PORTLAND — The tiny hand shot up from the floor of 42 boys, ages 8-12.

“When you make the major leagues, can you beat the Yankees for me?” the boy asked sincerely.

Charlie Furbush, Detroit Tigers emblem on his navy blue shirt and hat, answered with a big smile: “Absolutely I will.”

Furbush, the South Portland left-hander, is on the cusp of the major leagues after getting assigned to the Tigers’ 40-man roster two weeks ago and rising through the team’s minor-league system to Triple-A last summer.

He is home for the offseason and took time Saturday to teach a pitching clinic at Frozen Ropes in Portland.

“I hope next year I’ll be in the big leagues and you guys can watch me on TV,” said Furbush. “That would be pretty cool, huh?”

Cool. And quite an accomplishment.

Furbush, whose career began at Division III St. Joseph’s College, was a fourth-round draft pick in 2007.

He underwent Tommy John surgery and missed most of 2008 before returning in 2009.

This past summer he rose steadily from Class A to Triple-A, finishing the season with a 3-4 record and 6.24 earned- run average for Triple-A Toledo.

He started the year in Class A in Lakeland, Fla., where he amassed 109 strikeouts in 77 innings.

late June he was promoted to Double-A Erie, Pa.

After just five starts, Triple-A was next.

“It was a great year. I made a lot of strides,” said Furbush. “The more I move up the ladder I realize it’s not about your stuff. It’s about how consistently you throw it. The whole thing’s a giant learning process.”

When Furbush was placed on the Tigers’ 40-man roster two weeks ago, it was a good sign of his chances in spring training. The move protects him from being selected in the upcoming Rule 5 draft.

Players who were drafted after age 19 and spent four years in the minor leagues can be selected by another team if they are not on a 40-man roster.

“When I found out the news I was definitely excited. But I’m not going to get overly excited. It is what it is,” said Furbush. “I know what I need to do. It’s been a wild journey.”

His journey hasn’t been without pitfalls.

There was the night Mike Lowell hit two home runs off him at Pawtucket last summer.

And plenty of other rough innings he’d like back.

“You run into some tough nights,” said Furbush. “Bad nights, bad decisions. Giving the hitters more credit than they deserve, and afterwards I don’t know who was on the mound because it wasn’t me at all.

“The good thing about baseball is that tomorrow there’s another game.”

But the game also has simplified for him.

He throws 94 mph, and on Saturday explained to his young audience the simple things he thinks about during every pitch. He throws a fastball, curveball and change-up.

“To have a professional pitcher give them instruction is invaluable,” said Matt Rogers, the head of Falmouth Little League whose son was among those receiving instruction. “We didn’t have this years ago. (Former major leaguer) Billy Swift was around but we didn’t have facilities like this. It’s great for them to learn the right way.”

Furbush spent 90 minutes giving instructions before signing a line of autographs.

Later this month he will spend a few days in Washington in a major-league rookie program. He’ll get training on how to deal with life in the majors with media training and internal pressures.

While home he’s staying with his brothers in Lewiston. His older brother coaches the basketball team at Bates. His younger brother is a junior on the team.

Then he’ll head down to Florida in late January to get situated for spring training.

Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 13.

“It’s nice to be home and know everyone is just as excited as I am,” said Furbush. “To know everyone is pulling for you is great.”

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at: [email protected]