Professional baseball can be a lonely place, especially the short-season variety, where players often meet completely new teammates and coaching staffs several times during the same season.
The transition is much easier when you can bring some of your college teammates along with you. Such is the case with a group of Tri-City ValleyCats, who play their home opener tonight at 7 against the Staten Island Yankees at Joe Bruno Stadium.
Included on this year’s ValleyCats’ roster are four University of Oklahoma products: pitcher Ralph Garza, catcher Anthony Hermelyn, second baseman Kolbey Carpenter and outfielder Hector Roa, who transferred to Oklahoma Baptist before turning pro. Three of the four played for the Sooners this year and are good friends.
“Having four players coming in from the same [college] team is a very good thing,” said ValleyCats manager Ed Romero. “It helps the chemistry of the team. Those guys can be a lot more relaxed knowing each other already, and in the long run it will help everybody out.
“Chemistry is very important to every team. When the guys know each other and feel comfortable with each other, it can only help.”
The Oklahoma teammates graduated from a program that produced 11 draft picks this year, headed by Herlmeyn, a 21-year-old 4th round pick.
Heading into Wednesday night’s game, Hermelyn was hitting .222 with one RBI, the game-winner in the season opener against the Connecticut Tigers. The native of McKinney, Texas, hit .321 with a team-high 49 RBIs and six home runs this spring en route to being named a Big 12 first-team all-star as a utility player. He also played first base.
Hermelyn was also a 2013 freshman All-American and a 2014 Cape Cod League all-star. He was the highest-drafted position player for the Sooners since Jackson Williams was selected in the first round by the San Francisco Giants in 2007.
“Playing pro baseball for the first time, it’s great to have some of my teammates with me,” Hermelyn said. “There is so much to learn. As a catcher, I’ve got to learn a brand new pitching staff. Handling the pitchers is much more important than how well I hit, although that part of the game is always on your mind. I’ve learned to ‘flush it’ if I have a bad day at the plate, but you never really want to have a poor day calling a game.”
Another difficult part of Hermelyn’s transition is learning more Spanish.
“I took some Spanish in school, but not enough,” he said. “There are a lot of Latin American players on this roster, and I’ve got to communicate with them — especially the pitchers.”
“We have a lot of Latin American players in the entire Astros system,” Romero said. “They either make it here, move up quickly, or go home. The language can often be a problem. That’s one of the reasons having so many guys who know each other is a lot of help. We’ve had excellent chemistry on this team for the last several years, and that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been so successful.”
For Carpenter, who was hitting .333 with one RBI heading into Wednesday’s game, the biggest change at the pro level is using wooden bats.
“I’m so excited to be playing pro baseball for the first time,” he said. “It’s very different up here using the wooden bats. It’s not only the sound, but also the feel. The ball doesn’t go as far unless you make perfect contact. But I’m glad to be playing here with several of my college teammates. This looks like a great place to play, but we never know how long we will be here. That’s the nature of the business. We are all prepared to move up at any time.”
The Waco, Tex., native hit a team-high .360 for the Sooners and was a Big 12 first-team all-star. He batted .314 with 13 home runs and 74 RBIs in his three-year Oklahoma career.
Garza has a 4.50 earned run average and three strikeouts in two innings so far. He ranks third all-time in Oklahoma history with 84 pitching appearances and concluded his collegiate career with a 12-8 record, nine saves, a 4.20 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 150 career innings.
Roa, who also plays first base besides the outfield, is hitless in four at-bats so far, but he has a .241 batting average and 18 home runs in his minor league career, which began in 2012. He played for Greenville of the Gulf Coast League last year.
’cats lose in 12
Jeff Diehl tripled to right field, scoring Michael Katz with the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning, to help the Brooklyn Cyclones edge the Tri-City ValleyCats 2-1 in a New York-Penn League in Brooklyn.
Emmanuel Zabala walked to start the Cyclones’ rally. Katz tried to sacrifice Zabala over with a bunt, but pitcher Joselo Pinales threw to shorstop Kolbey Carpenter, forcing Zabala at second and setting up Diehl’s game-winning hit.
The 3-3 ValleyCats took a
1-0 lead in the third inning when Johnny Sewald walked with one out and moved to second on a single by Carpenter. Sewald stole third base and scored on a throwing error by catcher Natanael Ramos.
Brooklyn tied it up in the sixth on a single by Vincent Siena, scoring Tucker Tharp.
Tri-City starter Rogelio Armenteros struck out seven in five innings and allowed just three hits. Pinales (0-1) took the loss.
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Sewald cf 4 1 1 0 Tharp lf 4 1 0 0
Carpenter ss 6 0 3 0 Siena 2b 5 0 2 1
Hermelyn dh 6 0 1 0 Zabala cf 4 0 1 0
Woodward c 2 0 0 0 Katz dh 5 1 0 0
Muniz 1b 6 0 1 0 Diehl 1b 5 0 2 1
Carrasco 3b 4 0 0 0 Caraballo rf 4 0 0 0
Porter rf 4 0 1 0 Perez 3b 4 0 0 0
Melendez lf 4 0 0 0 Reyes ss 4 0 2 0
Marlow 2b 5 0 0 0 Ramos c 3 0 0 0
Kaupe ph 1 0 0 1
Garcia c 0 0 0 0
Totals 41 1 7 0 Totals 39 2 7 2
Tri-City 001 000 000—000—1
Brooklyn 000 001 000 001—2
One out when winning run scored.
E—Carrasco (4), Celas (1), Ramos (1), Reyes (4). DP—Tri-City 2, Brooklyn 3. LOB—Tri-City 13, Brooklyn 5. 2B—Siena (2), Reyes (1). 3B—Diehl (1). SB—Sewald (3), Carpener (1), Tharp (2). CS—Melendez (1), Diehl (1).
IP H R ER BB SO
Amenteros 5 3 0 0 0 7
Hernandez 4 3 1 0 0 6
Pinales L,0-1 2 1-3 1 1 1 1 2
Celas 4 2-3 3 1 0 6 3
Missigman 3 1-3 2 0 0 0 3
Palsha 2 1 0 0 1 2
Valdez W,1-0 2 1 0 0 1 3
HBP—Melendez (by Palsha), Tharp (by Hernandez).
WP—Hernandez, Celas, Valdez.
Umpires—Home, Mac Dietz; First, Rylan Wilhelms.
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