A wonderful thing happened before Wednesday night’s Northwest League baseball game at Gesa Stadium.
Or an unfortunate thing, depending on how you look at it.
Travis Radke, a left-handed starting pitcher for the Tri-City Dust Devils, was promoted by the San Diego Padres to their Class-A Midwest League affiliate in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Radke, who was drafted in the 25th round out of the University of Portland last year, made the most of his opportunity in the Northwest League as one of Tri-City’s top pitchers. He had been effective in most of his six starts and was the NWL leader in fewest walks per nine innings (0.31).
“He was the most consistent pitcher on our staff. He had like 30 strikeouts to one walk,” Dust Devils manager Anthony Contreras said. “He’s going there because they have confidence he could either be a starter or come out of the bullpen. He deserves everything he’s getting right now.”
Indeed that’s true, but Dust Devils fans can’t help but feel a little concerned about the path of future rising stars that come through Gesa Stadium.
If players show considerable improvement or promise during their stay in the Tri-Cities, what is the likelihood of them completing a full season here?
It’s a fair question, and Contreras certainly sympathizes with a fan’s perspective. At the same time, as a manager in the Padres organization, he has to look out for that team’s future — and not the one in Pasco.
“Anytime we can move a player up for performance, that’s a priority. You see that sometimes in the (minor league) playoffs. You’ll see teams that were really good in the beginning fall off because they had players move up,” Contreras said. “I’ll say it until the day I’m not a minor league coach anymore and winning a World Series in the majors. Right now, the standings are secondary. A lot of people want to talk about it, and you guys should. If we’re there, of course we’ll try to win it.
“But right now, I just want these guys to play the game the right way.”
The Dust Devils are doing just that. With four games left in the first half, they’ve won 12 of their last 16 and trail Everett by just one game in the North Division race. They’ve done it not just with talent, but with a chemistry that makes them hard to beat.
“We all kind of love each other like brothers. I didn’t expect that. I thought it would be every man for himself,” said Ty France, a rookie first baseman out of San Diego State. “I think our biggest (concern) is getting too comfortable. We know we’re good ballplayers and can compete with anyone. Our biggest challenge is to to come out every day with same intensity.”
That’s one of the biggest goals of the coaching staff, too. Contreras, hitting coach Marvin Benard and pitching coach Nelson Cruz are all enjoying the ride, but they are more focused on making each player better mentally and physically.
“I’m looking at little details trying to help these guys get to the next level,” Benard said. “I’m trying not to feel like I cheated them or didn’t give them information they needed to succeed.”
If a player should get promoted out of Tri-City, it might be difficult to say goodbye, but each coach would be proud to have fulfilled his role in building that player’s future.
“When you coach, it’s kind of like you have kids. You want to see them grow. You want to see them have the right education,” Cruz said. “Seeing them grow the right way always makes you happy.”
But Dust Devils fans should keep in mind, too, that the Padres’ rookie affiliate in the Arizona League might be promoting players to the Dust Devils, too.
It’s a system that could temper the disappointment of losing a star player with another up-and-coming prospect.