No, not just because it marked his 29th game out of 31 in the Akron Aeros starting lineup. And not only because he just finished one of the best months of his career.
But Sunday, July 1, was Canada Day. And for the 24-year-old and only Canadian on the Aeros team, that meant a special observance at Akron’s Canal Park.
Before the afternoon game, a local hockey fan sang the national anthem while draped in a red maple leaf flag. Throughout the game, Weglarz and teammates shared their love for Canada on the Aeros video board. There were Canadian random facts, plenty of beavers and many, many snippets of “Oh Canada”1.
“It was fun,” said Weglarz, whose mugshot was replaced by Wayne Gretzky’s during the game. “I think we did something like that a couple years back where we just threw something on the video board. But yeah, it was fun, it was just something to break the stretch up. I think we’re at what 20 something [gamedays] in a row now. So it was something fun to do.”
Adding to the fun has been Big Red’s turnaround over the last seven weeks.
On May 12, Weglarz was designated for assignment and removed from the Indians’ 40-man roster to make room for Jose Lopez. At that point, the red-headed 2005 third-round pick was struggling mightily, batting just .202/.295/.333 in part-time play this season.
It was a catastrophic fall for the slugger Baseball America ranked as one of Cleveland’s top six prospects for three straight years from 2008-10. But injuries and inconsistency had taken their toll on him for the better part of the last five years.2
A burly 6-foot-3-inches and 240 pounds, he suffered injuries to his shin, thumb, leg, meniscus and knee since 2010 alone.
After his release, Weglarz consequently spent a week in the minor league equivalent of purgatory. It wasn’t clear to the outside eye if Weglarz might have played his final game in the Indians system. But the Stevensville, Ontario, native remained ever confident.
“When I was taken off [the roster], we had a meeting and I told them, ‘I will play in the big leagues,’” he said. “’Whether whatever team, whoever it’s with, I’ll be a big league player one day.’ That’s never crossed my mind to give up or do anything like that.”
He returned as an official Aero on May 19. He played in eight of the team’s remaining 13 games that month before getting yet another chance as a full-time starter in left field/DH by the beginning of June.
With the major-league team in desperate need of some power, Weglarz showed that he still has some pop in his bat. During the recently completed month, he batted .292/.415/.625 with eight doubles, eight home runs and 21 RBI in 28 games. He led the Eastern League in total bases, tied for the lead in homers and extra-base hits, and ranked in the top five in walks, doubles, average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS.
Unfortunately, that high level wasn’t on too much of a display during Canada Day on Sunday. He went 0-for-4 at the plate with three long fly-outs, and the league-leading Aeros (49-33) lost for the 12th time in their last 20 games.3
Despite the sobering team mood Sunday afternoon, Weglarz agreed that June 2012 was the best month of his minor league career. When asked about what he’s learned from his back-and-forth journey this year, he said a lot has to do with the mental aspects of the game.
“I found out a lot about who I am as a player, you know, mentally,” Weglarz said. “Finally, again, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to play everyday, and physically I’d say I’m in the best shape of my life and my body’s finally holding up, but the mental side, I’ve broken it down to not even letting a pitch [go by].”
“… It is pretty true when people say it’s 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical in baseball. It’s a mentally draining game. So I found out, you know, I am capable of doing that and I am capable of playing at a high level every game.”
The left-handed hitter said he hasn’t been taking any pitch, let alone any at-bat, for granted. He mentioned that he’s hit a number of first-pitch doubles and home runs this month. While he didn’t say it was a matter of being more aggressive, he did say the difference has been his readiness to swing at any pitch, no matter the count.
“Being ready every pitch, I wouldn’t say more aggressive,” he said. “I try to stay the same aggressive, just being ready every pitch to put my best swing on it.”
Weglarz said his Aeros teammates bugged him quite a bit Sunday about being on the video board all day representing his country. But in the end, the red-hot Canadian got the last laugh with one mighty swing:
“I had the chance to throw in that we won the War of 1812,” he said jokingly with a laugh. “Americans seem to forget that war.”
Canada Day 2012 in Akron, Ohio, didn’t have the happiest ending for Nick Weglarz. But he’s hoping his Cleveland Indians career might just have a happier ending in store for him sometime soon.
Nick Weglarz swings during a game earlier in June at Canal Park. Photo above via Akron Aeros.
Those lucky enough to be in the Canal Park press box also heard Akron Beacon Journal writer Stephanie Storm and I belt out the anthem, too, in the seventh inning. Weglarz laughed at the idea of that after the game. [↩]
After playing 127 games in 2007, Weglarz’s durability became a major question mark. He played 106 in 2008, 105 in 2009, 87 in 2010 and just 41 in 2011. He also first reached Double-A in 2009 and has only played 50 career games in Triple-A. [↩]
In fact, the Aeros were shutout for the first time since April and had a 10-minute, closed-door team meeting after the contest. For Stephanie Storm’s recap of the game, check out this link. [↩]
Jacob Rosen is a long-time contributor to WaitingForNextYear. He's also a writer online at SportsAnalyticsBlog and Nylon Calculus . An Akron native, Jacob is a current MBA student at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. You can follow him on Twitter @WFNYJacob or e-mail him at udjrosen(at)gmail(dot)com.