As Brandon Bantz sat in his home state of Texas, waiting to play in the Ducks fifth game in four days against the Freedom Division-leading Sugar Land Skeeters Friday, he could only think of one phrase to describe his season -- "a whirlwind."
It started with an ending, of sorts, when the Seattle Mariners, the team that selected him in the 30th round of the 2009 draft, released him on the final day of spring training. Bantz saw action in one game with the Mariners at the Major League level, going 0-for-2 against the Yankees on June 8, 2013, Andy Pettitte's 250th win.
From Seattle, he found a home with the Washington Nationals, who signed him on April 2. Bantz played 22 games with Double-A Harrisburg before being released in May. It was midsummer when the Ducks came calling, signing him on July 7. The catcher hit .273 in his first 40 games, cracking five home runs and driving in 27 runners.
Bantz played the outfield for the first time as a professional in the second game of Thursday's doubleheader. He was thrust into the unfamiliar role because Joash Brodin cramped up in the first game. Despite the new assignment, the 27-year old wasn't the least bit nervous.
"I run around and chase balls in batting practice, so it wasn't like it was anything new," he said.
The "whirlwind" that is 2014 has now landed him right in the middle of a pennant race. After winning ten of their last 12, entering Saturday night, the Ducks stood only one and a half games back of the Somerset Patriots in the Liberty Division with 14 games remaining in the second half. A second half title would guarantee the Ducks a playoff spot. They stood one game behind the Lancaster Barnstormers in the Wild Card race, entering Saturday night.
It seems like every time this team is on the brink of falling out of the divisional race, they climb back into it. What's the biggest reason for the resiliency?
"We have a consistency in what we do as far as coming in day-in and day-out and understanding that it's a marathon. You get your work in and prepare for the game. We have a good chemistry here and a good group of guys . . . We play hard, trust in our abilities, and understand that if we play to them that we can play with anybody in the league. We're confident in that."
You had 25 RBI in your first 36 games. Do you do anything different at the plate with runners on?
"I think staying in my approach and not trying to do too much is a big deal. You have to understand how not to make a situation bigger than it is. That's all well-said, but it's a lot harder to execute it. I've been fortunate enough to help us out in those situations."
Has the pace of play rules, specifically the three mound visits per game restriction, affected the way you call a game?
"No. That doesn't really have anything to do with it. I think the timeout rules really affect situational baseball and that's the part that I think they need to revisit . . . We had a situation [Thursday] night when I was playing the outfield. It was late in the game, we were up 3-0 and [Sugar Land] had first and second and brought in a pinch hitter. Our pitcher didn't know their hitter but, as a catcher, we knew who it was. For a catcher to have that freedom to go out to his pitcher and be able to go over a brief scouting report and a game plan is a big deal. Luckily, we had enough time outs in the game that we could do that but, if something had happened and that was our third mound visit, he has to come out of the game . . . I'm totally behind the speed up rules and I think they've done a pretty good job speeding the game up. But the one rule that has hampered the game's true form is the mound visit rule.