The baseball gods threw Tony Bryant a nasty curveball when all 30 Major League Baseball teams passed on the former All-Pac-12 reliever in the June draft.
But the Colorado Rockies made Bryant’s childhood dreams come true, signing the 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher to a free-agent contract.
The Rockies sweetened the deal by assigning the Kennewick native to the Tri-City Dust Devils, allowing him to begin his professional career in the place he calls home.
“I was definitely disappointed that I didn’t get drafted. I put in four good years at Oregon State and was hoping somebody would give me a chance. ,” Bryant said. “ When it didn’t happen, I was committed to making it happen.”
After the draft, Bryant, who is third on OSU’s career saves list with 22 and his 2.63 ERA ranks ninth on the Beavers’ all time list, got an invitation from former UC Davis coach Phil Swimley to keep himself in pitching shape down in Sacramento, Calif.
“I had a month off (after the College World Series) just throwing bullpens. There’s nothing you can do to simulate a game. You can throw bullpens or play catch or whatever you want, but there’s nothing like it.”Two months later, the call came from the Rockies to join the Dust Devils in Hillsboro during their most recent road trip.
“It’s weird that it happened like that. I could’ve been anywhere in the U.S., but the one team that gets me is a short-season team in Tri-Cities,” Bryant said. “It’s pretty special, actually. A few OSU players (shortstop Joey Wong, pitcher Kraig Sitton) have played here before me. I’m glad I was able to keep up tradition with this organization.”
Bryant made his professional debut Monday night during Tri-City’s 2-0 loss to the Hops. He entered the game for Dust Devils starter Konner Wade in the seventh inning, trailing 2-0.
He allowed a single to Ryan Kinsella, his first batter, but struck out Randy McCurry looking and got Ryan Gebhardt to fly out to right field. He walked another batter before striking out Brian Billigen to complete a scoreless inning.
“I had some nerves. It was something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time,” he said. “There was a lot of build up inside. I had to get out that first time to get the nerves out. After a few pitches, I started feeling more comfortable.”
Tri-City pitching coach Frank Gonzales has been impressed with his latest addition, “enough that I could see he’s been around a top Division-I program. He understands he’s going to get the hitter out,” Gonzales said. “He’s not starstruck by being in the lights. I think he’ll handle the pro level just fine.”
Bryant brings a dynamic fastball and a strong changeup to the table, and he’s working on developing a breaking ball.
“I think he’s got a little pitchability. He showed me a fastball that, when it has downward angle, there’s a lot of outs in that fastball,” Gonzales said. “I’m looking forward to giving some opportunities to Tony when they come up.”
First year Dust Devils skipper Drew Saylor said Bryant will have to integrate fast but won’t have to worry about one issue that most minor leaguers face.
“The big difference is we don’t have to find him a host family for him,” Saylor said. “That was easy on our part. Like, ‘Hey, you got somewhere to live?’ We don’t want him staying in somebody’s garage or something like that.”
Saylor hopes that Bryant can bring some depth to the Tri-City bullpen as the Dust Devils work toward securing the Northwest League North Division second half title.
“We’ll get him acclimated to our throwing program and stick to our plan of throwing down in the zone and getting ahead of hitters,” Saylor said. “It’s not like we were looking for middle relief or a situational lefty. We’re just looking for guys who will compete and help us win games.”
Bryant’s homegrown status does present one unique dilemma, however.
“I’ve got a lot of family and a lot of friends who are excited to come out and watch me. I’ve been getting a lot of calls and texts about, ‘Hey, can you get tickets?’ ” Bryant said. “I’m kind of on a hot spot right now for which games they can watch.”