Local Falmouth Pitcher Makes It To The Big Leagues
By: Rich Maclone
With a Boston College hoodie and a puffy Boston Bruins Daniel Boone-style hat sitting atop his head you’d never guess that the guy who just walked in the door is a Major League prospect. Maybe a college kid home for winter break, or a dude enjoying a day off from his day job, but a big league pitcher, probably not.
But that kind of sums up Steve Cishek pretty well right there. The unassuming and humble young man from Falmouth is more about substance than style, although the fluffy hat actually looked pretty good.
Cishek, of East Falmouth, enjoyed a rollercoaster ride last year that saw him start off in single-A ball and make the jump up the ladder to AA and then finally the big leagues in September. When he was called to the big leagues one of his first days was spent in Milwaukee, where the Marlins were playing the Brewers. Cishek said as he was running onto the field he looked around and thought, ‘This is so cool.’ He also had to fight his desire to take a ride on the Brewers’ famous slide that their mascot rides every time the home team hits a home run. “There’s a sign in the locker room that says you could be arrested if you go on it,” he said.
He made the most of his two-week stint with the Florida Marlins. The six-foot, six-inch right-hander, who throws from a self-described “funky arm angle” faced 15 big league batters over 4.1 innings and three appearances. He gave up just one base hit and allowed only one walk. Cishek struck out three and did not surrender a run.
His performance seems to have impressed the right people in the Florida organization. After the season ended he was sent out to play in the Arizona Fall League, where the MLB teams send their top prospects to further test their mettle against elite competition. He fared well there, pitching for the Phoenix Desert Dogs, under Manager Don Mattingly, appearing in 11 games and working 13.1 innings. He finished with an earned run average of 4.05 with one save and a 0-0 record.
Two poor outings ballooned his ERA a bit. The Peoria Seguaros knocked him around twice, but other than that Cishek was on his game, finishing up the year with back to back perfect outings. “As a relief pitcher, you’ve got to have a short memory,” Cishek said. “It’s kind of funny. There’s a guy on Peoria that I’ve had trouble with in the past, and I saw I was going to come into the game, and I thought, ‘I really hope I face that guy again.’... He hit a grand slam off me.”
Cishek chuckled as he recalled his nightmare, but in his line of work you can’t dwell on a bad day if you want the next one to be better. “If you want to stay in the big leagues, you’ve got to be able to be consistent,” he said.
While that one poor outing stood out a bit, the overall lesson that Cishek learned there was bigger. “The hitters there are all good and the averages are ridiculous. It’s a hitter’s league and the ball flies. You’ve got to get ahead of hitters. I’d say 80 percent of the time, that I fell behind, the guy got a hit off of me, so it teaches you that you can’t fall behind,” he said.
The Marlins also sent Cishek to the rookie development program during the off-season, which each team sends three of its top prospects to. There the potential big leaguers sat through lectures on how to deal with the media, manage their schedules, demands, and money.
Staying in the big leagues is not guaranteed. Cishek heads down to Florida for his first Major League spring training in early February, with the first official day of camp scheduled for February 17. When the season begins in April he could be in Miami, or at AAA New Orleans or back in AA Jacksonville. A lot of that depends on how the spring goes and what Florida General Manager Michael Hill has in his plans for the look of the team, which was 80-82 last year and finished in third place in the National League east division.
Cishek thinks he’s going to have to not only turn heads at spring training, but make them spin to earn an opening day spot. “I’m assuming that I’m going to have to have a flawless spring training, and even then still hope for the best,” he said. “I don’t really have my heart set on that. Wherever they put me is fine with me because I’m still playing and I just want to play. Obviously (being in the) big leagues would be perfect, but the chances of that happening are small, probably, so wherever they put me I’ll be content.”
Staying in the big leagues is not an easy thing to do. Cishek, who is on the Marlins’ official 40-man roster, said that he has been told that only 5 percent of professional baseball players ever make it to the big leagues, and even fewer than that make an actual career out of playing before packed houses in big-time cities. “I’ve been there, and it’s a blessing. It’s my job to do everything I can to get back there and help the team the best that I can,” he said.
To help the team Cishek said he needs to continue developing as a pitcher. He’s working on being more consistent with his pitches and hitting the spots he needs to in order to get big leaguers out.
Advice from other ballplayers for Cishek was to take time off as soon as the Arizona League ended in November. He was told to forget about pitching for a month and take it easy.
Taking it easy isn’t something that comes easily to the baby-faced hurler. Since coming back home he’s been trekking up to Hudson, several times a week with friend Pat Brennan, a Falmouth native who is playing college ball at Iowa, to work out at Cressy Performance Center, a top-notch training facility. His program has been approved by the Marlins and he’s made progress over the last seven weeks or so, adding a little muscle to his frame, which has been a lifelong challenge for the lanky man. He has had a chance to enjoy himself some, though, heading to Boston for Celtics and Bruins games with his buddies and enjoying time at home with his parents.
He did rest his arm, for exactly one month. Cishek said he missed throwing and couldn’t wait to get back to tossing the ball. He has been getting in sessions at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. He said he started slowly, tossing just 60 feet and has been working up from there to a long toss of around 120 feet. Next week he’s heading to work out at his alma mater, Carson-Newman, before leaving there for Jupiter, Florida. By the time spring training rolls around, he thinks he’ll be ready to consistently throw strikes and meet the workload there. He’ll also be happy to shelve the fluffy hat and enjoy some warmer weather.
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