Crushers players want to win, but also get back to affiliated ball
AVON - Last season, Crushers right-hander Dale Dickerson was pitching in the Cleveland Indians farm system with the single-A affiliate Carolina Mudcats. This year, he’s even closer to Cleveland; he’s just not with the Indians anymore.
Avon, OH is just a 30 minute drive down I-90 west from downtown Cleveland, but the Frontier League is just about as far away as Dickerson could be from Major League Baseball while still playing the game professionally.
Dickerson was selected by the Indians in the 16th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Nicholls State, and he pitched in their farm system for four years before finding himself with the Crushers this season. He enjoyed the best year of his professional career in 2011, when he finished 3-3 with a 2.51 ERA in 55 games, climbing as high as double-A Akron on the organizational ladder.
He pitched in 30 games for Carolina last season, finishing with a 5-2 record and 4.38 ERA, before being released at the end of the season. He did not sign with any other major league affiliate, and finally washed up on the Lake Erie roster for the 2013 season.
Despite changing leagues, Dickerson is not changing his approach on the mound.
“Basically, it’s a situation where I’m just gonna take it as hitters are hitters," he said. "I’m gonna go at them and attack them the same way I would at any level. These hitters are good hitters; they have good approaches, and they’re here for a reason.”
The hitters, Dickerson, and every other player on a Frontier League roster are all here for a reason. They are all fighting for a chance to play with a major league affiliated team. Some of them are working for their first chance, while others, like Dickerson, are hoping to get at least one more.
There is a perception that players who have already had an opportunity to play affiliated ball may feel dejected or that their career has taken a step back in playing in the Frontier League, but this is not the case.
“No, that’s not it at all,” manager Jeff Isom said bluntly.
Crushers short stop Juan Sanchez provides the best example of not letting the perceived demotion lead to despondence. Sanchez was originally signed by the Minnesota Twins in 2006, before being selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the Triple-A phase of the 2008 Rule 5 Draft. Sanchez played parts of two seasons with the Nashville Sounds, the Triple-A affiliate of the Brewers, but only accumulated 13 at-bats in nine games played. Sanchez had just one hit at the Triple-A level, a single. He was never considered a serious prospect.
Now out of affiliated baseball for the first time in his nine-year career, his love for the game continues to shine through.
“I love baseball. I just want to try to help this team because I feel like we have a lot of good players,” he said.
While his goal is obviously to make it back to affiliated ball and eventually to the major leagues, he still sees any opportunity to play the game he loves as a blessing.
“It’s the same baseball, the same game,” he said. “When we are between the first base line and the third base line, for me it’s the same.”
Left-handed starting pitcher and the Crushers’ scheduled game two starter Matt Rein echoes the sentiment of just wanting to play the game he loves.
“I talked to Jeff [Isom] in the offseason and wanted to still play. Luckily, they had a spot for me here,” the southpaw said.
Rein pitched just one inning last season with the Batavia Muckdogs before getting hurt, but appreciates the experience he had with the single-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins.
“It was a good experience,” he said. “Anytime you’re playing baseball it’s a good experience. It was good to see how the business works.”
Now it’s time for Rein, just like Dickerson, Sanchez, and so many other players, to get to work and try to make it back into affiliated ball, and he knows what it’s going to take for his journey to resume.
“I gotta pitch well," he said. "You don’t get there pitching bad. Pitch good. Win games.”
Rein understands it’s his part to put the work in, but he can’t say for sure whether he’ll be given another opportunity.
“That one I don’t know,” he said when asked if he thought he’d receive another chance. “I think if I pitch well enough I think there’s a shot. That’s about all I can answer.”
Ultimately it’s up to higher powers whether that second opportunity will be given to these players who are hanging on for their baseball lives, but the hope is that if they go out and perform for their current team, then they will be rewarded with a second chance at every young boy’s dream.