Minor league baseball, major league motivation
With one deep breath, one grip of the threads, one wind up and one follow through, Sean Brady officially started his journey to the major leagues.
His fastball on Friday in Jamestown, N.Y. hit the outside corner of the plate as Carl Anderson watched it go by for strike one.
“It’s a big sigh of relief,” said Brady, a new member of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers – the short season Class A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians – even before taking the mound on Opening Night. “That first pitch sets the tempo for the rest of the season. After that first ball is released, then it’s time to settle in and get to work.
“You’re always working on getting your team a win.”
The Scrappers did earn a win on Friday, 10-9, over the Jamestown Jammers – a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate. Anderson did single off Brady, though.
“You can’t get too high on your positives or too low on your negatives,” Brady said.
That’s the proper approach for playing at this level.
The Scrappers are beginning their 16th season in Niles, a quick drive up Route 11. They’ve been members of the 75-year old New York-Penn League for that long, too.
This level is made for recently drafted prospects between the ages of 18 and 24. Brady was a fifth-round pick by the Indians in 2013. He spent last season in the Arizona Rookie League posting a 1.97 earned run average with 30 strikeouts and six walks in 32 innings pitched.
“The New York-Penn League is all about trial and error with these kids,” said Scrappers hitting coach Phil Clark. “It’s an introduction for some of these players and a chance for them to give us a good first impression.
“Performing well at the Low-A level won’t automatically get you to the majors, but it’s a good start.”
Outfielder Josh McAdams is back with Mahoning Valley for a second stint. The 2012 seventh-round pick hit .200 with 11 RBIs with the Scrappers, last season. He began the year at Class-A Lake County, the next step up, but was demoted as Mahoning Valley began its season.
“Things didn’t go exactly the way I wanted to up there,” McAdams said after batting .198 with only a .248 on-base percentage, while still searching for his first professional home run. “I know what I need to work on and hopefully and can get things straight here.
“(Mahoning Valley) is a great place to play. It’s a great place to focus and work on my mindset and get things back to where I know I can be.”
Clark has been a coach in the Indians organization for the past eight years after he finished up a five-year major league career with the Detroit Tigers, San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox. He also spent a few seasons in the Japanese Leagues.
The 46-year old hit .276 in his professional career with just 17 home runs, so he knows about riding the highs and waiting out the lows as good as anyone who has ever played the game.
It’s partially why he enjoys coaching at the Class-A level.
“At the start of the season, everybody has a high level of confidence,” Clark said. “Then if they struggle, you start to see the psychological aspect of sports come in to play.
“How will they break out of a slump? Can they break out of a slump? It all goes in to molding them as a professional.”
The Scrappers play at Eastwood Field in the Eastwood Mall Complex. The stadium’s capacity is around 6,000 and the team has averaged more than 3,000 fans per game each season.
When Steubenville resident and current Seattle Mariners third base coach Rich Donnelly managed the Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York-Penn League, many area citizens made the trek up to Niles.
“It’s a very nice ballpark, a very nice area and an easy drive away,” Donnelly said. “I’d always drive back home to Steubenville after games up there.”
More than 70 players who have seen major league action donned the Scrappers uniform at least once. Current Indians pitchers Josh Tomlin, Cody Allen and Kyle Crockett, with infielders Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis all began their careers with Mahoning Valley.
Even Pirates relief pitcher Jeanmar Gomez was a Scrapper.
Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia was on the team in its inaugural season in 1999, as was catcher Victor Martinez who is now with the Detroit Tigers.
Brady and McAdams may join that list in a few years. If not, there’s 29 other players gunning for a chance to move up.
“You can’t compare yourself to another player,” Brady said. “Everybody is playing for the same thing. You let the organization make those decisions.
“I’m here to play baseball and whatever happens, happens.”
Only he can control each deep breath, each grip of the threads, each wind up and each follow through.
(Peaslee, a Youngstown native, is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter at @thempeas)