July 15, 2012

On Baseball: Starting over, and having fun with baseball again

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - They were both right-handed pitchers drafted out of college, one from the University of Maine in 2004, the other from Arizona State in 2005.

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Mike MacDonald, a Maine native, pitched for an independent team in New Jersey before joining the Portland Sea Dogs.

2011 Telegram File

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Jason Urquidez

The both reached Triple-A, teasingly close to the major leagues.

By 2012, both Mike MacDonald and Jason Urquidez were out of work, looking for a job in the independent baseball leagues.

For drafted players with several years in the minors, affiliated with major league teams, independents can appear to be baseball's version of a dead end.

"It's hard at first," said MacDonald, who pitched for the Somerset (N.J.) Patriots, and Manager Sparky Lyle, in the Atlantic League.

"But the good part of that league is you get to still play good baseball, and have a chance to get back into affiliate baseball."

That is what happened to MacDonald, 30, and Urquidez, 29, who were signed by the Red Sox and assigned to the Portland Sea Dogs.

It is a homecoming for MacDonald, the Camden native who pitched for the Maine Black Bears from 2002-04.

"It's a great honor to sign a contract with the Red Sox," said MacDonald,who now lives in Saco. "At the same time, it's just as nice to get back into an affiliated setting and have a chance to show your stuff."

MacDonald got his first chance with the Toronto Blue Jays after being drafted in the 15th round in 2004. He reached Triple-A by 2007 and stayed there two seasons. Despite a 3.47 ERA in 2008, MacDonald was released in spring training in 2009.

From there, the journey really began -- signed by the Angels' organization in 2009, then by the Giants in 2010, and back with the Blue Jays last year. Triple-A, but never a call to the bigs.

"Obviously there's a reason why it hasn't happened," MacDonald said. "And I want to continue to work every single day to make myself better in order for that opportunity to be here."

MacDonald joined the Patriots before the season and was a teammate of former Sea Dogs lefty Andrew Dobies. After going 3-4 with a 3.60 ERA, MacDonald got the call from the Red Sox.

In MacDonald's first start with the Sea Dogs last week in Trenton, he did not get out of the first inning, tweaking his hamstring. That has landed him on the disabled list, a stay which MacDonald is hoping will not be long. 

URQUIDEZ WAS drafted in the 17th round by the Diamondbacks in 2005. A former teammate of Dustin Pedroia, Urquidez entered spring training with a sore shoulder. Surgery was a possibility.

"The trainer at the time said I should retire," Urquidez said. "Here I was in my first professional spring training."

Urquidez did have the surgery and missed 14 months. But he still worked his way up to Triple-A, briefly, in 2008. He then spent the next three seasons in Triple-A, but his ERA kept rising.

"Right there on the doorstep. I just didn't put it all together," he said. "Always wondering what I could do more. What was I doing wrong?"

The Diamondbacks did not re-sign him before this season and Urquidez found himself scrambling. No offers came from affiliated teams so Urquidez went to the Atlantic League, landing in Lancaster (Pa.).

"It's definitely a swallow-your pride thing. You just go do it," Urquidez said. "I never thought I would have to."

But Urquidez discovered two things with Lancaster -- one, the competition is very good and, two, the game became enjoyable again.

After a 2.30 ERA in 15 appearances, the Red Sox signed him. 

IN LANCASTER, under Manager Butch Hobson, Urquidez had former Sea Dogs Tim Hamulack and Beau Vaughan as teammates in the bullpen.

Vaughan, a character known for his sense of humor while in Portland in 2007-08, has apparently not changed -- except in terms of weight.

"He lost 60 pounds -- real thin," Urquidez said. "He's a great guy, for sure. He keeps us entertained." 

FOUR FORMER SEA DOGS played in the Triple-A All-Star game last Wednesday, including both starting catchers. Ryan Lavarnway and Tim Federowicz, reliever Tommy Hottovy and first baseman/DH Luis Jimenez.

Lavarnway, 24, is batting .310 (.863 OPS) for Pawtucket.

Federowicz, 24, who was Lavarnway's teammate much of last year in Portland, is batting .301 (.833 OPS) in Albuquerque.

Hottovy, 31, has a 2.51 ERA and seven saves in Omaha..

Jimenez, 30, is in his second season in Tacoma (Mariners), batting .318 with 13 home runs. 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

 

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