If there’s a player the Chaska Cubs want up to be up to bat with two outs in the ninth inning, down a run, Kris Goodman is their man.
While Goodman played independent ball as recently as 2017, it’s his work off the field that helps him be prepared for any situation in a game.
Goodman, an Apple Valley native, is a mental skills coach in Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays organization. A normal regular season would have taken Goodman away from the Chaska Cubs, but with minor leagues taking the year off with COVID-19, his responsibilities within the Rays organization have been primarily Zoom calls.
“We have six mental skills coaches in our organization. I work with our two short-season Rookie league teams. We’re regularly talking, looking at how we’re going to tackle the upcoming season,” Goodman said. “The component of how guys are handling the adversity, handling all the uncertainty, is something we are encountering. It’s important for those guys to focus in on something, direct their attention toward one thing as they are out of their routine.”
Goodman, who first came to the Chaska town team in 2018, was referred to by fellow Cub Chase Hentges, who met him at his HTP Sports Academy training facility in Apple Valley.
Goodman, a converted pitcher at Traverse City, Michigan, then a member of the Frontier Independent League, was released following the 2017 season. He was working out at HTP Sports Academy, looking to take another shot at playing professional baseball.
Hentges presented him with another option.
“I just had converted to being a pitcher that off-season. That was new for me. Pitching is very difficult, and it didn’t go the way I planned. I was trying to get signed by an affiliate team, an independent team, and Chase brought up playing for Chaska. I thought, ‘why not?’” Goodman said.
When he wasn’t working out of the Cubs’ bullpen in 2018, he was out in center field.
“It was fun to get out there and run around,” Goodman said. “I’ll tell you what gets the juices going for me. It’s the fans in Chaska. I just love having all of the people at the games.”
Goodman pivoted in 2018, focusing on his Masters Degree. When an internship came about in 2019 at IMG Academy in Florida, he jumped on, completing the necessary requirements to earn the degree in Mental Conditioning.
With his new role with the Tampa Bay Rays, this summer will be Goodman’s last with Chaska. A bittersweet finale.
“My job, it certainly helps now that I’m playing. Putting things that I practice, that I preach, to my own game,” Goodman said.
On July 7, Chaska trailing Burnsville 4-3, two outs in the ninth inning on the scoreboard, Goodman stepped into the box. Lead runner Brad Worm at second base representing the tying run.
“When I was on deck, even in the hole, I was hoping to get an opportunity to go up there and get a good pitch to hit and get a good swing on it. I think as a batter, sometimes we think about everything that can happen, we over think it. Really it comes down to simplifying everything,” Goodman said.
His heart racing, Goodman took the first pitch low.
“I thought, this is my domain. You know, players may come to me, ask me how to react to a situation like this and I tell them to ‘slow it down. Take a controlled breath.’ Everyone talks to themselves when they’re batting, so I very intentional in what I wanted to say to myself,” Goodman said.
The second pitch ended up over the left-field fence at Alimagnet Park in Burnsville, a 5-4 steal-of-a-win for Chaska after Mike Edlefsen worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth inning.
“To tell you how locked in I was, I got back to the dugout and the guys are what pitch I hit. I had no clue. All I knew I was on time and I got a great swing on it,” Goodman said.
Chaska, which is starting upwards of four new starters from 2019, owns five wins in the first five games.
After beating Prior Lake 6-4 and St. Louis Park 9-5 to open the season July 1 and 2, the Cubs came back with a strong second week, securing wins over Burnsville, a season sweep of Prior Lake 7-5 on July 9 and Carver 5-3 on July 12.
Goodman staked Chaska to a 2-0 early lead in the first game against Prior Lake with a two-run single. He reached base three times in the game. A late home run from Hentges sealed the opening win.
Chaska led Burnsville 3-0 early on as well, back-to-back doubles from Justin Johnson and Matt Halloran scoring two runs in the first inning before a J.T. Canakes solo blast had the Cubs in control.
Pete Ohnsorg surrendered just four hits, with no runs, over six shutout innings, but Chaska’s bullpen faltered, Burnsville taking the lead with a pair of runs in the seventh and eighth innings.
Versus Prior Lake, three surrendered runs in the seventh inning forced another comeback from the Cubs. Back-to-back walks followed by a Canakes single set the stage for a three-run frame themselves in a 7-5 win.
On Sunday, in front of the largest crowd of the short season at Athletic Park, Grif Kilber’s return to the mound was a good one, five shutout innings in a 5-3 win over Carver.
Canakes hit his second home run of the season, while Grif Wurtz walked twice, scoring both times for Chaska.
Carver tagged solo runs in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings, a Kevin Sampson double and Adam Fredericks sacrifice fly drawing the Black Sox within two runs late.
“I always think it’s fun,” Goodman said of playing with the Cubs. “We do have a different dynamic this season. A lot of younger guys. There’s some older guys that have been around the game a while, played in college, played professionally. The talk to the younger guys about different situations, how to see the game. On the other side, the young guys have a clean slate. It’s funny to listen to what they say. It’s fun to remember being that young. I just tell them to enjoy it. Enjoy the game.”