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Coming Thursday
•The Journal Gazette will get you ready for the 2014 TinCaps season with a special preview section, featuring stories on former Norwell standout Josh VanMeter, the team’s infielders, opening day starter Walker Weickel and more
Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Former Norwell star Josh VanMeter, left, bumps fists with Dustin Peterson. VanMeter was taken by San Diego in the June 2013 draft.

Touch of spring in air as TinCaps settle in

Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Catcher Ryan Miller takes a cut in the cage during batting practice Monday in the TinCaps’ first workout of the new season at Parkview Field.

– The TinCaps received a warm welcome when they arrived in Fort Wayne.

The cold spring took a break, and the team enjoyed temperatures in the 60s as players settled into Parkview Field on Monday as they prepared for the upcoming season.

“This is a bit of spoil, coming off the plane from Phoenix to Fort Wayne and it being 55, 60 degrees,” said Walker Weickel, who manager Michael Collins named the starting pitcher for the season opener Thursday at home against Great Lakes.

“Last year, I think we stepped off the plane and it was 34 and raining. I know there are probably going to be some pretty cold nights like there were last year.”

Weickel, who went 3-6 with a 5.04 ERA in 24 games last season, is one of 10 players returning to the TinCaps this season.

Erik Cabrera, Matt Chabot, Tayron Guerrero, Genison Reyes and Josh Richardson also return from last year’s pitching staff, and first baseman Luis Tejada, infielder Reynaldo Bruguera, catchers Ryan Miller and Dane Phillips and outfielder Mallex Smith, who led the Midwest League in steals last year with 64, had stints with the TinCaps last season.

“I think every good team has a good mix of different people, maybe some returning players who are still refining whatever it is,” said Collins, who was named manager Jan. 14 after Jose Valentin was elevated Nov. 14 to first base coach of the San Diego Padres.

Smith said he told new teammates to be ready for plenty of support from Fort Wayne and high expectations from fans after the TinCaps reached the playoffs in each of the past five seasons and won Midwest League championship in 2009.

“There are going to be a lot of high expectations because of the teams that played before them,” Smith said. “We’ve had a lot of success, so they’re not going to expect anything less.”

Smith also told his teammates to get ready to enjoy playing in one of the top minor league stadiums. The facilities at Parkview Field were not overlooked by the newcomers.

“Being here is pretty shocking, it put me in awe,” third baseman Dustin Peterson said.

As for the weather, the team understands Monday’s conditions will not last. The projected high for opening day is 42 degrees with a chance of rain, but temperatures should climb back up for the games Friday through Saturday against the Loons.

“They were informed in spring training, it’s going to be cold, get your cold-weather gear,” Collins said. “I don’t think anything prepares you for it, especially the players that haven’t dealt with it.

“Guys like Peterson, who grew up in Arizona, the Latin players and Dominican Republic, where it is warm, guys who were in Arizona last season, there is definitely that adjustment. Each team is going through the same thing.”