Even though the Wingnuts haven't necessarily needed to beat the bushes to acquire them, it's no accident that Wichita has been a destination for some of the American Association's best catchers during the last three seasons.
Manager Kevin Hooper puts an emphasis on acquiring veteran catchers who are proficient defensively and possess the intelligence and communication skills to balance the sometimes fragile minds of young pitchers.
"I want the best that's out there," Hooper said. "I'm a defensive-minded guy, and if you can be strong defensively up the middle, you're going to give yourself a chance, especially at the catching position. It's hard to find in affiliated ball, even, let alone at this level."
The Wingnuts have made the process of finding a leader at catcher look easy since Hooper became manager before the 2009 season.
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The catchers toiling in independent baseball are those who were unable to find a job in affiliated ball, even though many organizations place the same importance on catching that Hooper does.
Still, Hooper and the Wingnuts are building a reputation as a destination for accomplished catchers. Former Wichita State backstop Joe Muich caught for the Wingnuts in 2009, followed by former Triple-A catcher Jeff Christy in 2010. Both were selected to the midseason All-Star team.
This season's catcher is Edwin Bellorin, who had a cup of coffee in the major league and has spent significant time in Triple-A.
"We've been very fortunate to have three really, really good ones," Hooper said. "I'll tell you, the guy we've got this year is something else. He's a lot of fun to watch, that's for sure."
Hooper looks first for strong defensive catchers, but Muich and Christy were also contributors in the batting order.
Bellorin seems to be following that path, with a .357 average through the first 14 games. His 13 walks are tied for the team lead.
"That's a big added bonus," Hooper said. "All three of them... took a lot of pride in what they did defensively. They were all the same way, that whatever they did offensively was going to be a bonus. All three of them definitely held their own at the plate."
Muich was a natural fit because of his time at WSU. Christy, a Kansas resident, played at Nebraska, and the Wingnuts used hitting coach Jose Amado's ties to Latin America to find Bellorin, a native Venezuelan.
Christy and Muich ended their playing days after one season with the Wingnuts, but the team has continued to find catchers who excel in many areas.
"It's been tough, it's been very tough," Hooper said. "You always use your ties and try to find the best guy that you can."
Road warriors — If the Wingnuts had gotten off to a slow start, they'd have a chance to make up for it quickly with two straight home series after playing 13 of their first 16 games on the road.
But Wichita, through Friday, has gone 10-4, putting three games between themselves and second-place Lincoln. The Wingnuts can begin to pull away with a successful homestand; they play the first of seven straight games at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on Monday against Fort Worth.
"We don't really talk about it," Bellorin said. "That's the schedule they have, we don't complain about it. We just play baseball. We're ready to go, ready to play."
Eighteen of the Wingnuts' 28 games in June will be played in Wichita, and 10 of the first 12 in July are at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Their next long road trip is in late July and August during the National Baseball Congress World Series, when they play 15 straight away from home.
Making moves — On Saturday, the Wingnuts gave their pitching staff a minor overhaul, signing right-handers Justin Murray and Gary Lee, moving Trent Lare to the bullpen and putting reliever Eric Gilliland on the disabled list.
Murray takes the rotation spot vacated by Lare. Murray pitched at Kansas State from 2006-08 before being drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 29th round in 2008. He most recently pitched for the Double-A Midland Rockhounds of the Texas League in 2008.
Lee has never played affiliated baseball. He pitched as a starter for Fort Worth this season before being released by the Cats. He'll take a spot in Wichita's bullpen.
Lare was hit hard in three starts with the Wingnuts, with a 10.20 ERA in 15 innings. The Lyndon native pitched in relief in the New York Yankees system in 2010.