SIOUX CITY -- The parents of star athletes don’t really have things that much better than “normal” folks whose kids are either not sports headline grabbers or don’t play sports at all.
The more serious things become, I’m sure the peaks and valleys in parental anxieties just get steeper and deeper.
Heck, as virtually a lifelong champion of Siouxland athletes, it was even difficult for me to digest details on the very first professional baseball action for Daniel Tillo. The 2015 North High grad, less than a month past his 21st birthday, was making his professional debut last Monday in the rookie-level Arizona League.
A lofty third-round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals last month, Tillo was summoned for his pro debut with the Royals’ AZL squad trailing the Reds’ rookies 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning. A ground ball out started it nicely for the hard-throwing 6-foot-5 lefthander, but the next two batters both singled. Fortunately for Tillo, the second batter tried to take an extra base and was gunned down at second for out No. 2.
Then, as quickly as you can say single, double, hit-by-pitch and then another double, four runs had scored and Daniel was done, ultimately saddled with a fifth earned run when it took his replacement three more batters to pick up the final out.
Five earned runs in two-thirds of an inning don’t compute favorably for pitchers, which is why relievers can’t take those ERA stats too seriously. Vince and Susan Tillo, who’ve raised quite a talented bunch of young men, must have been bummed to see that gaudy 67.50 on “milb.com,” affiliated baseball’s official minor league website.
Professional baseball people know better than to place too much stock in one tough night or day. These things happen to the best of them -- every single one, I daresay. And, when you’re a third-round pick, the worm almost always turns.
So, although we won’t be tracking Tillo’s trek to the major leagues on a game-by-game basis, I’ll at least clue you in on an infinitely better showing Daniel made four days later against the Brewers’ rookie club.
Getting a start last Friday, Iowa’s 2015 “Mr. Basketball” looked more like the pitcher who mowed down batters for North and Iowa Western Community College after a pit stop at the University of Kentucky.
Working the first two innings for a team allowed to carry 35 players, he retired all six batters he faced. Three were strikeout victims, including Keston Hiura, this year’s ninth overall draft pick, who hit .442 this spring at UC-Irvine and was batting .439 as of Monday with three homers and 16 RBIs in 14 games.
Just that quickly, that ugly 67.50 ERA dropped to 16.88 and that’s better than a baby step.
Under the heading of “these things take time,’’ Sioux City prep baseball’s most accomplished alumnus in the active professional ranks is third baseman Damek Tomscha, drafted by the Phillies in 2014 out of Auburn University.
Tomscha was Iowa’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2010, the second of four Sioux City standouts to nab that prestigious honor in a seven-year span from 2009-15. Others were North pitcher Dean McArdle (2009), who hung it up after a solid college career at Stanford; East outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams (2013), a fifth-round pick by the Yankees out of South Carolina; and North outfielder Robert Neustrom (2015), a second-team All-Big Ten pick as a sophomore this spring at Iowa.
Turning in quality numbers through his first 342 games in the Phillies’ farm system, Tomscha was promoted last Thursday to Class AA Reading (Pa.), the Phils’ second-tier affiliate, after hitting .303 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 57 games for Clearwater of the Advanced Class A Florida State League.
Maikel Franco, a 24-year-old Dominican, is the Phillies’ starting third baseman and he has some power with 25 homers last year and 13 thus far this season. Franco, though, is batting just .224, which probably hinders his job security. At Triple-A Lehigh Valley in Allentown, meanwhile, the Phillies sold starter Taylor Featherston to Tampa Bay more than a month ago and have been using 30-year-old shortstop Pedro Florimon, another Dominican Republic native, at the hot corner.
Thompson-Williams hit .246 with 15 stolen bases in 56 games last summer with Staten Island of the New York-Penn League and he’s 23 games into another year with that Short-Season Class A team, batting .250. Patience is the keyword and organizations usually have more of it for higher draft picks like Dom.
Speaking of the roller-coaster ride that professional baseball or any other sport can be, I’m adding pitcher Alex White to my list of courageous and talented athletes I will be pulling for as the challenging journey he’s made continues.
A former University of North Carolina All-American, White was the 15th pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, going to the Indians. It wasn’t until two months later, in mid-August, that he agreed to a $2.25-million signing bonus, which delayed his first assignment for the Tribe until 2010.
After a 2.45 ERA in 2010, starting all but one of his 26 appearances, he was four starts into his second year, sporting a 1.90 ERA with Class AAA Columbus, when he moved up to “The Show.”
Three starts with the Indians yielded a 1-0 record and a 3.60 ERA, but he was bundled up in a package deal that sent him to the Rockies while Cleveland acquired veteran starter Ubaldo Jiminez.
Twenty-seven starts in 2011-12 in baseball’s least pitcher-friendly ballpark saw White surrender 25 homers and a 6.03 ERA with Denver’s National League entry. Something was wrong with his right elbow and Tommy John surgery followed in the fall of 2012, putting him out for all of 2013.
Try as he might in 38 starts and 21 relief nods over 2014-15, all in Triple-A, he was forced to have the operation again in September of ’15. So, Alex sat out another year (2016) and signed this spring with the Sioux City Explorers, showing signs of his old self.
Sorry to say that wasn’t the case after pitching six times, five of them starts, and he left Sunday morning for Chicago and another doctor visit, saying he hopes to come back next year if not later this season.