SB Cubs relievers find ways to stay loose

Editor’s Note: A version of this story originally appeared for the South Bend Tribune on Apr. 22, 2017.

SOUTH BEND – After South Bend reliever Pedro Silverio struck out Dayton’s Hector Vargas to record the second out of the ninth inning Thursday night, all the relievers in the Cubs bullpen suddenly touched their noses.

Except Kyle Miller.

“Kyle wasn’t paying attention,” South Bend left-hander Wyatt Short said. “He was in the middle of a conversation, and then all of a sudden everyone touched their nose real fast and got him.”

 “For the second out of the ninth inning,” Cubs right-hander Jared Cheek explained, “the last person to touch their nose has to bring the ball bag in. Right when that second out happens, everyone quick touches his nose and then starts looking around to see who doesn’t.”

The nose game is just one of the quirks developed by those who sit in chairs in foul territory off the first-base line to pass the innings.

Another shenanigan might be familiar for fans of late-night television.

On his “Tonight Show,” Jimmy Fallon sometimes plays Password with his guests. The game pits four people — on opposing teams of two — against each other as one player from each team tries to guess the word given to their partner.

The hinter can only give his or her partner one-word clues, though.

“It’s just is based on thinking outside the box,” Cheek said.

“We always do this thing where — if we can’t think of a good hint to give our partner — we’ll say ‘man’ or ‘woman,’” Short said. “And anytime we say ‘man,’ ‘Mark Wahlberg’ is always the first answer out. We started it at the beginning of this year at Fort Wayne actually, and ever since then every time someone says ‘man’ his partner says ‘Mark Wahlberg,’ even if someone had said ‘athlete’ before, or ‘historian’ or something like that.”

Cheek and Short said no one pitcher drives the mischief down in the bullpen — it’s a group effort. They admitted there are a couple most likely to get the guys in trouble, though.

“It’s tough when I’m throwing somebody under the bus here,” Cheek said, “but I would say Dakota Mekkes, he’s up there.”

“I’d honestly have to agree with him there,” Short said. “Dakota or maybe Chad Hockin. But we’re all just down there to have a good time.”

Of course, not all the activities in the ‘pen are without risk.

“There’s one thing we like to do where if a foul ball comes to the bullpen, we’re not allowed to move unless it’s at the head,” Cheek said. “I’ve already worn one off the knee so far.”

“He took a good one off the knee,” Short said. “A really good one off the knee. There’s no way that didn’t hurt.

“He just sat there, too. I was trying so hard not to laugh.”

Short has avoided a similar impact — so far.

“I’ve come close,” he said. “I was sitting right beside Jared when that happened. He’s had two come at him, but one went in between his legs.”

Short added the best spot on the bench to avoid errant baseballs is “probably closest to the stands.”

“If you sit in the middle or more toward the field, you’re more likely to get hit,” Short said. “If it bounces off the wall it at least slows the ball down a little bit.”

So sit close to the stands — or at least away from Jared Cheek, the ball-magnet extraordinaire.

• South Bend 4, Dayton 2: Cubs leadoff hitter Zack Short put the first pitch he saw over the left-field fence. Pitcher Jose Paulino shut down the Dragons to earn his first win of the season, allowing just one run while scattering four hits over six innings of work.

Tyler Payne also homered in the third inning as South Bend extended its win streak to four on a cold and windy Friday evening at Four Winds Field. Chris Pieters tripled to spark a two-run fifth and spot the Cubs a 4-0 lead.

Kyle Miller held the Dragons to one run in three relief innings to pick up his first career save, and Wyatt Short had to carry the ball bag in from the bullpen.

Dayton 000 001 000—2 6 2
South Bend 101 020 000—4 8 2

DAY Andrew Jordan (L, 1-1), Ryan Hendrix (8); SB Jose Paulino (W, 1-0), Kyle Miller (7, S)

2B: T.J. Friedl (D)

3B: Chris Pieters (SB)

HR: Zack Short (SB), Tyler Payne (SB)

T: 2:10; Att: 5,021; U: Louie Krupa (P), Randy Wilmes (B).

Records: Cubs 8-6, Loons 9-5.

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