By Steve Robinson | July 11, 2014 - 10:04 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

BaseballAlan Oaks is in his second season as a Normal CornBelters pitcher. Last season, he served as a middle reliever, but with the contract of right hander Cole Brocker purchased earlier this month by the Atlanta Braves, Oaks has been tapped by Normal Manager Brooks Carey to be one of the team’s closers.

You would think some players would tingle with excitement (although they might not express it) a having been named to the Frontier League All-Star Game roster for either team representing the league’s Eastern or Western Divisions. And right-hander Oaks said he is excited to have been named for what will be a first-time honor. But Oaks also sees the honor using a businesslike perspective.

“I was definitely excited about being chosen, and I was pumped up when I heard I made the team,” Oaks said. But then, he added, “That game is one that doesn’t affect the CornBelters. After the All-Star Game ends, you need to come back to Earth and pitch for the CornBelters to help get them into the playoffs.”

Shoulder surgery early in his minor league career led Oaks to pitch at The Corn Crib in 2013. In 2010, he attended the University of Michigan, was drafted by the Miami (then known as Florida) Marlins, who promptly sent him to their Class A team in Greensboro, N. C. at the start of the 2011 season.

But after just four turns on the mound in Greensboro, the right-hander needed shoulder surgery. By 2012, the Marlins moved Oaks to their Class A team in Jupiter, Fla., where he became a reliever. The Marlins promoted him from there to Class AA Jacksonville Suns of the Southern League following the All-Star break.

A case of tendenitis — what Oaks calls “a small elbow issue” – forced Jacksonville to put him on the disabled list late in the 2012 season. Oaks was still under contract to the Marlins when the 2013 season began. But although Oaks was feeling stronger as that season got underway, his bosses told him they felt “there had been too many inconsistencies” in his performance over the time he was with them, and with that, they released him.

Cornbelters 5th AnniversaryJacksonville Manager Andy Barkett took the first step to get Oaks to the CornBelters. Barkett knew CornBelters Personnel Director Nick Belmonte and suggested Oaks contact him. Once Oaks did that, Belmonte put the 26-year-old Southfield, Mich.-native in touch with Carey. From the time he first got to The Corn Crib last season through the middle of this season, Oaks had been serving as middle relief. Brocker’s departure prompted Carey to move him into the closer’s role.

The difference between being a set-up man and a closer, Oaks said, is that as a closer, “You need to be ready to go every night. You never know when you’re going to pitch because you never know when you’re going to have the lead in the ninth inning. You just have to be ready to go every night.

“As a set-up man, you might be going two innings,” Oaks explained, adding if he has to throw numerous pitches in the seventh or eighth inning of a game, he’d likely get the next night off.

“But,” Oaks said, “As a closer, generally, you’re throwing 10 to 20 pitches, getting your three outs, and then be ready to go the next night.”

Oaks said his comfort level with Normal, now that he has been here for a second year, extends to being able to mentor to the new guys on the team this season. “I feel like I have helped a lot of guys in the bullpen, teaching them some new things about the game, or pitch sequences or pitching mechanics.” The White Lake, Mich. Resident said he thinks he’s helped his teammates “to step their games up as well.”

The Marlins may have been the last team he spent time with in the minors, but Oaks is looking to get back to that point, and went to a tryout during spring training this year in Arizona with the Chicago Cubs. But during a routine physical, Cubs’ medical staff noticed bone chips in his throwing arm and sent him for an MRI. The bone chips concerned the Cubs and prompted the team to release him.

“The Cubs saw those and wouldn’t let me throw,” Oaks lamented. Undaunted, Oaks remains hopeful to getting back into the minor league system. As for what might have concerned Cubs’ doctors, Carey argues, “anybody who has ever pitched has bone chips.” Carey said he would like to see Oaks earn another chance to get back to the minor league system.

“I’m ready and just waiting for someone to give me a chance again,” Oaks said.

Frontier LeagueAs of Monday, Oaks has pitched for 24 innings in 20 games, striking out 26, and walking 9. “Alan has torn up every inning he has pitched in this league,” Carey said of his pitcher, who is working to improve on his current 0-2 record. “He was good with us last year and he’s doing well this year.”

Carey adds he wants to see his closer back in affiliated ball. “That’s what I’m working on is to get this kid another chance at the big leagues,” Carey said.

Chirino Among Final Three Chosen For All-Star Game: Votes from players, managers, and media members make up the first 24 of the 27 players on each team’s roster for the Frontier League All-Star Game. The final three players for each side are hand-picked by the manager of their respective teams. Normal CornBelters infielder Santiago Chirino was among the last three players chosen for the Western Division team by their manager, Gateway Grizzlies’ Phil Warren. In addition, Carey got a nod to join Warren’s Western Division team coaching staff. As a result of those additions, Normal will have seven men in uniform at GCS Ballpark.

Health concerns forced Washington and East division all-star manager Bart Zeller to resign on Sunday, so Evansville Otters manager Andy McCauley was at the helm for the Eastern Division for Wednesday’s game. McCauley’s Otters were tied with Washington for first place in the East entering Sunday’s action.

Last year’s Frontier League All-Star Game and surrounding festivities took place at CONSOL Park in Washington, Pa., home of the Washington Wild Things. But in the recap of recent All-Star Games on Gateway Grizzlies’ website, the history indicates the game was played in Washington, Ill. The site did correctly recap the 2012 All-Star Game at The Corn Crib.

Frontier Greys, Washington Visit After Break: The CornBelters will be home for a 10-day, 9-game homestand after the All-Star Break concludes. The Frontier Greys, the league’s continuously traveling team, will visit The Corn Crib for three games Friday through Sunday, July 18-20. The CornBelters will take Monday, July 21 off, and then welcome the Washington Wild Things in for three games over two days with a doubleheader on Tuesday, July 22 and a single game Wednesday, July 23. Lake Erie will visit for three games beginning Thursday, July 24.

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