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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Brandon Alger, a Leo product who was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 26th round out of Indiana Tech, will give the TinCaps a left-hander in the bullpen as they open the playoffs tonight against the Lansing Lugnuts.

Gig with TinCaps is homecoming surprise

This is not quite the homecoming he was figuring on, though the geography’s right. The old high school is 15 miles north and east of here. The old college ballfield is one-half mile due east. And it sure feels like Indiana in early September out there, with today’s setting somewhere between Dry Clean and Steamed Vegetable.

“It’s a little familiar, yeah,” Brandon Alger says, and a lopsided smile briefly appears, like the sun sliding between one cloud and another.

An equally brief pause.

“More familiar back at the Wizards’ stadium, but, yeah, good to be home.”

That would be home, mind you, but not home, exactly. Everything around him is in its accustomed, comfortable place, see, but he isn’t. And that has less to do with him than it does the business he’s in, with its quirks and tics and vertigo-inducing changes of circumstance.

And so: Goodbye, Eugene, Ore., where Alger, a left-handed pitcher out of Leo and Indiana Tech, went 4-1 with a 2.32 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings. And hello, Fort Wayne.

Wait … what?

He’s the only lefty in whose bullpen now?

“I was a little surprised (when he got the call), because I thought the season would be over,” Alger said Tuesday, a bit more than 24 hours before – say what? – suiting up for a playoff game for the hometown TinCaps.

“I knew I was coming home, but I didn’t know I’d be coming home to continue to play baseball for hopefully three or four more weeks.”

Well, welcome to Organized Baseball, also known as O.B. One day you’re going home after a season in Oregon; the next, you’re coming home to get thrown into a playoff fight with people you don’t really know in a ballpark that was never really yours growing up.

“I went to a decent amount of Wizards games,” he says. “But TinCaps, I didn’t go to a whole lot of those.”

Instead he was down the street sawing off bats for Indiana Tech, never really dreaming about pro ball.

The Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year as a sophomore last spring, he went 8-2 with a 2.37 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 91 innings. And then, in early June, the oddest thing happened.

He got drafted. By the Padres. In the 26th round.

“I didn’t really expect it at all,” he recalled. “A couple of people had kind of mentioned things, but I didn’t really think it was going to happen.

“One of the first things I thought was the TinCaps were affiliated with the Padres, and I thought that could be a possibility. I didn’t think it would come this soon, though.”

Nope. And yet, here he is.

“I think he’s going to be a great addition to this team, especially when you’re going to face a team like Lansing, because most of their hitters are left-handed hitters,” TinCaps manager Jose Valentin said Tuesday. “Definitely you need a left-hander in those situations, something we were pretty much missing.”

And now they don’t. Now you walk out of Valentin’s office, down a hallway strewn with duffle bags and ripped-open boxes of fresh bats, past a bulletin board decorated with a makeshift sign that screams, among other things, Don’t Be Nice. And on into that familiar/unfamiliar clubhouse, where Brandon Alger waits.

“I really don’t know anything,” he says. “I know I’ll be in the bullpen. That’s all I know.”

Welcome home, kid. Make yourself as comfortable as you can.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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