By Manny Randhawa
“Winning is fun.”
No one sums it up better than Indians reliever Duke Welker, who after making his Major League debut earlier this season, describes splitting time between the Tribe and the Pittsburgh Pirates as a great experience that involves a lot of post-game high-fives on the infield after his team has notched another victory.
“It’s enjoyable,” Welker added. “The team up top (the Pirates), it’s just a great group of guys. Just like down here (in Indianapolis) the locker rooms are fun and everyone’s working together.”
The Indians are a minor league-best 55-30 in 2013, winning at a .647 clip so far this season. The Pirates are also playing extremely well, claiming the best record in major league baseball at 51-30 (.630) entering play Monday.
A key component of that success for each club traces back to the respective managers, Dean Treanor and Clint Hurdle.
“I think Dean and Clint are pretty similar,” Welker said. “They let us play and they let us trust in our ability and let the results be the results, not focusing on that too much, just focusing on the process.”
For Welker’s teammate and battery-mate, Tribe catcher Tony Sanchez, the chance to play for two clubs between Triple-A and the big leagues that are each having so much success is a real treat given how difficult it is to be successful in a sport like baseball.
And Sanchez knows first-hand, having traveled with the Pirates as part of the temporary “Taxi Squad” before being formally recalled to make his MLB debut several weeks later.
“Baseball’s a tough sport to succeed in,” the backstop said. “When you have a team clicking as well as both teams are that I’ve played on the past two weeks, it just makes it a fun environment. The atmosphere is different, the dugout’s different, and you actually believe you can win every game you play.”
Sanchez added that both the Pirates’ and Indians’ clubhouses are very similar, making it easy to see why both teams are playing so well.
“The chemistry in the (Pittsburgh) clubhouse, the guys, the relationships that they have with each other, are all eerily similar to what we have down here,” he said. “I honestly believe that is the number one recipe for success.”
Welker and Sanchez each made their major league debuts with the Pirates on the same day – June 23rd – as the Bucs played the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim.
Both performed well, as Welker pitched an inning in relief, retiring the Angels in order and recording his first major league strikeout in the process.
Sanchez made quite the first impression himself, as he doubled literally into the right field wall in his first at-bat, with the baseball actually getting wedged inside the out-of-town scoreboard.
Sanchez recalled feeling excited but also relieved after contributing to the team’s 10-9 victory, explaining that playing for winning ball clubs also puts some pressure on young players to perform and not be the one not to help the team earn a victory.
“It actually brings more pressure onto somebody like me (when joining a winning club like the Pirates) because you don’t want to be the guy that doesn’t contribute,” he said.
“We were in that game (June 23rd), and we ended up being down late, 6-2, and I got pinch-hit for, but we ended up winning that game. As special as that first hit was for me, the fact that I could be involved in a game that they won was even bigger.”
With all of the skill and dedication that goes into winning baseball, in the end, Sanchez comes to the same conclusion on the subject as the man he catches so often in late innings.
“Winning is a lot more fun than losing, as simple as that sounds,” he said, echoing Welker’s sentiment.
So far in 2013, there’s a lot of fun being had at both Victory Field and PNCPark.