Steve Geltz has already experienced plenty in his baseball life at age 25. Not many people from places as tiny as Ransomville can say they’ve pitched in the major leagues but Geltz can. And even though he spent just a week with the Los Angeles Angels last August, throwing 42 pitches over two innings in two appearances, Geltz said the culmination of his dream has him craving a repeat in a new organization.
And Geltz is adding to his bucket list this weekend in Coca-Cola Field: The Durham Bulls reliever is getting a chance to pitch as a pro in his hometown for the first time.
“My parents and my girlfriend drove me over here and dropped me off and it was so weird,” Geltz said prior to Friday’s series opener between the Bulls and Bisons.
“Every time I’ve taken that exit,” off the I-190 he said, “it’s because I was coming to watch a game. Now I’m here to play? It’s mindblowing. It’s weird. But it’s cool. Really cool.”
Geltz is your typical fastball/slider reliever who can consistently throw in the 93-95 mph range and really pound the strike zone. That’s what he’s doing again this season with Durham. Entering Saturday, he was 3-2 with a 3.05 ERA and three saves – including a three-inning job May 30 against the Bisons. In 41∑ innings, he had allowed just 23 hits while striking out 51 and walking only 13.
The big strikeout numbers got him a cult following among Angels fans when he was in Double-A and certainly will merit some attention from the Rays as well. They’re not the norm for a 5-foot-9, 185-pound pitcher.
But Geltz’s story is about far more than numbers. Northern kids rarely get the chance he’s had. He pitched at Wilson High and the University at Buffalo and was signed as a free agent by the Angels out of the New England Collegiate League for a mere $4,500 in 2008. Through extended spring trainings, a trip to the Arizona Fall League, rookie ball, Class A ball, sudden stardom in Double-A and finally a shot with Triple-A Salt Lake City, Geltz pushed forward.
When he was called into his manager’s office one night last August in Nashville, Geltz was wondering if he was being dropped back to Double-A – or maybe even getting his release. Instead, he was told he was a big-leaguer and to remember to wear a jacket for the flight West. A couple days later, he was on the mound as the first UB player in the majors since Joe Hesketh in 1994. It mattered none it was the ninth inning of a game against Tampa Bay that the Angels were trailing, 7-0. (See the video on the Inside Pitch blog at Buffalonews.com).
“Chris Iannetta was the catcher and he met me on the mound with the ball,” Geltz recalled. “He gave me the ball and said ‘Hey, the other team knows it. The umpires know it. We all know it. It’s your debut, man. Enjoy this. Take whatever time you need but don’t look up.’
“I said, ‘Hey man, I might never get to do this again. I’m gonna look up.’ I look up and it was just a feeling of pride, joy, tears. All that hard work and accomplishments. It was a great feeling, the best feeling. I wish it upon anybody that plays this game. I wish they could experience that.”
Second baseman Erick Aybar told Geltz to turn around and look at the Jumbotron, which had his picture and the note “making major-league debut” flashing. He pitched a hitless inning with a strikeout and a walk. Sixteen pitches in all and got a handshake for manager Mike Scioscia as he returned to the dugout. He pitched again the next night, needing 26 pitches to get through the frame as he gave up a run on two hits and two walks. And that was it.
He was back to Salt Lake the next day. Spring training this year was normal, and Geltz posted a 2.25 ERA in four big-league outings, but he was outrighted back to Salt Lake on March 26. The next day the Angels traded him to Tampa Bay for righty Dane De La Rosa. All set for another season in Utah, Geltz high-tailed it from Arizona to join Rays camp in Florida.
“I had no idea. They just told me, ‘Hey, you’re a Ray,’ ” Geltz said. “I was like, ‘All right, off to Durham.’ As simple and quick as it sounds, it was even quicker for me.”
Geltz was a completely nondescript pitcher for two years at UB but made a sudden breakthrough in 2008 (1-1, 1.69 in 14 outings with 30 strikeouts in 21 innings) and the Angels signed him.
He had two good years at Class A Rancho Cucamonga of the California League and zoomed up the Angels’ radar at Double-A Arkansas in 2012 when he went 3-0 with six saves and an 0.36 ERA in 21 appearances – striking out 37 and walking just six in 25∑ innings.
That led to 25 games at Triple-A Salt Lake City and, eventually, to Anaheim. Geltz said his big season at UB was a product of familiarity with the college game, opposing hitters, opposing fields and knowing it was a draft year and scouts would be around if he succeeded. What about his X-Box numbers in 2012?
“That’s confidence and determination that nobody is going to stop me from making my dream and getting where I want to be,” he said. “That’s what I thought every day.”
Geltz said said he feels the kind of chip on his shoulders that Bisons second baseman and St. Francis product Jim Negrych must feel as a Northern player trying to prove he can survive in pro ball. He’s thrilled he can show kids from Western New York that they can make it to the major leagues and said he was excited when he learned that Clarence’s Mark Armstrong and Amherst’s Jonah Heim were both drafted in the top five rounds earlier this month.
“Just because we’re from up here, we can do this,” he said. “Usually, top 20 rounds out of Western New York and you’re thinking no way. Now top 5? That’s awesome for them.”
Geltz said he had collected about 70 tickets for family and friends for each of the four games Durham is in town. He had a win and a save in last month’s four-game sweep of the Bisons by Durham, which is running away with the IL South, and said he’s having more fun with the Bulls than any of his other stops in the minors.
“It’s been an exciting year and two months or so,” Geltz said. “I look back at it and I feel like it just flew by. But I can remember every single day. Everything that led up to that call-up, that led up to the trade. I replay those events in my mind. It’s just amazing how the circle of events get to where you are now. It’s really been a great journey.”
It’s topped by two games in the major leagues. And Geltz doesn’t want those to be his only two.
“I could have sat there in the bullpen and just watched those games,” he said. “The fact I was on that roster and playing will keep me trying to get back there for years and years to come. It was the greatest feeling in the world.”
Dusty on the Cup
Reds manager Dusty Baker was in the United Center in Chicago for Game One of the Stanley Cup final last week and was duly impressed by what he saw – even though he returned to his hotel at the end of regulation and watched the three overtimes between the Blackhawks and Bruins on TV.
“It really gives me the motivation to get to the World Series,” said Baker, a hockey fan from his days with the Cubs. “You see the energy, you see the precision. I’m impressed by the skating ability and the precision of those guys, the speed of the game, the speed of the puck.”
Around the horn
• What’s the only minor-league jersey Blue Jays knuckleballer and Star Wars nut R.A. Dickey saved? His 2010 Bisons Star Wars Night tog. He never wore it because he had been called up to New York but he had the team send it to him.
• Another reason the Red Sox are nervous: Andrew Bailey can’t close anymore. He gave up a walk-off home run to Jhonny Peralta Thursday in Detroit and the Sox are going to give him a break from the ninth inning. The Tigers, meanwhile, finally bid adieu to Jose Valverde. Jonathan Papelbon at the trade deadline, anyone?
• Speaking of closers, Cubs fans won’t like this the way he tends to blow up, but Carlos Marmol wants the team to actually use him more. Entering the weekend, he’s 2-0, 1.35 in the seven games he’s pitched with no days off. One one day rest, Marmol is 0-4, 15.26.
• Tweet from Chipper Jones after watching the Matt Harvey-Zach Wheeler doubleheader last week in Atlanta that had Mets fans dreaming big for the future: “Boy I’m glad I retired! Would not wanna face Harvey and Wheeler 5 or 6 times a year for the next 10 yrs. Those boys were electric yesterday!”