in Fort Wayne was in Fort Wayne to see the Wizards take on the South Bend Silver Hawks, the Midwest League affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. This week we will feature some interviews with the Padres prospects in Fort Wayne that could become future Padres as well as with Randy Ready, the Wizard's manager and former Padres player.

Minor League Level - The Wizards play in the Midwest League, a mid-level A league, which is the Padres lowest full season league. For nearly all the players, this is their first exposure to the type of lengthy seasons of the professional game. The Wizards will play just over 140 games, compressed into just under six months.

The Padres usually send players to Fort Wayne after completing the short season Northwest League (Eugene) or the Pioneer League, now the Arizona League in Peoria. Occasionally, a top prospect out of high school will start in the Midwest League, as did with Sean Burroughs in 1999. The Wizards have been affiliated with the Padres since 1999.

Manager - Randy Ready, first year managing the Wizards. Ready was a major league player from 1983 to 1995. His best year was in 1987 when he hit .309 with the Padres.

Current Padres Who Have Played in Fort Wayne - Sean Burroughs and Jake Peavy.

Current Record and Standings - The Wizards won 33 games and lost 37 for the first half of the season.

Top Prospects as rated by - four - #8 Sean Thompson, #10B Jared Wells, #38 Leo Rosales, and #40 Ryan Klatt.

Top Prospects as rated by Baseball America -Five -#13 Jared Wells, #14 Sean Thompson, #21 Billy Hogan, #22 Aaron Coonrod and #29 George Kottaras.

Potential MLB Players - George Kottaras, Jared Wells, Sean Thompson, Drew Macias, Fernando Valenzuela Jr., Jordan Pickens, Brian Wahlbrink, Ryan Klatt, Aaron Coonrod, Clark Girardeau (just promoted), Peeter Ramos and Brett Bonvechio.

Brief Overview - Going to a ball game in Fort Wayne is a treat. The ticket prices range from $6.50 for a bleacher seat to $9 for the best in the house, all within an extremely family friendly environment. Between innings and before and after the games the Wizards have a variety of activities ranging from mascots, nightly fireworks and occasional guest entertainers such as Myron Noodleman, a type of "Nutty Professor" character for baseball. The "Castle", as the stadium is known in Fort Wayne, offers a great place to view the game, eat some very good grilled chicken sandwiches and "brats" and maybe see the next Sean Burroughs or Jake Peavy.

The Wizards this year have been in a bit of flux with over 40 player transactions, but seem to have settled into a fairly stable line-up. The big difference with this year's team, as compared to others in the past, is the team's relative youth, which should yield greater numbers of major league players. The Padres were very successful in signing "draft and follow" players in the 2003. The term applies to players that were either drafted out of high school or attended Junior College who signed before the following year's draft. Talented players such as Jared Wells, George Kottaras, Drew Macias and the recently acquired Brett Bonvechio fall into this category. Kottaras, Macias and Bonvechio are all only 21 and Wells is just 22, which means they still have significant potential to develop into even better players as compared to the more polished college players whom the Wizards usually have had the past few years, but with lower development ceilings. Fernando Valenzuela Jr., although he went to three years at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, is also only 21.

Finally, a special thanks to Jared Parcell, Media and Community Relations Director, and Terry Byrom, the Radio Voice of the Wizards, for making an enjoyable trip even better.

John Conniff can be reached at

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