Ex-Scrappers make it to the big game

09-09-09...Scrappers #13 Argeis Martinez and #8 Jason Kipnis celebrate at home plate as Kipnis hits a two run home run in the 3rd inning to make the score 3-0 Scrappers...by R. Michael Semple

There are a large number of former Mahoning Valley Scrappers players and coaches on the Cleveland Indians’ postseason roster, and many of them are sure to play in the World Series, as they hope to give the Tribe its first title since 1948.

Three area Indians fans, Mike Bright, Dick Baker and Joe Kijowski, are longtime Scrappers season-ticket holders and they’ve witnessed a number of current Indians when they were just young ballplayers trying to make it in Class A short season ball.

Bright, who’s had Scrappers season-tickets since 2004 and has attended games since their inaugural 1999 season, said that two current Indians stars, second baseman and two-time All-Star Jason Kipnis, and rookie phenom centerfielder Tyler Naquin, are the two players in particular that stand out in his mind.

Kipnis played at Eastwood Field in 2009 and that team won its division and ultimately lost to the Staten Island Yankees in the New York-Penn League Championship Series.

“That 2009 team had a great pitching staff, but they couldn’t get their hitting in order,” Bright said. “As soon as Kipnis got there, he immediately started hitting right away, and they say hitting is contagious, which in this case, it was. All of the other guys started hitting, and the team eventually made it to the championship.

“As for Naquin, I remember he had as good an arm as anyone I had ever seen. He had it all, except for (hitting) power. I’m surprised how much power he has at the Major League level.”

Baker, a season-ticket holder for the Scrappers for more than 12 years, said that it’s hard to remember individual players when they’re that young, but did say that one current Indians star did stand out to him.

“Francisco Lindor,” Baker said. “Even back then (in 2011), he had a personality that stood out. Before the games, he’d be signing autographs and he’d be joking around with the fans.”

Baker said that he and his wife attend a Scrappers picnic for the fans every year, and he was able to get autographs from both Lindor and Ryan Merritt. Merritt, of course, has become somewhat of a cult hero in Cleveland, following his start in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, in which he threw 4 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball in the deciding game of the series.

The 24-year old from Texas had just made his Major League debut earlier this season, and even with just four regular season appearances under his belt, he stepped up to the challenge of a high pressure situation in Toronto, in front of over 48,000 fans, mainly rooting for the other guys.

Kijowski, who along with his wife, has been a season-ticket holder and host family for the Scrappers since 2012, knows Merritt as well as anybody. Kijowski’s family hosted Merritt in 2012, and he said you wouldn’t meet a nicer kid.

“He was just phenomenal. He minded his own business, worked hard and our kids just loved him,” Kijowski said of Merritt. “From day one, he walked into our home, and unlike other players who would go out to the bars, Ryan would rather stay home and play Playstation with our kids.”

Since Merritt’s heroic performance against Toronto, the previously-unknown pitcher has gotten so famous, that the wedding registry of him and his fiancee has been discovered by Indians fans, and they are sending him gifts left and right.

“My wife and I have been up to Cleveland for the Boston and Toronto series, and we’d walk Ryan back to his hotel after the games,” Kijowski said. “I said to him, ‘Well buddy, you won’t be able to walk back to the hotel unnoticed anymore. You’re so famous now (and) everybody recognizes who you are.’ “

Perhaps there is more fame to come for former Scrappers turned Cleveland Indians.