#TGW: Peaceful, Easy Feeling
The Alaska Baseball League is the perfect spot for relievers Micah Carpenter & Robert Winborne
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
The pitcher completely controls the pace of a baseball game as he stands on the mound.
But the mound can be a lonely place, with the pitcher left all alone with his thoughts. There’s extra pressure for relief pitchers, who usually come in with men on base and little or no margin for error.
For them, having peace of mind makes the difference between creating a wild fire or putting it out. Finding peace of mind is the tricky part, but can be as simple as finding some place that gives them that feeling.
“My family and I came up to Alaska on vacation and I really enjoyed it,” said Carpenter, who went 0-3, but pitched to a 2.56 ERA (nine earned runs in 31 ⅔ innings) in 24 relief appearances, held hitters to a .244 batting average, allowing 30 hits while striking out 28 and walking 15 on his way to ACC all-academic team honors for the Jackets in 2017. “It sounded like a really cool opportunity and it’s a really good league as well. So I thought, why not?”
“I’d never been up there before. Micah and I agreed that it’s not often that you get a chance to have an all-expenses-paid trip to Alaska so we figured we’d go for it,” agreed Winborne, who had no record and a 7.78 ERA (17 ER in 19 ⅔ IP) in 17 games (all in relief), allowing 30 hits but striking out 22 while walking only nine in 2017. “So far it’s paid off. It’s been amazing up here. It’s gorgeous and the competition is really good. We’ve got a good team, good coaches so we couldn’t be happier right now.”
There’s a lot to be happy about for the good friends and freshman-year roommates. The Anchorage Bucs, the team for which they pitch, is near the top of the five-team league and both rank among the top 25 pitchers in ERA.
Through July 9, Carpenter has pitched in eight games, making three starts. He is 1-0 with two saves and is pitching to a 1.98 ERA, (5 ER in 22 ⅔ IP), with 16 strikeouts. He’s allowed one-or-fewer runs in seven of his eight appearances, including throwing 9 ⅔ shutout innings over his first four appearances, and batters are hitting only .207 off him. He pitched through a finger issue the one time he was scored upon.
“I came in putting up zeroes,” he said. “I actually split something open on my finger so I had some command issues but it’s not an excuse and that is behind me now. We’re ready to roll again.”
He bounced back from the one tough start pitching a summer-high six innings, allowing one run and seven hits, striking out three and not walking a batter -- he has a 3.2 strikeouts-to-walks ratio (16 Ks vs. 5 BBs).
That’s the kind of command he came to Alaska looking for.
“I’m trying to increase the spot command, increase the command on my breaking pitch because it was a little sporadic this year. It was either on or off,” Carpenter said. “I can always add a couple of miles an hour to the fastball.”
Winborne has appeared in 15 games, all out of the bullpen, covering 15 ⅔ innings. He is 2-0 with a three saves, has a 1.14 ERA, and a 4.25 strikeouts-to-walks ratio (17 K’s vs. 4 BBs). He’s holding hitters to a .255 batting average, has only been scored upon once, and has not allowed a run in his last nine appearances, covering eight innings.
He’s found success by reinventing himself. The change of scenery in Alaska has brought with it a change of scenery for opposing hitters.
“Coach Howell, Coach Hall and I spoke about switching to sidearm so I’ve dropped my arm angle down to sidearm,” said Winborne, who prepared for the change by watching You Tube videos of former Kansas City Royals All-Star reliever Dan Quisenberry and a couple of current Major Leaguers. “I expected it to be pretty difficult but I jumped right into it and it’s come fairly easily so far for me. So I attribute most of my success to the new arm angle, I guess. It’s harder for hitters to see.
“Coach Howell said, ‘With my previous arm angle, it wouldn’t be too hard for me to just drop it down’ and he was right,” he added. “He said, ‘We think you’re able to do this,’ and he was right. We’ll see how it plays out but for now it’s been really difficult for the hitters to see (the ball) so I couldn’t be happier.”
While Winborne and Carpenter are happy with what they’ve seen on the diamond, some of their happiest and most peaceful moments have come away from the field. It’s their happy place and is pretty much away from everything.
“There’s a little spot, it’s kind of like a little rocky beach, a cliff area where you can watch the sunset because the sun sets around 11:30 here,” said Carpenter. “A lot of times we’ll play our game and we’ll go work out and then we’ll drive on down to the little beach area. It’s about five minutes from our house. It overlooks a little bay and there are some mountains in the background. You can see Mount McKinley off to the right. It’s a pretty sweet little spot.”
“That’s an incredible spot to go because the sun starts setting around 11:30 and it takes about an hour for it to set. So it’s a great, long sunset,” agreed Winborne. “We’ve gone down there with some guys on the team and had a little bonfire, gotten some food, it’s just a nice, little campground, I guess you would call it, right by the water. That’s been my favorite place to go so far, for sure.”
With some free time in the morning before they need to report to the field, they’ve had times to do outdoor things.
“Baseball consumes a lot it but on off-days salmon fishing or hiking, there’s a lot of stuff to do,” said Carpenter. “Some stuff’s pricey but pretty much you can hike anywhere and you can fish as much as you want. I’d say definitely being the outdoorsy type would benefit you up here.”
While hiking and some climbing may not have been part of their official regimen going in, Winborne assures the coaches that it’s all good -- and safe.
“Obviously, we wouldn’t do anything that would endanger our arms or our lives,” he said, with a laugh. “We’re definitely taking it easy -- as easy as we can take it, I guess.”
They’re not taking it as easy on their opponents. The season concludes on Aug. 1, and is followed by playoffs. A championship would cap off what has already been an unforgettable summer.
“Playoffs start on Aug. 3 and the championship game is on Aug. 6, so it’s a quick, little playoff run,” said Winborne. “There aren’t a lot of teams and we have to get back to Atlanta so that we can get ready for school. So the playoffs are a quick, little, three-day excursion. I like our chances right now. We’re looking really good so I’m excited for it.”