“I’m Home Mama” Part II

My parents and I hightailed it for Hartford at 7am from my host families house in New Market, MD for my Double-A debut. I slept for the entire ride and my parents dropped me off at the hotel in Newington where I met up with my man Cole Billingsley, another Frederick Key that got the call up who made the wise decision to fly instead of drive. We took the bus over to the stadium and walked into the clubhouse, which was the nicest one I’ve ever been in either as an away or home player. After putting all my stuff into my locker and saying hi to guys I knew and meeting some new teammates that I didn’t, Buck Britton came around the corner and posted the line-up. There I was, batting sixth and playing third base in Hartford on a Wednesday night.

I didn’t realize how nervous I was until my first at-bat. I made one play it the field, receiving a two-hopper from a lefty and proceeding to bobble it to make it look way more difficult than it was. Then it was finally my time to walk up to the plate. Dunkin Donuts Park played ‘Little Willy’ by the Sweets as I prepared for my first Double-A plate appearance.

“Cause Little Willy, Willy won’t go home,” blared throughout the stadium, a clever play by whoever made that choice considering, it was the closest I had been to home since February 1st.

I took the first pitch I saw for a ball, then I got a fastball that was up and in, but in the strike zone. I kept my hands inside the baseball and got the barrel to it, driving it down the left field line. Off the bat I thought for sure it was going foul, but to my surprise it had way more backspin than side spin and appeared to hit the base of the foul pole and roll about 150 feet back towards third base. Rylan Bannon came around to score and we were up 1-0.

The Yard Goats manager came out and argued that the ball was foul, and I had a gut feeling that they were going to call it back. They spoke for about a minute or so and I had a chance to look around the stadium to soak up in the moment. I found my parents in the stadium, really focused while praying the umpires didn’t mess this call up. I saw a group of friends from home down the first base line going bananas on the fact that I was even standing on the field. The umpires concluded that the call on the field stood, and I had my first Double-A hit and RBI.

But remember how I said, ‘the base of the foul pole’? I didn’t realize it at the time, but many people came up to me after the game and said that should have been called a home run. That’s why it ricocheted back so hard, because it hit the concrete yellow line that is considered the base of the left field foul pole. What could have been right? I didn’t care, we had a game to win and that was the Bowie Baysox first run.

The top of the 9th of that game was a crazy inning. We were down 6-5 with three outs to go. After a single, a sacrifice bunt, and an error, it was 1st and 3rd with one out and my time to hit. Skip pinch ran for our right fielder who had just reached on the error, so we had speed on both bases and he gave me the safety squeeze sign. All I had to do was get the bunt down towards the first baseman to get a game tying RBI with the speedy Ryan McKenna on 3rd. Instead, I worked one of my eight walks on the season (8 walks, yes that’s right, ocho, eight total walks) to load the bases.

Our left fielder, my roommate and my dawg Billingsley, then beat out a ground ball to second to prevent the double play and tie the game, but hurt his knee stepping on first. We put up four more runs after that to take a 10-6 lead, but after having to use two pinch runners, I had to go out and play left field for the first time since 2015 college summer ball (“a throwaway game up in Rochester”-Herb Brooks… but actually). I had no clue what I was doing out there in the bottom of the 9th in my Double-A debut. Literally 24 hours earlier, I was in Frederick rounding the bases after the guy behind me hit a game-winning bomb in the bottom of the 8th. Now I was playing left field against the Hartford Yardgoats. I was trying to focus on the foreign position while fans started chanting “UConn!… Huskies!…” and even “Housatonic baby, Berkshire League!” Somehow you can hear that stuff more in the outfield. Luckily for the Baysox, I had no action out there and we won the game 10-8.

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Ma and Paugh with me after my first Double-A game in Hartford.

After the game I met a crowd of friends, family, former teammates and classmates from all over the state who came out to watch. I couldn’t have felt more grateful to all those people who came on such short notice to support me. It was one of the happiest and overwhelmingly joyous days of my career.

Finally, we went back to our home field for the first time in Bowie where I found my truck after my amazing host dad and brother drove it over there from New Market (Jon and Lucas you’re heroes). I moved in with my new awesome and generous host family, the Fenn’s, and settled into the second half of the season. Before I continue, I still cannot stress enough how amazing both of my host families were for me this year. I could not have gotten luckier to have the Witt’s and the Fenn’s open their homes to me and create great friendships with each family.

After a pretty solid first week with Bowie, things started to go south. The swing and confidence that I had developed through my Frederick experience felt like it was eluding me as July began, and the month would prove to be the worst slump I had ever experienced in my entire life. I was in the “Interstates” as July came to a close, meaning I was hitting in the 100s most of the month. I hit .148 for the month and brought my Bowie average to .188 after an 0 for 3 performance with two strikeouts in Binghamton. Thankfully, so very thankfully, that was where I bottomed out, as my accursed month of July 2019 came to a close.

 

Willy at Bowie 2019
On Sunday home games with the Baysox, we wore these jerseys and became the Cangrejos Fantasmas de Chesapeake for Minor League Baseball’s Hispanic Outreach Effort. 

My second game of August, in Trenton on Thursday the 8th, I had my first three hit game of the second half. My average went from .191 to .225 in three at-bats (yeah, that’s where I was at that point). My at-bats were low because I was the back-up infielder, just like I was in April in Frederick. Our third baseman was an All-Star, and our second baseman played in the big leagues for the Phillies last year, so I was not surprised, being that we were in a playoff push. Despite that, in 13 games in August I hit .289 and it couldn’t have felt better. Not just to salvage the second half and at least get to a more serviceable .223 (ew), but to be able to contribute when it mattered during the playoff push.

Screen Shot 2019-11-03 at 10.18.32 PM.pngAfter an Erie Seawolves loss late in the schedule, we finally clinched the Western Division while in Richmond, Virginia, and we were playoff bound. It was my first time making the playoffs in professional baseball and it was electric. The Baysox bought us 270 beers and 40 champagne bottles to pop and spray all over each other and drink as much or as little as you want, it was an absolute blast. Raging like that with the boys, and having videos of us posted everywhere doing so, was really weird. But it’s just what you do in professional baseball when you win. It is probably the only time in any of our lives when we can be drunk and rowdy and have videos of us posted on social media and it’s totally OK.

We gave it all we had in the playoffs and made it to the championship series, but lost to the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees Double-A affiliate. They brought down Severino, Betances, Montgomery, and Tarpley to face us in that series, and the only game we won of the four was the one that Severino pitched. It was crazy seeing those guys up close, considering I grew up a Yankees fan and I knew I was going to be watching some of those guys as the Yankees neared the MLB playoffs.

 

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The Bowie Baysox host family squad, the Fenn’s, from Severna Park.

So, that was it. September 13 was the 148th and final game of the 2019 season. I said goodbye to the Fenn’s and went back to New Market and said one last goodbye to the Witt’s and went home.

You never know what this game is going to throw at you. Over the course of an at-bat, a game, a season, and a career, the game takes twists and turns you don’t expect. 2019 did just that. This season gave me what felt like the peak of my ability as well rock bottom of my ability. This offseason is going to be a huge one for continuing on this current trajectory towards a dream I have had since I was four years old, and I cannot wait to get better and get to work.

 

 

2 thoughts on ““I’m Home Mama” Part II

  1. Wayne Randall

    Congrats on your season and your continued advancement Willy! I can’t wait to see what next year brings. Say hello to your dad for me.

    Like

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