Opening Day 2018 is now upon us. In my opinion, it should be a national holiday; baseball is, after all, America’s past time. A lot of football fans may debate me on that and my argument would be to simply quote James Earl Jones’ monologue in “Field of Dreams.” The game is a symbol of who we are deep down. Until the final, out is made everyone is given their due. There is no taking a knee to run out the clock in baseball. This year on Opening Day there will be a few more Cardinal 9 Alumni gracing the diamond than there were at this time last year. A testament to the tremendous job Coach Mac has done and the outstanding work these guys have put in on their own.
This week’s alumni spotlight shines on Cherokee, Iowa native Cody Ege. During his freshman year, Ege was cutting his teeth both in the outfield and on the mound as a two-way player, eventually making a full-time move to the bullpen. He was not a major contributor during his first two years at Louisville and his future seemed uncertain. However, that all changed in the summer between his sophomore and junior years.
Ege devoted himself to the weight room and did whatever it took to become a dude out of the pen. On top of that, he became everyone’s favorite chicken chef on campus at Cluckers. In the spring of 2013, he was one of the dudes. A new arm slot and a frisbee slider had Ege twisting opponents hitters into absolute knots. Coach Mac continuously talked to us about guys being good to the game and the game being good back to them.
Ege was one of those guys; he still is. It was no wonder it’s him collapsing to the ground just off the mound at Vanderbilt closing out the Super Regionals sending us to Omaha. That image will forever be ingrained in my memory and it is so fitting that it was him slamming the door on the #2 Commodores in what was one of the best years in SEC history. The Ege train was just getting rolling though as he completed that season pitching in front of a special home crowd in TD Ameritrade Park at the College World Series. The Texas Rangers drafted him in the 15th round and he quickly ascended through the ranks of the minor leagues. In the summer of 2015, he was traded from the Rangers to the Marlins where a few months later he would make his major league debut. After his cup of coffee with Miami, he ended up with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He has spent the offseason working out with Eric Hammer and my brother, Colin Holba of the Jacksonville Jaguars as he prepares for this upcoming season. Always a genuine guy, I’m appreciative that Cody took a few moments to answer a few questions after grueling reps in the gym.
Q. Why did you pick UofL?
A. With Matt Koch attending the year before me, I had visited him in Louisville. He showed me around the city and University and I knew I loved it. On top of all the stuff off the field, the baseball program was becoming a yearly contender for Omaha.
Q. What did it mean to you to close out the Super Regional and send the team to Omaha?
A. It didn’t mean much to me to close out the Supers. I just wanted to do my job, wherever that may have been, to help our team get to Omaha. I would have gladly thrown in the 6th if I was needed. It just happened to work out that I got my chance to close it out. And I knew I wanted it more than them.
Q. What was it like playing in Omaha so close to your hometown?
A. Playing in Omaha was a dream come true. I dreamt more about Omaha than I ever did about getting drafted or anything of that sort. Growing up near Omaha I got to attend the CWS every year, even if it was just for one game. I saw those players on the field in Omaha and wanted to be there so badly. I got the bitter taste when I went to the CWS in 2012 after we had just been stomped by a very good Arizona team. I saw Arizona on the field and the fire inside of me just burned deeper. I knew we had to go.
Q. When you first got drafted what was going through your head?
A. We were getting ready for the game two of the super regionals against Vandy, our shot to go to Omaha. I told everyone if I got drafted I didn’t want to know about it until after the game, but that didn’t last. I was picked in the 15th round just before the game started. Everyone came down to the bullpen to congratulate me and I was just trying to focus on our game ahead. I somehow managed to do that very well. As soon as our game started I didn’t think once about pro ball. It was all Omaha. I knew the whole draft thing would be there after the game.
Q. There are plenty of stories about guys getting called up to the Big Leagues, what did your call up entail?
A. I was asleep in New Orleans. We had a bus to the airport at roughly 4 AM. I’m obviously in bed and asleep early. I wake up at 115 to my phone ringing. It was the manager of the team. He first asks if I’ve ever pitched in the big leagues. I respond with a no. And he says good, you have a flight in a few hours. He told me to get up and get everything packed. I hung up and realized I had missed calls from him, our pitching coach, our athletic trainer, and our strength coach. They almost had to send someone to the hotel to wake me up and tell me I was going to the big leagues. It was all a dream come true.
Q. What are your thoughts on the current status of minor league ballplayers and their pay?
A. The minor leagues are an absolute grind. Never sleeping in your own bed. Showering in the worst places. Playing on fields that wouldn’t suite a high school. I believe that minor leaguers should be paid more. Not a significant amount, but more. I know of guys who had to leave the game because they had to go get a real job and support their families. Every guy wants to start and be able to support their families, but with the pay what it is now, it is impossible.
With Spring Training 2018 in the books here are the final ST stats for the Cardinal 9 Alumni who got to shine on the big stage.
Drew Ellis played in 5 games at the end of Spring Training collecting 2 hits, both doubles, and 1 RBI. He looked impressive in his first big league spring training opportunity.
Matt Koch started 4 games and got touched up a bit with a 4.40 ERA, 11 strikeouts in 14.1 innings and a WHIP of 1.26.
Boston Red Sox
Cole Sturgeon finished off the spring as the hottest hitter in the Red Sox lineup. He played in 9 games and hit .583 with 2 doubles, a home run and 6 RBI’s. Sturgeon has made a strong case for himself with the big club going into the season.
Chicago White Sox
Adam Engel has earned the starting role in Centerfield for the Southsiders after a very hot spring where he got back to his ways at the plate that won him the Arizona Fall League MVP in 2015. His final line for the spring was .383/.453/.702/1.155 with 3 doubles, 4 home runs and 10 RBI’s.
Adam Duvall continues to live up to the nickname “Louisville Slugger.” The Reds left fielder clubbed 3 doubles, 4 home runs, 12 RBI’s with a slash line of .271/.357/.583/.940. Maybe this year will be the year he earns that Gold Glove in left.
Dean Kiekhefer got one inning on the mound this spring with the big club and even though he gave up two hits he did not surrender any runs.
Kyle Funkhouser threw .2 innings with the Tigers and surrendered 3 earned runs but did record one strikeout.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Will Smith had a bit of an up and down spring with 2 doubles and solo home run. He did only strike out 5 times while slashing .188/.278/.500/.778. The Dodgers are expecting continued success from their #9 overall prospect.
In 5 games Corey Ray totaled 2 hits, 1 RBI and slashed .286/.286/.286/.571.
New York Yankees
The jury is still out on what the Yankees plan to do with Chad Green as they worked him both out of the pen and as a starter this spring. Regardless of which role he was used in he was still putting up strong numbers with 15 strikeouts over 10 innings pitched and an ERA of 2.70.
Josh Rogers threw 3.2 innings and struck out 1 while totaling an ERA of 4.91 and a WHIP of 1.09. His arm looks strong as he aims to continue surging through the ranks in the minor leagues.
San Diego Padres
Kyle McGrath has been dealing with a bit of elbow tenderness in his left arm and his recovery will determine exactly where he starts the season as he gets back to full strength. Before he suffered the injury he had struck out 4 in 4 innings and posted an ERA of 2.25 and a WHIP of 0.75.
San Francisco Giants
Male High School product Jeff Arnold recorded 2 hits in 3 at bats with 1 RBI.
Tampa Bay Rays
After being traded right before Spring Training, Nick Solak finished his time with the Big League Club without a hit in 18 at-bats. On the bright side, he only struck out 4 times so he was putting the ball in play.
In 30 games this spring Chris Dominguez put together a great resume after hitting 3 doubles, 4 home runs with 11 RBI’s. He slashed .340/.333/.660/.993 and after this spring if he is not on the Opening Day roster I would be shocked if his stay in the minor leagues lasts long.