The Herald Bulletin

April 7, 2014

George Bremer: Spring brings renewed hope

The Herald Bulletin

---- — Bobby Abreu laced a line drive single into right-center field Thursday night. Not really a noteworthy feat for a 17-year Major League Baseball veteran with 2,437 career hits.

But the venue was unique — Cashman Field in Las Vegas, home of the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s.

Abreu, who hasn't played in the majors since 2012 with the Dodgers, later reached second base after a wild pitch. An infielder for the visiting Fresno Grizzlies walked over moments later and took the opportunity to shake Abreu's hand.

This is a sight only possible in baseball. The NHL has a robust minor-league system, but veteran players don't often appear in it. The NBA's developmental league is exclusively for young players, and the NFL has no formal minor-league structure.

Aging baseball stars, however, routinely hang around at the Triple-A level hoping for one more shot at The Show. It allows the next generation to test itself against players who already have been to the mountaintop and learn how they measure up.

Three former Madison County high school stars will continue doing just that this summer.

Former Pendleton Heights star Brock Huntzinger went 5-2 with a 1.83 ERA and 13 saves last season at two stops in the Red Sox's organization. He signed with the Orioles as a minor-league free agent during the offseason and opened this year at Triple-A Norfolk.

If he isn't called up to the big club first, Huntzinger will make a stop at Victory Field in Indianapolis from May 9-12.

Anderson's Michael Earley also got a taste of Triple-A last season in the White Sox's organization. He opened the season at Double-A Birmingham, where he collected a Southern League championship ring alongside his teammates before an exhibition game with Chicago.

Earley's younger brother, Nolan, hit .310 in his first professional season with the White Sox's rookie league team in Bristol, Va., and looks to have a bright future in the organization.

A fourth player with Madison County ties — Anderson native Jake Roberts — spent the spring with the Diamondbacks when his contract was purchased after one season with the independent Windy City Thunderbolts.

Roberts' story is unique. He began pitching last June 27 when he signed with the Thunderbolts and immediately posted a 1-1 record with a 1.66 ERA, surrendering just 15 hits in 21 2/3 innings.

He's currently awaiting assignment within the D-Backs' organization, where he hopes to continue his inspiring rise.

And, really, isn't that what spring is for? Hope and the promise of a new beginning?

Whether you're a seasoned veteran like Bobby Abreu or a fresh face like Jake Roberts, it's all about opportunity.

The fun is in watching players attempt to cash in.