WARSAW – Life as a professional athlete. It’s every little slugger’s dream, making the big leagues.
When life was put on hold recently, the already established dog-eat-dog world of professional athletics became even more uncertain. For a pair of locally grown baseball players, the road to the bigs abruptly took a sharp turn.
FISHING FOR THE RIGHT CATCH
His 2019 ended strong, and hopes of a bigger 2020 were in order for Tanner Andrews. He led his minor league club, the Clinton LumberKings, to the Midwest League Championship round and put together a stellar season. In his second season in the minors, the Tippecanoe Valley High School and Purdue University graduate made 22 pitching appearances for the LumberKings and built an 8-5 record and two saves. In 128 innings, he struck out 110 batters and compiled a sparkling 1.08 WHIP. Clinton is the Low A affiliate of the Miami Marlins.
Andrews was in Miami’s spring training camp this season, working in Jupiter, Florida. When Major League Baseball shut down operations on March 12, Andrews found out in a team meeting that life was going to change.
“We were in a meeting at the team hotel,” began Andrews of the notice. “I was disappointed. I was really excited to get the season started and have the opportunity to compete, but I understand the situation and that this is a time where we need to put health and other things in front of baseball and sports.”
The 24-year-old right-handed pitcher was stuck in limbo. Having just reported to camp at the beginning of March, his routine was cut short after two weeks. While likely heading back to the minors once operations start back up again, it’s the routine players crave that will have to change.
“It put us in a tricky situation especially as pitchers,” stated Andrews. “You don’t want to overdo it, but you also don’t want to regress. We’re kind of in a maintenance period which is hard to do.”
And pay is another issue altogether. MLB issued a statement looking to help ease the burden, stating, “Each player who is under a Minor League Uniform Player Contract will receive a lump sum equal to the allowances that would have been paid through April 8th. The exceptions to this plan are non-40-man-roster players who are already receiving Major League allowances; players who are currently receiving housing, food or other services from Clubs; and players who were not participating in, or expected to participate in, Minor League Spring Training. MLB remains in communication with Clubs on the development of an industry-wide plan for Minor League player compensation from April 9th through the beginning of the coming season.”
“As baseball players we’ve been out of a paycheck since last season, so by all means side employment is very helpful,” added Andrews, who noted he is ready and able to provide part-time help while baseball is shut down.
CATCHING A TRAIN FROM CENTRAL TO CLEVELAND
Tanner Tully is in the same boat as Andrews. The 25-year-old pitcher was ramping up his work in the Cleveland Indians spring camp and looking to make his name a little bigger out in the desert.
Having pitched in both AA and AAA last season for Akron and Columbus in the Indians’ farm system, Tully is already on Cleveland’s radar. But as everything happened earlier in the month, Tully was left wondering ‘what if?’
“When spring training shut down it all happened very quickly,” Tully said. “We had gotten word that things were stirring and going around but didn’t know what to believe. The Indians were very proactive and communicated with all the personnel the same no matter if you were staff, MILB, MLB or just personnel in the complex.”
Tully, who was Indiana’s Mr. Baseball and a state champion in 2013 at Elkhart Central High School, was as good as they came at the prep level. Tully went 26-3 and had an 0.46 ERA in three years with the Blue Blazers, including a 13-strikeout shutout in the state championship game his senior season. He went on to star at Ohio State before being drafted by the Indians in 2016. Last season, Tully pitched for both AA affiliate Akron and AAA affiliate Columbus, making 26 total starts and going 9-12 with 89 strikeouts in those appearances.
Tully had been in camp since Feb. 17, and noted the shutdown is going to prove challenging in maintaining the routine he had already established.
“Our staff has sent us at-home workouts as well as gym workouts,” Tully said. “They want us to be best prepared for the time when it comes. So we have a variety of things we can do. Our workouts have slowed as we do not know when we will ramp back up for season.
“My preparation has taken a step back just because I was built up for three innings when we got sent home, so I am still working at that pace. I’m just not going to take it higher as of right now.”