The Power Stache

Our story begins at Texas A&M University. It’s the birthplace of the Power Stache, the signature facial hair of former River Bandits and current JetHawks pitcher Daniel Mengden. After high school, Mengden looked at other colleges but decided to become an Aggie.

“As I got older, I narrowed it down to schools in the state. Some schools out of state were interested and I said no because I wanted to stay closer to home,” Mengden said. “A&M called me and I came on a visit and fell in love with the place. The coaches were awesome, I thought it would be a good place to play, and it was only an hour and a half away from home so my parents could come watch me play and it was way less expensive than Rice or TCU.”

It was during his freshman year that the facial hair phenomenon began.

“Back at A&M, our head coach only allows us to grow facial hair if he grows it. He grew a mustache so all he allowed us to grow was a mustache. One day one of my friends back home said why don’t you grow some crazy facial hair,” Mengden said. “I was like well I can’t grow anything but a mustache. He was like well grow a crazy Rollie Fingers mustache or something like that. I was like fine so I did it and fans at A&M loved it.”

Daniel Mengden looks in for the sign during a game against Cedar Rapids. (Jarah Wright)

Daniel Mengden looks in for the sign during a game against Cedar Rapids. (Jarah Wright)

During his first two seasons, The Power Stache, as Mengden was dubbed by Aggies’ fans, split time between pitching and working as a position player.

“I was a catcher and pitch my freshman year and I had never caught before. My sophomore year, I pitched on Fridays and Saturdays which switched during the season depending on the day and other starters,” Mengden said. “Then I would throw on Friday and either DH or play right field Saturday and Sunday.”

The schedule was grueling rotating between workouts for both pitchers and position players.

“It was very taxing but my coaches were awesome about it if I ever needed any time off,” Mengden said. “I would go early with the hitters and then meet up with the pitchers to throw. Then I would practice with the position players for 30 minutes and then go run and work on signs with the pitchers. Then I’d go back to the hitters at BP before going back to right field and shagging when I was done. It was hectic but I love being able to do both and love playing the game.”

After his sophomore year, Mengden had another unique playing opportunity presented to him.

“One day I got a call from my coach at A&M and he said Team USA wants you to play for them. It was one of the happiest days of my life,” Mengden said. “It was awesome to go try out for the team and making the team was just extraordinary and overwhelming. I was so happy to have the chance to put on our nation’s colors and play baseball for them.”

Mengden traveled with Team USA to Japan to play against some of the world’s top athletes.

“Their fans are awesome. There were at least 5,000 to 6,000 people that came to watch the games.”

He even came away with new fans.

“It was funny because the way I pitch is kind of funky with my windup and delivery. I had at least five or six guys come up to me and tell me they love my pitching because it reminded them of a Japanese pitcher.”

Despite loving all of the playing time of the field, Mengden’s body had a hard time keeping up heading into his junior year.

“We had a bunch of juco guys come in and my coach thought it would be better for me to just pitch, be a mentor for the younger guys and stay healthy during the season,” Mengden said. “Because that’s how I got banged up my sophomore year. I ended up having a stress fracture in my back.”

Team doctors told Mengden he could either sit out four to eight weeks and miss all of SEC play and be ready for playoffs or pitch through the pain.

“I told the doctors I would pitch through the pain and made it through the whole year. It was pretty painful but it never got worse than it was,” Mengden said. “However, I had to change the way I pitched. One thing that sucks about it is my velo dropped from about 91-94 to 86-90 because I couldn’t really push off with my bag leg and my landing leg would hurt so I couldn’t put as much force behind it. I’ve turned into more of a finesse pitcher and have had to locate the ball a lot better.”

Having a stress fracture in his back hurt his chances to be drafted but Mengden had already decided to go back to A&M for his senior year if it didn’t work out.

“I was with my family on draft day and I was going into it with the stress fracture. A lot of teams said they might not pick me because their doctors said I was a liability in a way,” Mengden said. “I wasn’t too worried about it and then the Astros called me with their pick in the fourth round. It can’t get better than that to hopefully play for the hometown team one day. They took a chance and hopefully one day it will work out.”

Mengden winds up during a game in Cedar Rapids. (Jarah Wright)

Mengden winds up during a game in Cedar Rapids. (Jarah Wright)

Now that Mengden had signed to play professional baseball, there was one thing left to decide: should he bring back the Power Stache?

“A bunch of people asked me if I was going to bring it back for pro ball and I said I wasn’t sure,” Mengden said. “I just decided I’ll do it again so it might just be my baseball thing.”

And he’s putting that mustache to use by joining fellow mustachioed baseballer Ralston Cash to raise awareness for the Ralston Cash Foundation, a charity started by Cash to raise money and awareness for children who have lost parents to cancer.

“He contacted me about my mustache and told me about his foundation. I told him I wanted to hop on board and help as much as I can,” Mengden said. “We were talking about it about a week ago and I’m happy to be on board.”

So what’s next for Mengden? Continuing to follow the dream.

“It’s a blessing. I work as hard as I can every day. Now that I’m here I have to work harder to take every step up and hopefully one day make it up to the major leagues.”

Game Of Adjustments

Growing up in Oklahoma, Quad Cities utility player Ryan Bottger wanted to be just like his dad.

“My dad actually was a baseball player. He played baseball in college at Oklahoma City University and he played there for two years,” Bottger said. “He played two years in junior college before that and played baseball all four years of college. He was an All-American at Oklahoma City University.”

That athletic lineage has trickled down the family tree to include Ryan, his two sisters, and his brother.

“My oldest sister played basketball for a few years in college. My other sister played basketball and my brother is playing baseball at a junior college in Texas, at North Central Texas College.”

Like his dad and his brother Kyle, Ryan went to junior college before making a jump to a university, starting his college career at Rose State Junior College, which is about 15 minutes east of Oklahoma City.

“I had a number of junior colleges looking at me. I didn’t have any Division I schools looking at me. There were some D-IIs and an NAIA school but I decided to do junior college first because I heard it’s a good stepping stone between that and a four-year college,” Bottger said. “Starting there, I lived at home so I wouldn’t say I necessarily got to experience college like a lot of people do but I did enjoy it. I got to know those guys really well.”

Bottger put up strong numbers while at Rose State batting .357 with five home runs and 38 RBIs through 52 games there. The combination of strong stats and a connection through the Rose State coaching staff led to Bottger heading to the University of Texas at Arlington.

“Coach Thomas, UTA’s head coach, recruited me from Rose State. He actually coached my head coach at Rose State whenever he played for him in junior college at Stewart County,” Bottger said. “The head coach at Rose State told me he was a great guy and a good coach so I decided to go there.”

By joining the Mavericks, Bottger entered a program that has already sent players like Michael Choice, Mark Lowe, John Lackey, and Hunter Pence to the major leagues.

“It was cool because we knew that they’ve had so many guys that have not only gotten drafted but played at the highest level too. I think they do a great job of developing players,” Bottger said. “Coach Thomas wants us to go on and play at the next level because he knows that’s most of our goals.”

While at UTA, Bottger also got to experience playing in a MLB stadium, playing at Globe Life Park, home of the Texas Rangers, which is right down the street from the school.

“That was amazing because we actually got to play there twice. During the season we played Oklahoma University and Texas A&M,” Bottger said. “It was the first time I have ever gotten to play in a big league ballpark and it was pretty awesome. It was cool getting to play bigger school too because we can compete with them even if we’re not in the same conference or same level as people might perceive us.”

Bottger also broke experience a program-first while with the Mavericks. He was one of six players drafted from UTA in the 2014 draft setting a new school record.

“It just showed you what kind of team we had and it’s pretty cool to see all of those guys getting to play at the next level just like me.”

And speaking of draft day, Bottger was in a very unique situation when he got the news he was a new member of the Houston Astros organization. Just like The Lonely Island and T-Pain, he was on a boat.

“I was actually on a lake trip with some of my friends because it was my buddies’ bachelor party. I was on the lake and it was cool to be around my really good friends when I received the news,” Bottger said. “A lot of people were worried that I wasn’t going to have service. I took all the precautions to make sure because I thought it was going to be that day. I had service and it was fine. Everyone was excited for me. It was pretty incredible to see the amount of people aware of what was going on and letting me know they’re proud of me and love me.”

Ryan Bottger drives the ball down the line during a game at Cedar Rapids. (Jarah Wright)

Ryan Bottger drives the ball down the line during a game at Cedar Rapids. (Jarah Wright)

Bottger spent the first season with the short-season affiliate Tri-City ValleyCats and he said it was definitely an adjustment for him.

“My first season was very different that I had imagine but in a good way,” Bottger said. “You kind of just get thrown into the fire. There’s not a lot of time to get to know the area or get used to the team. We got there and then two days later we were playing. It was just really fast and you have to do what you’ve been doing, play ball, and adjust to the difference.”

Bottger spent 27 games with the ValleyCats before earning the bump to the Quad Cities for 34 games. He said he’s enjoyed his time with the River Bandits over the past two seasons for multiple reasons.

“I’ve always been a Cardinals fan because I really liked Mark McGwire growing up. And currently I liked Holliday, Jon Jay, and am a big Carlos Beltran fan,” Bottger said. “It’s really cool coming to the Quad Cities since they used to be a Cardinals affiliate.”

Bottger playing right field in a game against Clinton. (Jarah Wright)

Bottger playing right field in a game against Clinton. (Jarah Wright)

For the 2015 season, Bottger, Jamie Ritchie, and Bobby Boyd are all being housed by a host family who have stories about previous players that have stayed with them over the years.

“It’s also cool because our host family hosted Kolten Wong when he was here with the Cards,” Bottger said. “It’s cool to hear stories about him and he hit pretty well.”

Heading into the second half of 2015, Bottger has steadily improved his numbers and hopes to be a valuable asset to the River Bandits for the rest of the season.

“I kind of had a slow start but I think I still have some ground to pick up and need to continue to grind it out every day and improve and do what I can to be the best I can be,” Bottger said. “I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t have a ton of power but I want to be somebody that wants to drive the ball, drive runners in, come up big in clutch situations and be someone that the coaches and Bonifay can rely on to be an everyday guy.”

2015 Midwest League All-Star Game

Yesterday, I made the trip with most of the Quad Cities front office staff to Dozer Park, home of the Peoria Chiefs, for the 2015 Midwest League All-Star game. The Eastern All-Stars defeated the West All-Stars 5-0 and Ryan McBroom of the Lansing Lugnuts won the Home Run Derby. Here are some pictures from last night including River Bandits All-Stars Jacob Nottingham, Nick Tanielu, and Jamie Ritchie.

Nick Tanielu and Jamie Ritchie signing autographs before the game. (Jarah Wright)

Nick Tanielu and Jamie Ritchie signing autographs before the game. (Jarah Wright)

Chiefs pitcher Robby Rowland being interviewed before the game. (Jarah Wright)

Chiefs pitcher Robby Rowland being interviewed before the game. (Jarah Wright)

Dozer Park (Jarah Wright)

Dozer Park (Jarah Wright)

Jamie Ritchie being introduced and walking onto the field. (Jarah Wright)

Jamie Ritchie being introduced and walking onto the field. (Jarah Wright)

Jacob Nottingham being introduced on the field. (Jarah Wright)

Jacob Nottingham being introduced on the field. (Jarah Wright)

Nick Tanielu being introduced. (Jarah Wright)

Nick Tanielu being introduced. (Jarah Wright)

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Astros Farm Report: 6/18/15

The Astros farm system continues a strong 2015 campaign with several teams clinching playoff berths to continue their seasons further into September.

The Fresno Grizzlies are *currently sitting in first place in the Pacific Northern division of the Pacific Coast League with a commanding 8.5 game lead over the Tacoma Rainiers and have the second-best record in the league with 40 wins and 26 losses. The Grizzlies lead the league in home runs (65) and RBIs (353) using its offensive power to go ahead in close game. L.J. Hoes has the third-best batting average in the league at .346 and teammate Domingo Santana leads the league with a .584 slugging percentage and 43 walks. Fellow Grizzlies’ outfielder and designated hitter Jon Singleton is tied for first place with 14 home runs and is in first with 60 RBIs on the year. The team is loaded with former River Bandits waiting to join the major league club alongside Carlos Correa and Vincent Velasquez and might get their chance if the team continues to play like they are now.

Corpus Christi sealed a playoff berth winning the first half of the South Division of the Texas League behind the arm of Joe Mugrove, a former River Bandit who made his Double-A debut on the night of the victory over the Midland RockHounds. The Hooks were the first team to clinch a spot in the Texas League earning the title with a record of 43-20*. Former River Bandits Tony Kemp leads the league with a .358 batting average while teammate Chris Devenski continues his pitching dominance leading the league with a 1.18 ERA and commanding seven wins. Consistency seems to be the key for Corpus Christi. While the team doesn’t lead the league in doubles, triples, or home runs, the team does lead in hits, RBIs, and batting average. The same goes for the pitching staff as the team doesn’t lead in strikeouts but does lead in wins, saves, and has the lowest ERA in the league. The Hooks will also play host to the Texas League All-Star game this year with several former River Bandits taking part in the festivities including Conrad Gregor, Roberto Pena, Tyler White, Chris Devenski, and Jandel Gustave.

Lancaster sits a game and a half behind Rancho Cucamonga as of June 18th for the first South Division playoff spot. Visalia has already claimed the North Division first-half title. The Jethawks have claimed the league lead in many offensive categories including a .292 batting average and are slugging .477 with 690 hits including 87 homers and 397 RBIs. Several former River Bandits have made the All-Star team for the California League. They are Jack Mayfield, A.J. Reed, and Brett Phillips.

The Quad Cities River Bandits sealed a first-half title to advance to playoffs for the first time since the squad won the Midwest League title back in 2013. Strong performances from several players led to four All-Star selections to participate in the All-Star game held in Peoria. They included infielders Mott Hyde and Nick Tanielu, catcher Jacob Nottingham, and pitcher Austin Chrismon. However, only Nottingham and Tanielu will be participating as Hyde and Chrismon have both since been promoted to High-A Lancaster.

The Class-A Short season Astros affiliate, the Tri-City Valleycats opened up its season on June 19th. Rookie affiliate Greeneville Astros began its season on June 25th. The Gulf Coast League Astros and the Dominican Summer League Astros teams have not announced when their season will begin.

*All stats current as of June 18, 2015

Green Sees Blue: Nick’s Route To Royals

Wilmington Blue Rocks pitcher Nick Green never thought he’d ever be playing professional baseball. Yet the left-handed reliever has worked his way up to High-A in his second season currently posting a 2-1 record in 15 appearances going 2-3 in saves while striking out 19.

Growing up in Utah, Green started playing baseball when he was seven years old.

“There was a little league field right by my house which was really nice. My dad eventually became the president of that,” Green said. “I was never good starting out and they would put me in the outfield a lot.”

Green followed the traditional baseball path playing in surrounding states and playing high school ball but still didn’t think that he would be able to continue his baseball career. But as fate would have it, he caught the attention of the University of Utah.

“I didn’t really get recruited at all out of high school. A really good friend of mine from high school got recruited to go to Utah and I was already kind of looking at Utah for school and wanted to keep playing baseball,” Green said. “I talked to the coach a little bit and he ended up coming to watch me and ended up giving me a preferred walk-on spot.”

The University of Utah Utes’ home field is Smith’s Ballpark also known as the home of the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Green said that playing there gave everyone on the team a taste of what pro baseball would be like.

“It’s a pretty nice field to play on. Already playing at nice facilities in college kind of gave me an introduction to pro baseball in a way,” Green said. “Not really in terms of the amount of fans or anything like that but nice facilities and going to the field every day.”

He added that he loved Utah and has enjoyed seeing fellow teammates go pro too.

“The athletic community is so close-knit. It was such a great experience and I’m glad I went to college for four years,” Green said. “I just had really good teammates. Our team was always really close and did a lot of stuff together. And the first two years I played with C.J. Cron who is now with the Angels. That was always really cool watching him hit homeruns.”

Green became the Utes closer and earned awards like becoming Utah’s first-ever Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week. Leading up to draft day, Green said he was anxious and nervous.

“I had an idea that I was going to be drafted but I didn’t think I would go in the top ten round. Then I got a call in the eighth round saying I might be drafted soon. Up until that point, I thought I was going to go on the third day,” Green said. “It feels like the longest day ever because you’re just waiting for you name to be called and just sit around the computer or TV with your family.”

The Kansas City Royals called his name in the tenth round of the 2014 MLB Draft.

“I was hanging out with my dad and got a call from the Royals moments before the ninth round saying they would pick me soon. In the tenth I got a call and heard my name announced on TV,” Green said. “It was really cool. My dad even got a little teary-eyed. Going into my freshman year of college, I never thought I’d be playing professional baseball.”

Green was assigned to Rookie Short-Season Idaho Falls for his first pro season.

“I think I started out really well and I’m not used to playing 140 games of baseball with college and professional together so I got a little tired towards the end but it’s all part of the game.”

Nick Green tossing for the Chukars in 2014. (Jarah Wright)

Nick Green tossing for the Chukars in 2014. (Jarah Wright)

Green said he has put in the extra work this off-season which has prepared him for 2015 and he’s looking forward to see what the rest of the season will bring.

“I actually went down early (to spring training) with Parker Morin and we worked out at the facility which kind of helped me in getting used to the facilities and I had a good spring training,” Green said. “This season, I’m just giving it my all. You never know what’s going to happen so work hard and leave everything on the field if you can.”

Astros Farm Report: 6/1/15

The Astros farm system continues to be dominant with three of the four full-season teams still sitting in first place in their respective leagues and divisions.

In the Pacific Northern division, the Fresno Grizzlies have a four game lead over the Reno Aces with an overall record at 28 wins and 22 losses. The team’s pitching stats have improved over the past month although the team still leads the league in hit batters (25). However, the team is showing their offensive power and patience at the plate leading the league in home runs (56), and sitting in second in RBIs (252) and fourth in walks (184). Standouts include Jonathan Singleton and Domingo Santana who rank fourth and fifth in the league in slugging percentages (.588 and .584 respectively).

The Corpus Christi Hooks have pulled 7.5 games ahead of the Midland Rockhounds and sit in first place in the South Division of the Texas League. The Hooks currently have a record of 33 wins and 16 losses. Pitching-wise, Corpus Christi sits in first place in the league with lowest team ERA (3.20), wins (33), and saves (16). Offensively, Corpus Christi has the highest team batting average (.284), on-base percentage (.367), stolen bases (68), and hits (476). Standouts include Chris Devenski who has the lowest ERA in the league (0.59) and has the most wins in the league (6). Carlos Correa, who was promoted to the Fresno Grizzlies, left the league with the highest batting average and slugging percentage at .385 and .726 and sits at third in the league in RBIs with 32.

Lancaster is currently in second place and is currently 2.5 games back of the first-place Rancho Cucamonga Quakes who have a record of 29 wins and 20 losses. The Jethawks lead the league in hits (493), batting average (.281), and home runs with 61 including three from recently called-up River Bandit Derek Fisher who hit three home runs in his High-A debut on May 30th. Edison Frias is tied for first in the league with six wins. Brett Phillips leads the league with 65 hits and A.J. Reed is first in home runs (13) and second in RBIs (40).

With the first-halves of the season ending mid-June, all full-season teams are still in the hunt for the first playoff spots of 2015.