FORT WAYNE, Ind. – What if I told you… Fort Wayne didn’t just get the show, it also got the greatest comeback win in TinCaps history.
On Unofficial “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz” Night at a sold-out Parkview Field in front of 7,752 fans, the ‘Caps overcame a nine-run deficit to beat the Peoria Chiefs (St. Louis Cardinals affiliate), 12-11. Fort Wayne trailed 11-2 midway through the game before the magic of Mike Ryan Ruiz’s presence went into effect. The Executive Producer of the nationally syndicated ESPN Radio Show threw out a ceremonial first pitch on what was proclaimed by Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry as the “Unofficial Dan Le Batard with Stugotz Occurrence Day” in the city.
Apropos of Ruiz donning a dark green TinCaps jersey with his name on the back along with 305 (the area code for Miami, where both he and the show are based), it was a Miami-area native for the ‘Caps who electrified the Fort Wayne faithful. Center fielder Jawuan Harris had the first multi-homer game of his career, smacking a solo home run in the fifth inning and then a game-tying grand slam in the eighth.
Fort Wayne (9-17, 42-52) then took its first lead of the game in the eighth on a double-steal with two outs. Ethan Skender was at third base and Agustin Ruiz (no official relation to Mike Ryan Ruiz) was at first with Blake Hunt batting. Ruiz took off and Peoria (4-22, 34-61) catcher Alexis Wilson threw down to second as Skender, who grew up near Peoria, scampered home for what proved to be the winning run. Ruiz was safe at second on the play as well.
For much of the night, the greatest highlight was the outstandingly successful gathering of hundreds of fans of the “Le Batard Show.” Before the game, Mike Ryan met with the passionate members of the so-called “Fort Wayne 5,” who received free white t-shirts reading “#FortWayne5” in red on the front and “#HoosiersForLeBatard” on the back with the logo for ESPN Fort Wayne, which airs the program on weekdays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and sponsored the festivities.
The nutty story of how this occurrence came to be stems from the producers jokingly challenging a caller from Fort Wayne named Joe to organize what they figured to be a small number of fans in the area. By Thursday, however, it became clear that the Fort Wayne 5 was closer to the Fort Wayne 500, including fans who traveled from hours away around the Midwest to be part of the organic experience.
Just as Joe, a local school teacher, proved to be more than an average caller, the TinCaps proved to be more than an average squad on this hot and humid night that felt like it could have been played on South Beach.
After looking like a careening clown car of a team for the first half of the game, following the Ron Magill Lion King Cam for fans in the middle of the fifth, it was Harris’ homer in the home fifth that started to turn the tables and fuel the ferocious Fort Wayne team. (As an aside, “DJ Mike Ryan” spun the turntables during a mid-third inning “dance cam” on the video board.)
Following the Harris homer that made it 11-3, Agustin Ruiz hit an RBI double and Hunt hammered a two-run homer to make it 11-6 after five. Ruiz also had an RBI single in the fourth when the ‘Caps plated their first two runs.
In the seventh, on the heels of Greg Cote, a “Le Batard Show” co-host, singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in a pre-recorded video that was played on the ballpark board, Michael Curry cracked a run-scoring double that trimmed the deficit to 11-7, setting the stage for Harris’ grand slam, which he hit with his parents in the crowd.
Harris, 22, grew up in Pembroke Pines, Fla., and attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale before going on to Rutgers University where he also played wide receiver and safety on the football team. His equalizing grand slam was majestically crushed to left-center field.
Not to be forgotten, right-handed reliever Adrian Martinez pitched a scoreless eighth and ninth with two strikeouts to help lead the ‘Caps to the thrilling victory.
Among the innumerable moments that made the evening memorable, Dan Le Batard himself offered sincere gratitude to the show’s fans at Parkview Field in a pre-game video message. He also FaceTimed with Mike Ryan during the meet-and-greet with fans. Dan said he wanted to be there, too, but a plan for the show’s entire crew to fly to Fort Wayne was nixed by their legal team.
Nevertheless, this became the greatest comeback in TinCaps history, dating back to when the team moved into Parkview Field in 2009. Previously, Fort Wayne had rallied from down by as many as eight runs to win—most recently on Aug. 7, 2014 when Trea Turner eventually delivered a walk-off hit in a 12-11 win over the Lake County Captains on a similar Thursday night.
The TinCaps look to complete a three-game sweep of the Chiefs on Friday night in their “Christmas in July” game. But clearly, on Thursday, Christmas came early.
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