A reason cheer for the River Bandits, the Shorebirds and the Cannon Ballers

All around the country, umpires on Tuesday night will tug at their face masks and cry out, ‘play ball,’ as the minor leagues start the new season. Play ball, indeed. Fans in minor-league towns have been dying to see their teams play for almost two years.

Last summer, minor league baseball at all levels was canceled by the pandemic. Not only did it hurt the fans, but the players were left with scant few opportunities to play — until now.

Poring over some rosters this evening, I found some former local players who have a chance to renew the chase for their dreams in some pretty far-flung locales.

Here are a few:

Asa Lacy, pitcher — Quad Cities River Bandits, Kansas City Royals affiliate, Davenport Iowa, High A Central. Lacy pitched in high school at Kerrville Tivy and in college at Texas A&M. Drafted out of Teas A&M in 2020 by the Royals with the fourth pick.

Jordan Westburg, infielder — Delmarva Shorebirds, Baltimore Orioles affiliate, Salisbury, Md., Low A East. Westburg played in high school for the New Braunfels Unicorns and in college for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Drafted out of Mississippi State in 2020 by the Orioles with a competitive balance round selection, the 30th overall pick.

Jared Kelley, pitcher — Kaanapolis Cannon Ballers, Chicago White Sox affliate, Kaanapolis, N.C., Low A East. Kelley played in high school at Refugio. Drafted out of high school in 2020 by the White Sox on the second round, with the 47th pick

Hudson Head, outfielder — Bradenton Marauders, Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate, Bradenton, Fla., Low A Southeast. Head played in high school for the Churchill Chargers. Drafted out of Churchill in 2019 by the San Diego Padres, in the third round, with the 84th pick. Traded by the Padres to the Pirates Jan. 19 in the Joe Musgrove deal.

The destination is in question for another high-profile local standout. Texas Rangers prospect Josh Jung, formerly of MacArthur and Texas Tech, suffered a stress fracture in his left foot around the first of March.

Reports indicated that it might take a couple of months to heal. If he comes out of it OK, it’s possible that Jung, the eighth pick on the first round of the 2019 draft, could start his season at Triple-A Round Rock.

Forrest Whitley‘s story is another, altogether. And it’s potentially a heartbreaker. Drafted in 2016 by the Astros out of Alamo Heights High School in the first round, with the 17th overall selection, Whitley has pitched only as high as the Triple-A level.

Earlier this year, in spring training, it was determined that he had a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, which would require reconstructive surgery. So, Whitley is likely looking at a comeback in 2022 at the earliest.

Elsewhere

Ralph Garza Jr., pitcher — Sugar Land Skeeters, Houston Astros affiliate, Sugar Land, Tex., Triple-A West. Garza played in high school at New Braunfels. He is starting his sixth minor league season in the Astros’ organization. In five previous seasons, he is 25-12, with a 3.79 ERA. Drafted out of the University of Oklahoma 2015, he was selected in the 26th round with the 769th pick.

A&M shuts out Georgia, 7-0; Lacy pitches six scoreless innings

Texas A&M and Georgia sat through a lightning delay early in a Wednesday morning game at the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament.

All the while, the Aggies were conjuring up some lightning of their own in the form of left-handed pitcher Asa Lacy.

Lacy, a 6-foot-4 freshman from Kerrville Tivy, threw six scoreless innings as the Aggies defeated the Georgia Bulldogs, 7-0, remaining undefeated in the SEC’s postseason event at Hoover, Ala.

Powered by two late home runs from Chris Andritsos, A&M improved to 2-0 after wins over Vanderbilt and Georgia. The Aggies are scheduled to play either Auburn or Ole Miss Thursday afternoon.

“Georgia played really well against us at their place (in March),” A&M coach Rob Childress told SEC Network broadcasters. “(They) got after us in two of those three games. I felt like Asa Lacy was a great matchup for ’em, and he didn’t disappoint.

“Even in the midst of another rain delay, he just had a fabulous performance.”

Lacy was backed by Cason Sherrod, who pitched three scoreless innings of relief, and also by Andritsos, who hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning and followed with a solo shot in the ninth.

But Lacy’s performance emerged as the surprise of the day.

In only his second start of the season, Lacy shut out Georgia on three hits. He walked three and struck out eight. Georgia entered its first game of the tournament batting .286 as a team and averaging 6.35 runs.

“I felt pretty locked in, trusting the pitches that are being called, and knowing if they hit it, it’s going to our defense and we’re going to make the play,” Lacy said.

Broadcasters had some fun with Lacy in the post-game interview.

“Do you know how many strikeouts you had today?” one asked.

“No I don’t,” Lacy responded.

“How many do you think you had?” he was asked.

“I think like six,” Lacy said.

Oblivious to the statistical details, Lacy admitted that he was just focused on the task at hand.

“Just locked in on the glove, and it worked out today,” he said.

In his 23rd appearance, Lacy entererd the game with a 2-1 record and a 3.24 earned run average. His only previous start came on May 1 at home against Prairie View A&M.

He has made several appearances in the past few weeks out of the bullpen, including outings against SEC foes Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina.

Last Friday, pitching at home against South Carolina, he worked two innings against the Gamecocks, yielding two hits and a run (none earned), while walking two. He also struck out two.

Lacy grew up in the Texas Hill Country, where he lettered three years for the Kerrville Tivy Antlers.

Last year, he won a school-record 13 games en route to earning Class 5A all-state honors.

He was 13-1 with an 0.93 ERA as a high school senior. Lacy was drafted on the 31st round by the Cleveland Indians, but he elected to attend A&M, where he is majoring in university studies.

Lacy was coached in high school by Chris Russ, who played at A&M from 1998-2001.

SEC baseball tournament

At Hoover, Ala.

Wednesday’s games
(With tournament seeds)
(11) Texas A&M 7, (3) Georgia 0
(7) Auburn 9, (2) Ole Miss 3
(1) Florida 4, (8) LSU 3
(5) South Carolina vs. (4) Arkansas

Thursday’s schedule
Ole Miss vs. Georgia, 9:30 a.m.
LSU vs. South Carolina or Arkansas, to follow
(11) Texas A&M vs. (7) Auburn, 4:30 p.m.
Florida vs. South Carolina or Arkansas, to follow