Former WPIAL pitcher comes home sporting Frontier League’s best record
There’s a sheet of paper on the wall inside the Wild Things’ locker room at Consol Energy Park that means more to Scott Dunn that he’s willing to let on.
It’s the same piece of paper that lists Dunn as the East Division’s starting pitcher for today’s Frontier League All-Star game, his name typed in capital letters next to the first inning.
The Clinton native and South Side Beaver graduate has started here a handful of times with the Traverse City Beach Bums, though none will feel like this, none carrying the importance of what Dunn has accomplished in the first half of the season.
“It’s always awesome to start a game in my hometown,” Dunn said. “Take everything I can, you know?”
Dunn has done plenty of taking this season, ripping perfectly good opportunities away from opposing hitters for the better part of 72 2/3 innings. Besides setting the Frontier League record by starting the season 10-0, Dunn has punched up a 1.98 earned-run average with 45 strikeouts and 19 walks over 11 starts.
Not bad numbers for someone who entered the season 15-9 in 91 games over his first three years in the league.
“I think I’ve relaxed a lot more,” said the right-handed Dunn, who pitched at Slippery Rock University and was taken by Traverse City in the second round of the 2010 Frontier League draft. “Before I was a run-and-gun type of guy; I just threw as hard as I can. Now, I’m locating and spotting my pitches more.”
Not much was different for Dunn during his trip home. He arrived three days ago and saw his parents and girlfriend. The only variation might’ve been volunteering with the Washington County chapter of Habitat for Humanity, laying cement like he used to with his dad.
“That’s just the way my dad is,” Dunn said. “Ain’t my first rodeo.”
Despite the sparkling first half, one that has Traverse City (31-20) leading the East Division by a one game over the Florence Freedom, Dunn insists he’ll approach this as just another start.
“You have to take it that way,” Dunn said. “Have fun with it, know it’s the All-Star Game, but still give it everything you got.”
Frontier League commissioner Bill Lee sat in a hotel in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 2002 and watched in disbelief as Major League Baseball botched the end of its all-star game. That was the year the game ended in a tie because the teams ran out of pitchers.
Lee realized that the Frontier League didn’t have a backup plan if it’s all-star game was tied after nine innings. In an emergency meeting the next morning, it was decided that a tie would be broken by a home run derby. As luck would have it, later that night, the Frontier League’s all-star game was tied after nine innings and River City’s Brody Jackson won it for the West Division with a decisive home run.
The same format will be in place tonight if the game if tied after nine innings. Each manager will select three players to compete in the home run contest. Hitters will have three outs in which to accumulate as many home runs as possible.
“We’ve had to use the tiebreaker four times,” Lee said. “We used it in 2002, ‘03, ‘06 and the last time was 2008 in Traverse City.”
Unlike in the major leagues, the Frontier League’s all-star game does not decided home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Big Macs recognized
The PIAA and WPIAL Class AAAA-champion Canon-McMillan softball team was honored during Tuesday’s festivities.
Big Macs catcher Giorgiana Zeremenko was one of several players seated along the first-base line, surrounded by younger, community league players who also attended the game.
“It’s cool because all the younger girls look up to you,” Zeremenko said. “It’s making us all closer in a way.”
One all-star who won’t play in tonight’s game is Washington catcher Jim Vahalik, who suffered a broken right wrist Friday when he was hit by a pitch from Florence’s Jason Wilson. The injury will sideline Vahalik at least four weeks.
Vahalik was hit by a fastball that was high and tight, but the second-year catcher said it was a pitch he should have been able to avoid – had he been able to see better.
“I was having trouble that night with my contact lenses. Everything was a little blurry and I wasn’t seeing as well as I normally would,” Vahalik explained. “The pitch was up and in, and I should have turned my shoulder into the pitch. Instead, I opened up into it.”
It was the second broken bone for Vahalik in a week. The previous weekend, he broke his nose in a home-plate collision with Evansville’s J.R. Higley.
“I feel badly for him because he’s the leader of our team,” Washington manager Bart Zeller said. “He’s the kind of guy every parent should have their son watch play because Jim plays the game the right way. Four weeks is going to be a lifetime for him.”
Anybody who went deep in the Home Run Derby actually cleared two fences.
Using the same fence that surrounded the ring Saturday night for TNA Wrestling, stadium workers took two hours Tuesday morning to measure proper distances for the novelty game, spacing the metal partitions appropriately.
That process, complete with applying seven-foot-long strips of yellow tape to the top of the fence after realizing it wasn’t all that visible, was too arduous to repeat, so the shorter fence remained in the middle of the outfield.
The Gateway Grizzlies’ Tim Brown, who has a 7-2 record and 3.40 ERA, will be the starting pitcher for the West Division. ... West Division catcher Zach Aakhus had his professional career start at Consol Energy Park. Aakhus was a draft pick of the Windy City ThunderBolts at the Frontier League tryout in Washington in 2009 and is in his fifth season in the league.