Springdale grad Devine chasing dream with St. Paul Saints |
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Springdale grad Devine chasing dream with St. Paul Saints

Betsy Bissen
Mike Devine, a Springdale native, is currently pitching for the independent St. Paul (Minn.) Saints.
Betsy Bissen
Mike Devine, a Springdale native, is currently pitching for the independent St. Paul (Minn.) Saints.

Mike Devine’s travels through independent baseball leagues include stops in places like Traverse City, Mich.; Normal, Ill.; Avon, Ohio; and Wichita, Kansas, with each stop bringing dreams of being discovered by a Major League organization.

The Springdale graduate is still waiting for the opportunity to play affiliated baseball, but he isn’t giving up. He hopes his current stop with the St. Paul (Minn.) Saints will be the place he gets noticed.

The Saints play in the American Association of Professional Baseball, considered one of the top independent leagues in the country.

At 28, Devine, a relief pitcher, understands the odds he is up against, but he’s consistently put up good numbers each year, and that’s continued this season. He carries a 2.82 ERA through 17 games and 22 13 innings and has 20 strikeouts.

Another glimmer of hope came when St. Paul’s second baseman, Josh Allen, was signed recently by the New York Mets and sent to Class AA Binghamton. Allen, 27, hadn’t played affiliated ball prior to being signed by the Mets. Allen’s story gives Devine hope he may get a phone call next.

“What I’m hoping to be is a guy who can fill a need at some point,” Devine said. “Not too many teams are going to take a risk on a 28-year-old that has never played affiliated ball before, but we just saw it happen. The first night (Allen) batted third in Class AA. They usually don’t mess around. It’s either sink or swim.

“You hope that your number gets called, but for now we’re playing well, and we’re having a bunch of fun. We have a good group of guys. The goal for every one of us is to get signed, but in the meantime it’s more fun to keep winning games.”

The Saints were 20-18 through Thursday and a half-game out of first place in the North Division.

Devine has impressed Saints pitching coach and former Atlanta Braves reliever Kerry Ligtenberg, especially with the way he attacks hitters and his ability to locate pitches from a couple of different arm slots.

“He’s just so consistent,” said Ligtenberg, who pitched five seasons in Atlanta and had three other stops in an eight-year MLB career. “He told me he lost 30 pounds between this year and last year. I didn’t realize that, but he said he was a little heaver, and it took a toll on his back. He works really hard every day getting ready and prides himself on being able to pitch several days in a row. His arm is really resilient.

“He’s getting older, so it’s tough for him to get into affiliated ball. It seems like nowadays that you need to hit 93-95 consistently as a right hander to get a look from a Major League team. Mike can hit 93, but he’s consistently at 90-91. If he keeps getting people out and doing it over and over, hopefully somebody will give him a chance to go into spring training and try to fight his way on a roster.”

Devine played the last two seasons with the Wichita Wingnuts in the American Association after spending three-plus years in the Frontier League. Wichita was in the last two championship series.

Last year, Devine pitched a scoreless eighth inning in Game 4 against the Winnipeg Goldeyes in a game that had some controversy.

Wichita got what appeared to the final out to secure the championship and started celebrating on the field, but was stopped because of a late balk call. Play resumed and Casey Turgeon doubled to tie it. A few hours later Winnipeg walked off in the 17th inning, evening the series at 2-2. Winnipeg secured an 18-2 win in the deciding game two days later.

In the offseason, Devine was traded from Wichita to Sugar Land of the Atlantic League and then was dealt by Sugar Land to St. Paul.

The move to St. Paul has been a good one. The Saints lead the league in attendance by more than 4,000 fans per game. They are known for their eccentric in-game promotions and have a trained pig named Porknite that delivers baseballs to the umpire.

“We play in front of 8,000-plus every night. It’s a great atmosphere, and it’s a great ballpark,” Devine said. “The fans here are super loyal. You get excited to go play at that ballpark every day. It’s nice to be in a bigger city. Being from Pittsburgh, I always liked driving downtown at night and seeing the lights on at PNC Park. Now I’m at a place where I can drive through downtown and see the lights on at our park, so that’s pretty cool.”

Devine works as a caddie at The Old Collier Golf Club in Naples, Fla., in the offseason. He has a passion for baseball that likely won’t leave him anytime soon. He wants to keep going even if that phone call from an MLB team doesn’t come this season.

“I plan to keep playing until I can’t get that jersey anymore,” Devine said. “Growing up, my dad (Bill) was a huge baseball influence on me. My brother (Tim) went through a couple injuries and wasn’t able to pursue the career that he wanted to, so I want to pursue my career as far as I can.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.

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