During the player introductions that preceded the Tacoma Rainiers’ season opener Thursday night, the public address announcer pronounced new third baseman Vinnie Catricala as Vinnie “Cataralla.”
As these kind of gaffes go, it wasn’t as egregious as when radio announcer Harry von Zell, during a national radio broadcast, called President Herbert Hoover “Hoobert Heever.”
The pregame mispronunciation merely underscored the suspicion it will be awhile before the names of all the 2012 Rainiers are recognized at Cheney Stadium.
Take, for instance, shortstop Carlos Triunfel. On the back of his white home jersey, Triunfel’s name was mispelled as “Truinfel.”
No big deal. Because the Triple-A roster wasn’t finalized until Wednesday, after the Mariners completed their post-Japan cutdown from 30 players to 25, the Rainiers didn’t meet together for the first time until they reported to the clubhouse Thursday afternoon.
Although manager Daren Brown’s starting lineup included four players who appeared in a Tacoma uniform more than 50 times last season, the Rainiers’ theme song right now might as well be “Getting to Know You.”
After Salt Lake’s 3-2 victory over the Rainiers on a cool night that featured less-than-crisp execution, Brown was reluctant to use the unfamiliarity factor as an excuse.
“For most of spring training, we share the same clubhouse,” he said. “Besides, at this level, that’s the way it is a lot of the year.”
Starting pitcher Matt Fox was among the 10 newcomers on the Rainiers’ roster.
While Fox wasn’t familiar to Cheney Stadium fans, his kind of story is: Selected by the Minnesota Twins as a supplemental first-round draft choice in 2004, he missed 2005 recovering from shoulder surgery. Seven years later, he’s a capable Triple-A starter who, at 29, hasn’t lost the fire-in-the-belly ambition to deliver on the great expectations placed on him as a first-team All-American at Central Florida.
The right-hander took the Cheney Stadium mound 19 months removed from the zenith of his pro baseball career. On Sept. 3, 2010, he made his big league debut, an emergency start for the playoff-bound Twins against the World Series-bound Texas Rangers.
Fox learned of his promotion from Triple-A Rochester during a 2:30 a.m. phone call that hit him like a three-cup jolt of Death Wish coffee. When you’re a minor leaguer thrust into the middle of a major league pennant race, adrenaline trumps sleep deprivation.
In front of a sold-out Target Field crowd in Minneapolis that included such franchise luminaries as Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek and the late Harmon Killebrew – the Twins were honoring their 50 greatest players that night – Fox worked until there were two outs in the sixth inning, leaving to the tune of a standing ovation. (He gave up two runs in a game the Minnesota went on to win, 4-3.)
So much for Matt Fox Appreciation Night. Two days later, he was designated for assignment, then claimed off waivers by the Boston Red Sox, who used him as a reliever in three games. Last season, the Red Sox assigned Fox to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he qualified for the International League All-Star team en route to finishing 10-4, with 122 strikeouts in 1292/3 innings.
Intriguing numbers, and here’s another: Boston used 22 different pitchers out of its bullpen in 2011, and Fox wasn’t one of them. Last November, when the Mariners offered to sign him as a minor league free agent, he figured his path back to the big leagues faced fewer obstacles in the Pacific Northwest.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Fox said Wednesday. “I hope to pitch at least five innings and get out of the game with a lead.”
Fox only got through three innings, by which time his pitch count was pushing 80. He struck out four, and generally threw well enough to prevent the Rainiers from getting blown out early. He just didn’t throw well enough to counter the stellar performance of the Bees’ starter Garrett Richards.
“Fox battled out of a couple of jams,” said Brown, “but we made some young mistakes against a pretty good lineup. We gave them a couple of runs. First inning, first-game jitters, at least those are out of the way.
“Obviously, we weren’t real sharp.”
As for Matt Fox, he plans on discovering his new home away from home during the team’s next off day.
“I’ve got a friend,” he said the other day, “in Chehalis.”
The man might be a quick study. He pronounced Chehalis right.