...

To be very honest - it's 10:30 at night, I have a 7 am meeting, and we are less than 80 days until Opening Day. Writing a blog post was almost on the list of "next week". Especially since I was struggling to get my other projects done for the day (we did manage to buy a new refrigerator for our home - so I feel good about that).

As I work my way down the list of things to get done for the start of the season, there is one item on my list (besides promotional giveaways) that keeps me up at night - and that is host families. I am not kept up at night because we don't have good ones - in Walla Walla, we have the best of the best. But, I always sweat this time of year as to whether we will have the right ones and enough of them.

I love our host families. I lived out of the country for two years, where I communicated in a different language, with a different culture. We had apartments that were arranged for us (which was nice), but while they were safe (usually) and provided the amenities of home, they weren't home. During the week, we'd have the opportunity to share a meal or visit with families in the area. Home-cooked meals, children happy and laughing, stories and a vibe that only come from a real home - that little slice of heaven kept me energized, happy and focused on the work that I had to do while abroad. That is what I believe our host families provide to our players every season.

Have you ever waited up until 11:30 pm with a prepared meal wrapped in tin foil, after everyone else has gone to bed, to visit with the young man that isn't your son? The young man that may have had the game-winning hit, or maybe the big error that cost the team the game, or possibly the toughest of all - the guy who's name never made it onto the lineup card? The guy who is likely 6-8 hours (at minimum) away from home, missing every creature comfort he has known to pursue a career in a game/profession where only 5% of the draft picks make it? If you have, you are likely a host family.

When a complete stranger leaves a
member of your family, you've been a host family.
Have you ever made a sign for a player so he knows at least (1) person in the crowd that night is cheering for him? Have you driven to the airport to pick up a girlfriend who is seeing wheat fields for the first time? Have you ever waited in an emergency room as a player had an x-ray or MRI...or was seizing? If you have, you are likely a host family.

Have you ever purchased eggs - 4 dozen at a time - knowing you will purchase thee same amount again next week? Did you know that they sell 2-gallon jugs of chocolate milk (1 gallon jugs held together with plastic wrap)? Have you ever wondered how a 170-lb young man can consume 4000 calories in a day? If you have, you are likely a host family.

Did you ever cautiously welcome a complete stranger into your home, only to have him leave as an older son, brother, or grandson to the rest of your family? Do you have picture frames and binders full of players past that are now a collection of life-long friends? Do you now FaceTime with a college sophomore? Have you ever cried a small tear when the young man you welcomed into your home as a freshman shoots you a text that he just graduated from college - the first in his family to do so? Have you ever invested so much into a person who is not related by blood, over a game with gloves and balls, that they become a permanent part of your life's story? If you have, you are likely a host family.

Host families allow our young men to become part of our community - not just part of our team. Walla Walla is an amazing place to live - and our host families provide that little slice of heaven that keeps our players energized, happy and focused all season long.

A bit of a ramble, but I love our host families. I'm excited to welcome them back to the park this summer. - ZF

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Prepping for Broadcast and Game Day Duties (Zach Bigley: Broadcaster)

If you ask any broadcaster what the most important part of a broadcaster’s job is, they most likely say research. That is the most important thing for me before a game and it takes most of my prep time. 

              Many broadcasters do it differently, but I learned from Ryan Rouillard (former broadcaster for the Victoria HarborCats and Yakima Valley Pippins, now Ranger’s Double-A Broadcaster) that the best way to do it is by chart. I go through each and every player on a team’s roster and look up information for them. This can be simple, such as stats from the previous season as well as where they are from and stuff like that, to the in-depth stories that everyone loves. These can be obtained through thorough research and/or by interviewing them or someone close to them. For every team that the Sweets play, I spend anywhere from 5-8 hours researching the team’s players and then an extra hour or so researching coaches, team history and home-town fun facts/stories. This makes the broadcast a lot more interesting for the listeners and for me as well!

              As for game-day prep, it is a little more manageable in terms of time. At home, it all begins with a trip to the Sweets Shoppe in downtown Walla Walla at 9:00am, where I work in the back office to put out the Borleske Bulletin, our game program for fans at the games. That does not take long, but it must be emailed to our print shop by 11:00. With a little extra time, I will hang out at the office and finalize some things on my chart, but mostly just relax. From there, I pick up the copies of the Bulletin by 1:00 and make my way over to the stadium. 

              I am a little different than some broadcaster in the fact that I like to be at the ballpark SUPER early. For a 7:00pm game, I will usually get there anywhere from 2-3:00pm. That way, I can fill out my scorebook, chat with players and coaches and take in the sounds and feels of the park without having to rush. I love being around the game and being emerged in the atmosphere that a ballpark provides. After I do my pre-game video interview, I upload it to youtube and begin game prep. This is the most fun part for me. I can take my time to fill certain stats in and fun facts into my score book for certain players and circumstances. From there, I am usually ready to broadcast about 10 minutes before I go on the air. With a five-minute pre-game show, it doesn’t leave me much time to talk about the Sweets and what they need to do, so I fit as much in as I can. Then, my favorite part of the day: first pitch.

              After the game is over, I interview a player or coach and pack up my broadcast equipment. The long night ahead then ensues. It is about 10:30pm by the time I get home and I won’t eat until after I have finished all my post-game duties. These include a recap on the website and sent to the press, the post-game interview uploaded, my “highlight of the night” that I post to soundcloud, updating any game notes for the next day and continuing prep for the upcoming series. It is usually anywhere from 12:00am-2:00am until I get any food in my stomach and then I finally get to catch up on the MLB plays and scores from the day. I try to find time to keep up on my Mariners. 

              Not much sleep, a lot of work, but I could not be happier. There is no better feeling than feeling prepared to do a broadcast and putting out my best effort every night for the listeners. Everything I do is for my listeners and to make their experience the best one possible. If a hectic day all culminates to that, then I have done my job.