Queen Elizabeth parachuting out of a helicopter with James Bond was dang-skippy cool. Let’s hope the rest of the Olympics are just as great and entertaining. Now it’s still summertime and the sport of summer is always baseball or some form there of. Whether you’re a T-ball coach, minor/little league parent or a fast-pitch softball connoisseur, it’s a great game to take part in and get your kids involved in.
For a lot of little boys (and girls) there’s a dream of making it past the local and high school and university fields and into the world of professional baseball. Playing for the team you grew up cheering for and going to games and buying jerseys and posters of favorite players. Cory Baker in Byron Center – near Grand Rapids – Michigan has dreams of donning the Old English D of the Detroit Tigers.
The right-handed pitcher stands 6-foot, 6-inches tall and just finished his college career – one season at University of North Dakota, two seasons at Lincoln Trail Community College before finishing at Division II Grand Valley State in Michigan. He had some interest from major league teams but didn’t hear his name called in this year’s MLB draft.
But he did make a call after the draft – to the Frontier League’s Traverse City Beach Bums in Michigan. The minor league team consists of players ages 22-27 that make about $1,600 a month. The Beach Bums don’t have an affiliation with any Major League Team but any of the players can be signed by an MBL team and many have in its short tenure (they’ve been around since 2006.) Baker signed on as a professional player and is living the “high life” of the minor leagues.
But the Beach Bums may be in the minors but the stadium, fans, ownership and atmosphere are all major league. Set in a tourist community full of sandy beaches and sun the team sits in first place right now and has gotten better every year of its existence.
“I’ve only been in this league a couple of months but this is the nicest place, the nicest facility and field and the nicest area,” Baker said.
Though the team buses to such exotic locales as Rockford-Schaumburg-Joliet-and others in Illinois along with a few stops in Missouri, Kentucky and Ohio, Baker is used to long rides from his college days.
“The longest ride so far has been nine hours but in college we had a 13-hour bus ride once,” Baker said.
But he’s living the dream.
“I’m getting paid to play the game,” he said. “It was my dream to play professional baseball. So even though this is lower-A level, you’ve got to work your way up.”
So that’s what the “wanna-be professional reliever” is doing. And to make ends meet, each player lives with a “host” family that puts them up for the season. And the families treat the boys like members of their own family.
“They pretty much just spoil me. Whether it’s cooking meals for me and changing my sheets for me. And I feel bad, I’m like ‘can you give me some chores to do?’” he said. “It’s a great set up.”
His professional debut wasn’t out of a movie script but he’s hanging on.
“It didn’t go great but it wasn’t awful. I gave up a couple of singles and a couple of walks,” he said.
Was he nervous?
“I’m going to tell you that I wasn’t but we all know better,” he said. “So far I’ve done good out of the pen and they’re going to keep me there.”
He’s started and relieved but his preference is to be in the bullpen where the action is instant.
“You’ve got to get going right away. It’s more of an adrenaline pump, you’re coming in with the game on the line,” he said. “My stuff is better out of the pen.”
His biggest transition coming from college to pro is not making a mistake.
“In college you can get away with a lot more and the hitters don’t hurt you as bad. But now you know if you throw a fastball right over the middle somebody’s hitting it hard.”
The Tigers were looking at the lanky reliever through the draft but didn’t pull the trigger on him. But keep your eyes on this Michigander. You just might see his “two seam sinker” one day in Detroit – or on some other major league roster. Hey, he’d look good in pinstripes.
You reading this, Hal Steinbrenner?
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