Some go Back to the Bushes, Some Come Back to the Show

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Wednesday, May 23.

Between the length of the season and the sheer number of teams in the majors. every season offers new opportunities for some, and ends or defers dreams for others. Earlier this month, the Mets got rid of Matt Harvey, shipping him to the Reds.  Yesterday, another pitcher  who was said to have unlimited potential when he first came to the show was designated for assignment, meaning he’ll soon be traded or sent to the minors. An MLB pitcher I wrote of in glowing terms at the end of April is heading back to the bushes.  And yet, the dreams continue for several pitchers who have battled persistent injuries.

Earlier this month, Jonny Venters returned to the bigs for the first time in 6 years. The fact he ever reached the majors is surprising, considering he was taken in the 30th round back in 2003. He underwent his first Tommy John surgery less than two years later and lost the entire 2006 season.

Most 30th-rounders would then call it a career and go to work.  Not Jonny Venters of Pikeville, KY. He stayed healthy, joined the Braves in 2010 and was an All-Star the next season. After a respectable 2012, things started to go wrong.  He had his second Tommy John surgery in May, 2013. This was followed by a third TJS in September, 2014.  He would turn 30 the next year and lose the entire season.  Almost anybody would put his spikes in the back of his closet at this point. But Jonny joined the Rays, for whom he was finally able to pitch this month.

Another success story can be told about Ryan Bollinger, who will suit up with the Yankees when they face Texas tonight. In my salad days, people would say I had nerve because I would go to baseball games and boxing matches with my Seeing Eye dog.  I say Ryan Bollinger had nerve far beyond his years.  He was drafted out of high school in the 47th round by the Phillies in 2009.  He must have known more about the system at age 18 than I knew about it at age 30 or so.

Bollinger knew a 47th-round draft choice wouldn’t get the same chance that an earlier draft pick would.  So he chose the independent Frontier League over being a late draftee. The White Sox spotted him in the Frontier League and signed him.  In 2014 he was again a free agent.  He played for St. Paul and Winnipeg in the independent American Association, then spent parts of 2015–16 in the CanAm League. In 2017 he played in Germany in the summer, then in Australia during our winter.  That’s when the Yankees called.  He’s 27 now and has split this season between the Yankees’ AA Trenton Thunder and their AAA Scranton-Wilksbarre RailRiders. He was a starting pitcher in the minors, going 5-1 with a 1.86 ERA.  Doubtless he’ll be in the bull pen for the foreseeable future.

What fuels the dreams of a Venters or a Bollinger?  John Steinbeck used the term “a terrible faith” in his novel “The Grapes of Wrath.”  It seems to me the same terrible faith keeps the Venters and Bollingers of the world going.

They ride buses rather than old jalopies, but the dreams are as tenuous and the hopes as thin as they were for the Okies in the movie starring Henry Fonda. But in that movie which shows a picture of unrelieved despair, once in a great while an unlikely man makes it. Our last one for the day is John Andreoli, late of the University of Connecticut who made waves playing for Italy in the last World Baseball Classic.  He’s heading to the show with the Mariners.

Then there’s the other side of the coin.  Remember the Pirates’ Nick Kingham, the kid who retired the first 20 men he saw as a big leaguer? He’ll be telling that story in AAA for the time being.  He didn’t do badly at the highest level, a 2-1 record with a 3.44 ERA. But nothing was promised to him when he came up, and the Pirates think somebody else can do as well or better. So he’s going back to their Indianapolis AAA team.

The man who was most recently designated for assignment (DFA) is Phil Hughes of the Twins.  So much was expected of him when he joined the Yankees in 2007. He was part of their 2009 World Series team and an All-Star a year after that. He won 18 games in 2010 and 16 in 2012.  But 2013 was a disaster, a 4–14 record with an ERA north of 5.  He had to pack up and move west after that, joining the Twins in 2014. He won 16 for them that year but hasn’t been close to that since. Both he and Matt Harvey have had thoracic outlet syndrome and needed surgery to put it right.  Harvey has found a home in the Queen City, with a 1-0 record and a 2.56 ERA in 3 starts for the Reds.   Hughes’ baseball fate is unknown.


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