It's a fundamental idea that even some of the most apt players forget in the midst of a losing streak.
Baseball is supposed to be fun. It was a thought lost on many of the Wingnuts as they fell out of first place in the American Association and certainly while they were getting verbally punished by manager Kevin Hooper after Wednesday's loss to Fort Worth.
Thursday, the Wingnuts regained their joviality and their ability to control a baseball game with timely hitting and a dominating pitching performance. They beat Fort Worth 6-1 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and start a three-game series at St. Paul today.
Hooper wrote the lineup backward and upside-down before posting it in the dugout and center fielder Brent Clevlen braided his long hair into cornrows in an effort to loosen up a team that has won one of its last six series and had lost 12 of its previous 17 games.
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"Just having a good time with it," Hooper said. "We all know we've struggled a little bit. Baseball is all about mojo and trying to mix things up. I was just having some fun with the lineup card and trying to do things light.
"It's been some tough times. We had our talk (Wednesday) night and I got them a little bit. But that's not going to change me. I'm going to be the same guy out here having fun playing baseball."
The idea Hooper had behind tricking up the lineup card was shared by Clevlen, who did his part to reverse Wichita's losing spirit by drastically changing his hair.
Since Clevlen, the Wingnuts No. 3 hitter who is batting .356, didn't need to make many adjustments at the plate, he went with a stylistic change instead.
The hair gave Clevlen's teammates good humor, just what the veteran ex-major leaguer wanted to get the Wingnuts thinking about anything but their recent valleys.
"I figured it would lighten up the clubhouse, get a little laugh going and just have fun with it," Clevlen said. "I wasn't thinking of myself, just whatever I could do to help the team. Something as simple as bringing a laugh to the clubhouse. That's all it was, really."
The beneficiary of the relaxed atmosphere was Wingnuts starting pitcher Ryan Hinson, who began the season as Wichita's No. 5 starter but has emerged as the ace after the departure of Nick Singleton to the Mexican League and ineffectiveness from other starters.
Hinson has become the choice of Hooper to start important games, and the confidence from his manager took the pressure off Hinson, who finished his seven innings of five-hit ball by retiring six of the final seven batters he faced.
"He challenged us (Wednesday) night to go out and get a win, and he looked me right in the eyes so I knew he wanted me out there," Hinson said. "You can either accept it or run away from it, and I chose to accept it and give it all I had, and we had a great night because of it."
Hinson was rarely on the topes and two double plays helped him out of potential Fort Worth rallies. The only time trouble approached fast was in the fifth.
With the Wingnuts leading 4-0, Cory Morales sacrifice bunted after the first two batters of the inning reached. It gave an out to Hinson and Fort Worth, after damaging its chances for a big inning, scored once.
"I just had to make a couple pitches there," Hinson said. "I'll take one run and not three runs there."
The Wingnuts could carry out their plan to relax and play loosely after taking a 3-0 lead after four innings and owning a 5-1 advantage through six. Jorge Delgado had three hits, including two of the Wingnuts' six doubles, and Mike Conroy had two hits and a pair of RBIs.
Davis 2b3020Horn ss4110
Fryer cf4000Patterson rf4010
Metcalf 3b4010Clevlen cf4111
Gulledge c4000Richardson 3b3000
Lockwood 1b4000Delgado 1b4231
Rodriguez dh3130Workman dh4111
Allen rf4010Bellorin c4121
Morales ss3000Conroy lf4022
Sauceda lf2001Duran 2b4010
Fort Worth000 010 000 — 1 Wichita200 202 00x — 6
E—Duran (2). DP—Fort Worth 1, Wichita 2. LOB—Fort Worth 7, Wichita 6. 2B—Metcalf (9), Rodriguez (12), Patterson (15), Clevlen (5), Delgado 2 (13), Workman (12), Bellorin (11). SB—Horn (9), Conroy (7). S—Morales (5). SF—Sauceda (1).
Pollok L, 0-36106602
Hinson W, 5-3751125
Umpires—Home, Travis Godec; First, Joe Pascucci; Third, Justin Post. T—2:15. A—2,419.