KITCHENER – If anyone is surprised with the Kitchener Panthers’ early success this year, skipper Brian Bishop says they can just look at his revamped starting pitching.
But they can also look at two men standing on either side of the mound, just a few paces back.
Shortstop Mike Glinka and second baseman Mike Andrulis have been an impactful offensive threat and a steady defensive tandem for the second-place Panthers in the Intercounty Baseball League at the quarter mark in the season.
Glinka, 24, was hitting .368 going into Friday night’s game against London. His double-play counterpart, 27-year-old Andrulis, was hitting at a .405 clip – good enough to put him third in the league.
They’re a big reason the Panthers are sporting an 8-4 record, are undefeated at home, and have proven they can beat the powerhouse Brantford Red Sox at their own game this year.
Ironically, it may be a painful hand injury that’s helped Andrulis find his swing in 2013. The second baseman tore two fingernails off his hand fixing a stationary bike only a few weeks before the season started.
The injury has made it hard to grip the bat tightly, which has forced him to hold the wood more loosely in his hands – and, apparently, get a better handle on pitches.
“Right now, it’s working for me. I couldn’t really grip the bat tight even if I wanted to. I’m feeling good out there, I’m seeing the ball well and everything is falling,” Andrulis said. “It’s uncharacteristic of me. Normally, I don’t start out to hot at all. But I’m having a good start, for once.”
Glinka, meanwhile, said he and his teammate are both using a patient hitting strategy at the plate, without swinging for the fences, and hoping their teammates can drive them in.
“I think our approach is kind of ‘see some pitches, put the ball in play, and get on base.’ We don’t strike out a ton, but we don’t necessarily knock the ball out of the park a whole heck of a lot,” Glinka said. “We’ve both been rolling with that approach.”
Both Andrulis and Glinka took similar paths to the Panthers – they learned the game in local little leagues, played for Kitchener's and Waterloo's junior-level teams, then graduated to the Panthers where they’ve been teammates for five years.
But they couldn’t have come from more different baseball backgrounds.
Glinka, the son of Polish immigrants who moved to Mannheim when he was an infant, was the first in his family to play the sport.
But for Waterloo-raised Andrulis, baseball was the family’s game. His older brother and father both played at a high level, and his uncle Henry Andrulis was the designated hitter for Canada at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
On the diamond, the pair look like they can read each other’s mind. They’re good friends off the field, and they’ve played together for so long they can communicate without using words, Glinka said.
“You can count on him, knowing he’s going to be there if you make a play. We communicate well. We have little hand gestures so we don’t have to speak. There’s a huge comfort level,” Andrulis said.
Like the rest of the team, they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now, after a string of wins against some of the strongest clubs in the league.
Boosted by strong starting pitching from the likes of American import Matt Robertson, who was to pitch against London Friday night, the Panthers are showing they’re not the same team that finished in seventh place last year – even with a notable lack of power so far.
Before Friday’s game, the Panthers had only swatted seven long balls this season, second least in the league next to last-place Burlington. But Glinka says the power will come – what’s more important is that their pitchers are keeping them in games, the defense is solid and the team continues to swat the ball all over the park.
“Hitting is kind of contagious, and it doesn’t always have to be a home run… It’s stringing singles and doubles together, having good at-bats and getting on base. We’ve been able to do that from the top to the bottom of our lineup,” Glinka said.
“We’ve just got to keep that train rolling.”
The look ahead
The Panthers will send out Mike McGillivray (one win, two losses) against the Barrie Baycats Sunday at Jack Couch Park, game time 7 p.m. McGillivray, sporting an inflated 8.41 earned run average, will try to continue Kitchener’s undefeated streak at home.
Ace Marcos Reyna (19 strikeouts and two wins) had his next start pushed back to this Tuesday in Guelph after being drilled on the elbow in last Sunday’s game against Brantford. First pitch goes at 7:30 p.m. The game will be rebroadcast on Rogers TV cable 20 the following night at 9 p.m.