From jerseys to action figures, the 300 Chicago Cubs fans who gathered behind Parkview Field's home plate concourse had just about everything for former All-Star pitcher Mark Prior to sign.
But signing autographs wasn't the main reason for Prior's visit to Parkview Field on Wednesday before the TinCaps played Lake County.
Prior is the San Diego Padres minor league pitching coordinator, traveling to each of the organization's minor league affiliates to check on the progress of the Padres' young pitchers.
“It's a lot of just kind of tinkering and tweaking and adjusting,” Prior said of his evaluation of players. “It's basically just trying to watch them and see what plays, what doesn't play, what do we need to improve on with guys.”
As a player who made his major league debut with the Cubs in 2003 as a 21-year old, Prior has given the TinCaps' pitching staff a role model with big-league experience.
“He gives endless advice, it's been awesome. I can call him about anything, I can text him about anything,” TinCaps starting pitcher Logan Allen said of Prior, who visits Parkview Field a few times each season. “He said he's someone we all can go to, and he definitely makes our experience here in Fort Wayne a lot easier.”
Allen, who came over to the Padres' organization in the 2015 trade that sent closer and five-time All-Star Craig Kimbrel to the Boston Red Sox, is 3-3 this season with a 1.75 ERA. The 20-year old southpaw was named a 2017 Midwest League All-Star on Wednesday.
“Logan's had a great year and first half,” Prior said. “(I'm seeing) where he's at and what his progress is in the things we laid out for him with his delivery and pitch selection.”
Apart from helping pitchers make adjustments, Prior also noted the importance he stresses to young players about appreciating their time in baseball, something the 36-year-old wishes he could've told himself at the start of his professional career.
“Ultimately our goal is to put them in positions to succeed, where hopefully at the end of their career, they look back and it's a positive experience,” Prior said. “Everybody's baseball career, whether it's two months or 20 years, it's a short time in the grander scheme of your life.”
In his third season as the Padres' minor league pitching coordinator, Prior continues to take his baseball experiences as they come, a mentality he's embraced over his time with the Padres' front office.
“I feel that we have a pretty big responsibility of trying to keep promoting this talent up through our system and hopefully help our big-league team,” Prior said.
“No day's the same for me in baseball, and that's what's fun for me.”