FORT WAYNE – Josh VanMeter, the 19-year-old TinCaps second baseman from Ossian, has changed through the course of this season.
He’s more mature, better able to deal with pressure-filled situations and can lead his team to victory, as he did Wednesday night, when Fort Wayne defeated West Michigan 7-5 in a playoff-opening victory in front of 2,373 fans at Parkview Field.
If it was in the first half of the season, I probably would have been peeing down my leg, said VanMeter, who knocked the game-winning single in the eighth inning.
I’m just a lot more relaxed this half. I just go out there and try to do my thing, not be somebody else. I try to stay simple, stay short and just play within myself. That’s the biggest thing. I was able to do that tonight, get a big hit, but it was a team victory tonight.
VanMeter, who went to Norwell, sent a hard groundball to the shortstop, Domingo Leyba, who couldn’t make the play as he collided with Fort Wayne’s Ryan Miller in the eighth. West Michigan manager Andrew Graham argued unsuccessfully that interference should have been called; Dustin Peterson and Miller scored on the play to finish the scoring.
I like the pressure situations, the playoff games, said VanMeter, who was 3 for 4 with a run and two RBI. I’ve learned to control that (nervousness) and was able to get a big hit tonight, help pull out a team win.
A fifth-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres in 2013, VanMeter began this season slowly, hitting .197 over the first six weeks, but he hit .288 in his final 69 games.
He’s been swinging the bat very, very well, said TinCaps manager Michael Collins, who coached VanMeter last year in the Arizona Rookie League and watched Monday as VanMeter’s home run propelled Fort Wayne into the playoffs in the regular-season finale. He came up huge there in Bowling Green with a three-run home run off the scoreboard. It’s great to see him carry it over here into the playoffs. It looks like he’s comfortable, relaxed and just going about his business.
VanMeter had a lot of friends and family at Parkview Field on Wednesday – too many to count, he said – and today the TinCaps play Game 2 of the best-of-three series at Comstock Park, Michigan.
It’s obviously really important to have won this, he said. In a three-game series, Game 1 is everything, especially when you’ve got home-field advantage (for the opener). Hopefully, we can go up there tomorrow and take the same approach we did tonight. Hopefully, we don’t get down early like we did tonight. We’re looking to win tomorrow because we don’t want to go to Game 3.
The TinCaps trailed 5-2 in the fifth inning, after the Whitecaps got home runs from Lebya and Wynton Bernard off Jimmi Brasoban. The rally began in the bottom of the inning with a VanMeter single; he came home on a wild pitch by pitcher Austin Kubitza, who went 5 2/3 innings and gave up five runs and nine hits with five strikeouts and two walks.
Especially against the guy they had on the mound tonight, who’s one of the best in the league, VanMeter said, to be down 5-2 and come back, that shows the character of this team. The way we have been going for the last two weeks, that’s basically how we’ve been playing. We’ve been battling back into games, and it just shows that we’re all locked in and ready to go to battle. To pull a game out like that, against the quality of this team, it’s impressive.