Wisconsin Notebook: A Whole New Ballgame

APPLETON, Wisc. - The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers finished the 2004 season with a 57-82 record, leaving fans and players alike confused and disappointed. When Fox Cities Stadium slowly emptied for the final time last season, it left behind a bitter feeling those associated with the team hadn't been accustomed to... What a difference a year makes.

The 2005 Wisconsin team has sped out of the gate, going 6-1 against the likes of Peoria and Quad Cities, and it looks like the ghosts of a season ago have stayed hidden to this point.

"Consistency. That's pretty much the key to it," outfielder Josh Womack said. "Guys are picking up where other guys might be slacking. If the pitching isn't there, then the hitting has to be, and it has been. It's been real clutch. And it's the same the other way around."

Womack, who played with the Timber Rattlers a season ago, noted camaraderie as a major factor in this year's team success.

"This year, it's more of a team," he said. "We click real well. Everybody is friends, everyone gets along real well. People know their roles and we don't have any big-headed guys."

Everyone knowing their roles might be the perfect way to describe the early going for Wisconsin. The Rattlers have relied on many different aspects of the game, on different nights, to pull out victories. By and large, everybody has been contributing.

After Thursday's 1-0 victory over Quad Cities, Timber Rattlers' starting pitching has given up just nine earned runs through seven games (38 innings), while the bullpen has only allowed four earned runs in their 27 innings of work.

The hitting has been just as superb. After Thursday's game, the Rattlers were swinging a more than respectable .270 (62-230) as a team.

Relief pitcher Chad Fillinger, also a member of last year's squad, has noticed the improvement from last year's team.

"I think it's a combination of everything," said Fillinger, a reliever drafted in 2004 out of Santa Clara. "This team… just has that knack to know how to win. There's never any pressure or fear of anything. If it's 1-0 or 16-1, we're still playing the same way, and I think that contributes a lot to our success."

Another major reason for this season's early success has to be the new style implemented by first-year manager Scott Steinmann. Womack agrees.

"It starts with the coach, Steinmann has been awesome, and that reflects to us and we love playing for him," said the outfielder.

Whatever the reason may be – maybe it's a combination of them all - fans of the Timber Rattlers have been treated to some exciting baseball to open up the 2005 campaign. Though only playing seven games, it seems like the team has been in every situation and has risen to the occasion each time.

Talented teams come and go, while smart teams are a dime a dozen; but put the two together and you create something rather fantastic.

Ask any fan who has caught a game thus far at Fox Cities Stadium, and they'll be sure to tell you…

Things are looking fantastic for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

"Streak"ing: Rattlers' shortstop Matt Tuiasosopo extended his hitting streak to six games with a 2-out single in the third inning of Thursday's game. The third-rounder from Washington has hit safely in every game he has played so far this season.

Rattlers' starting pitcher Mark Lowe (1-0) pitched Wednesday's afternoon game, allowing only two unearned runs. Through two starts this season, Lowe has yet to allow an earned run in 12.0 innings.

Closing it Out: The Rattlers have won every game they've played (4-0) when leading after eight innings. This includes a perfect 2-for-2 in save situations, one credited to Walla Walla High product Eric O'Flaherty, the other picked up by Fillinger.

Walkin' in Style: Tuiasosopo's walk-off home run on Wednesday was the first walk-off by a Rattler in nearly two years. The last game-winner came April 27th, 2003 off the bat of outfielder T.J. Bohn.

Interchangeable Parts: Versatility has been crucial thus far for the Rattlers' team. Through seven games, the Wisconsin ball club has started three different players at third base and four players at second.

Up Next: The Timber Rattlers play at Peoria over the next three days before returning home for an eight-game homestand that begins on Tuesday, April 19.

Jake Fannin welcomes your feedback at jake.fannin@gmail.com.

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