Duck decoy calls for productivity at plate

Atop the rain-soaked outfield turf at Corbett Field sits a mallard duck decoy. Its green head, yellow beak and gray wings bask in Tuesday’s warm morning sun. But this isn’t any duck decoy. This fella functions as the Minot Metros’ weekly award.

Coach Jason Steele presents the team’s offensive player of the week with its traveling trophy: a vibrant, waterfowling tool with a Metros window cling affixed to its back and the words “2013 METROS ‘MR. PRO-DUCK-TIVE'” applied with permanent marker.

“I am (a hunter) and a lot of the guys on the team hunt, too,” said Steele, who invented the award along with former Metros coach Travis Smith. “The duck decoy is usually a donation from one of the dads every year. We just ask somebody, ‘Who’s got a duck decoy? We need it!'”

Though comical, the witty prize spreads a strong message in the Metros dugout.

“It’s a motivator,” outfielder Alex Arrayan said. “I try to do something for my team and be productive with each at-bat. Try to get on base, try to score a guy.”

Be productive is the message and each player’s goal. Swinging for the fences isn’t conducive to productivity at the plate, or earning a “pro-duck-tive” point.

“The new wave of hitting is just being productive,” Steele said. “Things like moving a guy over when he’s on second with less than two outs, sac bunts and sac flies.”

Points are also granted for base hits, walks, being hit by a pitch, reaching base on an error and eight-pitch at bats, among a laundry list of other plays.

Assistant Fred Nelson coaches first base and keeps the tallies of the competition. He’s the Mr. Pro-duck-tive award commissioner.

“A lot of times the kids will come up, get to first base and ask where they’re at because they’re all competing against each other,” Nelson said. “That makes it pretty fun.”

Along with owning the male mallard decoy for a week, Mr. Pro-duck-tive receives privileges on road trips. He gets first dibs on bus seating, makes the movie selections and chooses which restaurant the team will eat at. Steele said that power leads to some playful corruption.

Arrayan and center fielder Trevor Ringoen, who have each won the prize once, admitted to receiving some bribe offers during their reign as Mr. Pro-duck-tive, but wouldn’t expand on the terms of the propositions.

“A lot of the kids will bribe each other because of the duck,” Steele said. “They’ll say, ‘I’ll buy you a Powerade if we can eat here.'”

Steele added that along with the mild, intrasquad bribery, he’s seen plenty of light-hearted trash talk among teammates.

“They kind of just rag on each other,” said Steele, just as outfielder Liam Owens quipped, “I’ve got (the duck) next.”

Left fielder Hunter Duttenhefer said after garnering Mr. Pro-duck-tive honors a team-best three times, winning it is ho-hum to him and failing to maintain his stranglehold on the award is irksome.

“You get used to it after a while,” he said with a sarcastic grin. “It gets a little harsh when you don’t get it but you hopefully get the duck the next week. You work twice as hard to get it.”

Looking past the locker room banter, Steele noted that rewarding players for valuable at-bats is an effective training method. Each game, the Metros’ goal is to notch 14 productive at-bats collectively.

“A lot of time, if you look back at close games and we had less than 14 (productive) at-bats, we lost,” Steele said. “If we get to that 14 mark, a lot of times we’re going to win that game.”

With the Junior Legion state tournament a couple of weeks away, the Metros (14-17) seldom worry about batting average or slugging percentage, home runs or doubles hit. Instead, they want to be Mr. Pro-duck-tive.

“It’s almost like none of the kids really care about their stats,” Steele said. “They’re more concerned whether they had a productive at-bat or not. That’s exactly what we want.”

Ryan Holmgren covers Legion baseball and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgrenMDN.