ST. LOUIS — When the Cardinals were in the World Series two years ago pulling off their miracle finish against the Texas Rangers, reliever Seth Maness was home in North Carolina watching on television, far away from the Fall Classic.
He was an 11th-round draft pick four months earlier out of East Carolina University and had just completed his first season of pro ball at Dwyer Stadium in Batavia. Two years later, he’s in the Series himself and so are several other players whose first exposure to pro ball came in Western New York.
“Everything is going so fast. I was sitting on my couch watching the game when David Freese got those big hits in Game Six and I was thinking, “Holy cow, I want to get there,’’ Maness said. “I had just finished in Batavia and this seemed like such an impossible place to reach, like it was so far.
“Then the next year, I had a little bit more and this year it’s like, ‘Wow. I’m in the big leagues.’ The season had just flown by and we’re in the World Series. Crazy.”
Maness and eight teammates who are now Cardinals were once Muckdogs at some point in their careers. That’s the kid-friendly name of Batavia’s New York-Penn League team that plays in the 2,600-seat stadium on Bank Street which dates to 1939.
Four of the Batavia alums, including starting pitcher Joe Kelly, were in the starting lineup for the Cardinals for Game Three of the World Series Saturday night in Busch Stadium. The Cardinals won 5-4.
Overall, there are 10 players in the World Series who have Batavia roots – nine on the Cardinals plus Boston reserve Quintin Berry, who played there in 2006. The St. Louis roster has headliners like Game Three starter Kelly (2009) and Game Four starter Lance Lynn (2008), as well as infielders Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma (’07), catcher Tony Cruz (’07), infielders Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams (‘09), Buffalo-born reliever Kevin Siegrist (‘09-10) and Maness (‘11).
Descalso was a third-round pick in 2007 from UC-Davis and grew up outside San Francisco. The week after the draft he got his team assignment and had to Google it.
“You have to find it on a map first,” said Descalso. “I had never heard of it. I saw Upstate New York and I was from California. It was a lot different than where I grew up and off I went.”
That’s the reaction of most players. Siegrist had a little bit of an advantage. He was born in Buffalo and lived in Lewiston until high school. Still, the surroundings took some adjustment.
“It catches you off guard a little,” Siegrist said. “You’re expecting a different atmosphere. It was a small, summer-type field but it was a great experience.”
Batavia is a Marlins farm club now and was with the Cardinals from 2007-2012. Unless you’re a big bonus baby, most players are making only around $1,100 a month in Class A towns such as the Genesee County hub. Most live with host families. In fact, the preferred method of transportation for many Muckdogs to get around town is by bicycle. During games, the bikes are parked in the bullpen.
“I lived 2-3 blocks from the ballpark and the host family had a bike,” Descalso said. “I would get on the bike in the afternoon, go grab a sandwich somewhere, get back on the bike and it was time to go to work. Pretty crazy, huh?”
The Cardinals have a remarkable 17 players on their 25-man World Series roster who are homegrown players (Boston has 10). It speaks to their commitment to drafting and developing.
“It shows that either we’ve got some people in charge that are really smart or they’ve had really good luck, maybe both,” said Lynn, who has won 33 games in the big leagues the last two years.
After getting taken 39th overall and signing for $938,000, Lynn made six starts for Batavia’s ’08 NY-P champions, going 1-0 with an 0.96 ERA, and was promoted to full-season Class A in Quad Cities, Ill.
“You wait for your time and you always try to get better,” Lynn said. “And that’s the process that has been preached to us down there, and it seems to be working.”