The first TinCaps season as a High-A ballclub has come to a close.
Fort Wayne, which had been a Low-A team from its inception in 1993 until this year, concluded its 2021 season with a 5-3 loss to the Dayton Dragons on Sunday. It was a difficult end to the season for the TinCaps, who dropped their final six games and fell to last place in the High-A Central East Division with a 54-66 record in the shortened 120-game season.
Still, pro baseball was played in the Summit City in 2021, a feat that can no longer be taken for granted after the 2020 Minor League Baseball campaign was canceled.
When the season came to an end, manager Anthony Contreras, the longest-tenured and winningest manager in Fort Wayne history, spoke effusively of what it has meant for him to spend such a long stint – by MiLB standards – with the TinCaps.
“It just adds to the experience of my career, the players' careers,” Contreras said of being with the TinCaps and at Parkview Field. “We get spoiled rotten coming to the field every single day, being able to work in a facility like this and then being around the fans and the atmosphere that gives us energy when we're tired.
“It means the world. I've been grateful to be here for five seasons, not everybody can say that in minor-league baseball. It's very rare to have the opportunity to come to a place that many years in a row. I don't take it for granted.”
Though the TinCaps were unable to reach the postseason, extending their stretch without a playoff appearance to three seasons, they did provide some memorable moments for fans who had missed watching their team in 2020. Here are 10 highlights of the 2021 campaign.
May 4: The TinCaps played at Parkview Field for the first time in 610 days and dispatched the West Michigan Whitecaps 8-0 behind a three-run homer from Justin Lopez. Attendance was limited to only 30% capacity because of the pandemic.
May 6: Fort Wayne right-hander Anderson Espinoza made his first appearance in an official game since Aug. 31, 2016 after undergoing back-to-back Tommy John surgeries. He pitched two scoreless innings, hit 97 mph with his fastball and struck out three. Espinoza would be traded to the Cubs organization in late July.
May 16: TinCaps lefty Ethan Elliott dazzled with six shutout innings during which he struck out 13, gave up only one hit and did not issue a walk. It was the most strikeouts for a Fort Wayne pitcher since Pedro Avilla had 17 in August 2017 and propelled Elliott to High-A Central Pitcher of the Month for May.
May 18: Agustin Ruiz matched a TinCaps record, last equaled in 1996, with eight RBIs in a 13-1 win over Lansing. Ruiz, who was in the top five in the league in homers and RBIs when he was promoted to Double-A in August, had two home runs, including a grand slam, both of them 400-foot rockets to dead center.
June 30: Parkview Field opened to 100% attendance capacity for the first time since the 2019 season and more than 3,200 fans watched the TinCaps beat Great Lakes 6-5 in 11 innings on a game-winning bases-loaded walk from Seamus Curran.
July 1: Reliever Erik Sabrowski, making only his fourth professional appearance, used a knee-buckling curveball to strike out the first six hitters he faced against Great Lakes and finished with nine strikeouts in four shutout innings. A bunt single was his only blemish.
July 4: After joining the myriad Fort Wayne summer events canceled in 2020, the traditional Independence Day game at Parkview Field returned. Nearly 7,700 fans saw the TinCaps fall 7-5 despite starting pitcher Gabe Mosser taking a no-hitter into the fifth. The crowd unleashed one of its loudest roars when the Kelly Cup-champion Komets were introduced prior to the game, bringing the Cup on to the field with them.
Aug. 5: Fort Wayne outfielder Grant Little set a franchise record with five stolen bases in a 12-5 win over first-place Great Lakes. Little, who stole 19 bases in 65 games this season, walked and then stole second, third and home in the first inning. His steal of home came on a designed play that saw Ruiz break for second and Little sprint for the plate when the throw went there.
Aug. 29: Robert Hassell III, Brandon Valenzuela and Euribiel Angeles, all among the top 25 Padres prospects according to Fangraphs, made their TinCaps debuts and combine to reach base five times in an 8-6 loss to Dayton. Valenzuela had an RBI single.
Sept. 1: Hassell, the eighth overall pick in the 2020 draft, became just the third player in franchise history to homer three times in a game, reaching the mark in a 12-11 win in 11 innings over Great Lakes. Hassell drove in five and provided the winning margin with a two-run shot in the 11th.