Saturday, July 17, 2010


The Rock Cats clubhouse has had the aura of a funeral parlor most of the season.

The individual players go about their jobs admirably in light of the team’s record, particularly at home, but collectively they’re hushed after defeats.

The boom box that pulses with urban and Latino songs is silent, strangely obscured by the sounds of low-level chatter, running showers, equipment falling to the floor and the whir of washing machines.

It’s understandable, and appropriate. The Twins would no doubt want their players of the future to contemplate why each loss happens and what they can do to best represent the organization and themselves as the dog days of summer begin to howl.

The scene is anything but quiet when the result is good.

On Thursday night, left-handed pitcher Tyler Robertson threw his best game of the season. Throwing his curveball and slider for strikes, his fastball had some added sizzle and he made the young Portland Sea Dog hitters uncomfortable.

Saturday’s game featured a dramatic ending with an inspirational backdrop supplied by the bat, the tenacity and the beaming personality of catcher Jair Fernandez.

Fernandez, injured in a collision with Reading catcher Kevin Nelson at home plate July 8, appeared headed for the disabled list.

He wasn’t able to brace himself properly for impact and his right knee hyperextended. It had all the look of season-ending ligament damage, but here he was, eight days later, pressed into action as a late-inning replacement. He ripped into a fastball from Portland pitcher Bryson Cox and sent it majestically over the wall in left field for a 6-4 Rock Cats victory, just their 12th win at home in 48 starts.

Like Robertson the night before, the excitement of winning blended with a huge degree of personal satisfaction set off an emotional rush for Fernandez, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound 23-year-old from Cartagena, Colombia.

Robertson, a low-key 22-year-old lefthander out of Simi Valley, Calif., had a tendency to keep the exhilaration bottled up inside but it leaked out. His delivery during the interview did as much to his words as his mound delivery did for his ERA.

With Fernandez, the excitement was more palpable, perhaps because his achievement happened so suddenly and ended the game the instant it left his bat. Fernandez broadcast a smile that brought sunshine to a clubhouse that has been all too overcast all season.

You can’t help but feel good that these youngsters have had a moment in the sun, and where it carries them in their careers is anybody’s guess. What you immediately discern is that when wins come in sparse number, the ones that do come your way bring on that much more pleasure.

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