Wichita Wingnuts

Servicemen inspire Wingnuts catcher

When Matthew Powell played for the Military All-Star baseball team in 2010, his goal was different from that of most of his teammates.

The soldiers with whom Powell shared the diamond were there to have fun and get their minds off the horrors of combat. Powell, now with the Wingnuts as their backup catcher, was there to make an impression and to earn a professional contract.

As one of the few players on the team not enlisted in the armed forces, Powell, a veteran of the National Baseball Congress World Series as a member of the San Diego Stars, took games more seriously than his teammates while his appreciation for their efforts and the country they represented grew.

Powell played on a team with members from every branch of the military, including the Army Rangers and the Border Patrol.

"It was incredible to me, all these people, hearing their stories," Powell said. "They would be there for like a month and then deploy and we'd get a new bunch of guys. Great, great guys."

Roster turnover was so frequent because of deployments that the team carried non-military players to provide stability. The team traveled across the country playing against minor league and independent league opponents.

Powell joined the team, based in his home of San Diego, when it was looking for a catcher. He felt it gave him a chance to be noticed since games were so frequent and wide-reaching.

"We were playing against teams who had already started their season and I had to be three times as good for (scouts) to even look at me," Powell said. "... We had guys who hadn't played ball for two years, and they're out there to have fun. They're out there to compete, but the main objective is to have fun."

Powell said the most memorable part of his experience on the team was the ceremony before each game honoring the memory of a local soldier killed in battle.

"It was a really touching and emotional experience," Powell said. "It was hard to get emotional right before a baseball game starts. It was hard to go from emotional to baseball mode, but it was really touching."

When Powell tried out for the Wingnuts in the offseason, manager Kevin Hooper said he was impressive but the team didn't have a spot for him.

When Jeff Stevens got injured earlier this month, the Wingnuts reconnected with Powell and offered him a job. Powell took it and tried to make the 30-hour drive without stopping, but he succumbed to fatigue in Liberal before arriving in Wichita the next day.

"I'm trying to learn as much as I can from all the players, just so when I get into a game I can be ready," Powell said. "I'm a backup on the team, but I don't want to be a backup on the field."

Professional hitter — First baseman Jorge Delgado has put up high batting averages everywhere he's played, topping .440 in a clearly-beneath-him Mexican minor league a few years ago.

Delgado's statistics have been so impressive than when he was hitting .320 after going 0 for 4 against Sioux City on June 10, it felt as if he hadn't really gotten going yet.

Since then, Delgado has a hit in all seven games through Friday, going 11 for 26 to raise his average to a team-leading .341. He leads the team in walks, on-base percentage and is third in RBIs with 29, one behind Ryan Patterson and Juan Richardson.

"He's got to just stay with his good approach," Hooper said last week of the 6-foot, 240-pound Delgado. "He's such a big guy, but he's such a good hitter. He hits the ball the other way tremendously. That's what he's got to stick to. He's got to stick to his game plan."

Last season, Delgado batted .391 in 31 games for the Wingnuts after being signed out of Mexico. He owns a .315 career average. The 31-year-old native of Venezuela played in affiliated ball with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies organizations from 1999-2002.

"I'm not concerned about him," Hooper said. "He's such a good hitter. He's just got to stay within himself and not try to do too much, which we're all capable of doing. He (was) still hitting .320 and scuffling quite a bit."

Duran's lift — Evan Button batted .333 before being released due to defensive deficiencies at second base. The player the Wingnuts got to replace him, Jose Duran, is hitting just as well while providing stellar defense.

Duran batted .357 through Friday with a triple and three RBIs. He also has five stolen bases and has committed one error. Duran was with the Wingnuts briefly last season.