This year, Norfolk's Jonathan Schoop faced some adversity for the first time in his baseball career.
His troubles had nothing to do with a slump or a trade. The adversity was a stress fracture in his back that caused him to miss more than two months.
"I have never been out for a week, much less two months, and I've been playing since I was 4 years old," Schoop said. "I didn't know what to do. I couldn't walk away from it. I needed to fight my way through it."
Schoop has fought his way back onto the field for the Tides and is hitting .249 with eight homers and 31 RBIs in 56 games. While those numbers may not match the goals he set for himself before the season, they are more than respectable for a 21-year-old who's one of the youngest players in the International League.
"I knew I would be challenged by some good players with big league experience," Schoop said of his first taste of Triple-A. "My goal was to come here and prove myself, to play hard and to play well and do the things we need to do to win."
After a slow start in which he batted .222 in April, Schoop got hot in May. He was hitting .348 that month before the back injury knocked him out until the end of July.
But Tides manager Ron Johnson likes what he's seen from Schoop.
"He's still learning things a young player at this level needs to learn," Johnson said. "He's learning how to hit to right field, how to cut down strikeouts, things like that. But he's able to do some impressive things. When he runs into a ball and really hits it, it stays hit. He hits the ball like the guys in the big leagues do. He can turn the double play as well as anyone."
There remain kinks Schoop needs to work out offensively. He's struck out 46 times in 56 games and has drawn only 12 walks for a .300 on-base percentage. But the native of Curacao said he's just trying to keep things simple offensively.
"I'm just trying to get my pitch, see it and hit it," Schoop said. "If you chase bad pitches at this level, they're going to keep throwing them."
Defensively, Schoop has primarily played second base since his return from the disabled list. While he's yet to make an error at the position, he said he's still learning things in the field.
"I'm trying to think about what I do before I do anything," he said. "Before a batter steps in the box, I'm trying to think through the game, know what I'm going to do before anything happens.
"If you know what you're going to do before every play, things start coming easier to you. The smarter you are, the easier the game is."
Tight races: While two IL pennant races have been decided, two are still very tight entering the final weeks of the season. In the North Division, Rochester is on top by two games over Pawtucket with Buffalo 3 1/2 games back and Lehigh Valley 4 1/2 behind. And the Wild Card remains up for grabs as Pawtucket begins the week with a one-game lead over Norfolk, 1 1/2 over Buffalo and 2 1/2 over Lehigh Valley. Durham opens the week with a magic number of three to win the South, while Indianapolis' magic number in the West is five.
Cumpton's coming along: Entering July, Indianapolis RHP Brandon Cumpton had a 4-5 record with a 3.71 ERA. He was 0-2 in July and is 2-0 in August, although his other numbers certainly have improved. Cumpton has a 3.26 ERA over the past two months, including a 2.84 mark in August, to lower his overall ERA to 3.55. That ranks 10th in the IL.
He said it: "It was a stupid decision. It's not something I'm proud of. I hurt the team at the time. It will never happen again." -- Syracuse RHP Ryan Mattheus to The (Syracuse) Post-Standard . The "decision" Mattheus talked about was punching his locker after a bad outing for Washington in May. He ended up breaking his right hand and missed extended playing time. In two relief appearances with the Chiefs, Mattheus has allowed one hit and one walk over three scoreless innings.
He said it, part II: "Mike [McCoy] is just a scrappy-type guy. Sometimes he gets pushed back because of prospects, but he's just a really good leadoff hitter. He's pesky up there. He's not scared to take a pitch. He'll hit with two strikes. When Mike puts his mind to it, he really battles." -- Buffalo manager Marty Brown to the Buffalo News. McCoy is hitting .247 in 93 games with the Bisons; in 54 games leading off, he has a .348 on-base percentage.