When the Edenton Steamers lost in the championship round of the Petitt Cup playoffs last weekend, Steamers fans had no idea that Ethan Cole was about to become a professional baseball player.
Then again, neither did Cole, the team’s closer. He was expecting to be at Tennessee Wesleyan enrolling in fall classes this week.
Instead, Cole was riding a bus from Batavia, N.Y. to Lowell. Mass. Wednesday as a member of the Batavia Muckdogs, a Single-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Cole has Steamers coach Dirk Kinney, who transitioned to a new job as a scout for the Cardinals immediately after the Steamers’ season, to thank for the unexpected change in circumstances.
Kinney recommended that the team sign Cole when he was asked Sunday night if there were any big-time arms on the Steamers’ roster.
“I told them about Ethan, I thought he really had a chance,” Kinney said from his home in Kansas City. “He’s not real school-oriented and this would be a good opportunity for him.
“His breaking ball is what separates him from other players. He’s got a 90-91 mph fastball, which is about average for major leagues, but his offspeed stuff makes him special.”
Cole, in a phone interview from the Muckdogs team bus, said his head is still spinning.
“I’m very happy, it was a very quick change of events, everything happened so fast,” said the native of Austin, Tx. “On Sunday I flew home from Edenton. On Monday I was loading up the truck to go to school when Dirk called. I flew out here last night and I’m on a six-hour road trip right now.”
Even though Cole received only $1,000 and a promise to pay his college costs from the Cardinals, it didn’t take a lot of convincing on Kinney’s part for Cole to sign. More important than the money was the fact that the Cardinals are starting Cole in high-A ball, rather than in a rookie league or low-A league.
“That’s a big jump,” Kinney said. “Most guys need at least two years to get to that level.”
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Cole, who went undrafted out of high school and at Northeast Texas Community College. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Cole had a great regular season for the Steamers, going 5-1 with a 2.14 ERA and 20 saves. He also held opposing hitters to a ,208 batting average.
Cole did his best work in the playoffs, however. The 6-0, 185-pound righthander made five appearances in the postseason, going 3-0 with one save and a 0.00 ERA. He pitched 15 1-3 scoreless innings, allowing six hits, two walks and striking out 12. Opposing hitters batted only .125 against him.
Cole believes he is ready for the challenge of facing professional batters.
“From what everyone is telling me, I’m here for a reason,” he said. “I think I showed a tough mentality with the Steamers and in school.”
Kinney’s future employment with the Cardinals was a well-guarded secret for most of the Steamers season. He didn’t want to be concerned with players who might be more interested in showing off their individual skills than playing for the team.
But eventually, the word leaked out after one of the Steamers saw a radar gun with “St. Louis Cardinals” printed on it in Kinney’s office and made the connection.
“A few guys might have known, but I didn’t know for sure,” Cole said. “I knew he had some kind of importance with some team, but I didn’t know he was a scout.
“Most didn’t know. I think it was pretty cool that the team played as hard as it did even though we didn’t know.”
Kinney said he never let his relationship with the Cardinals get in the way of opportunities for Steamers with other pro organizations.
“No way,” he said. “I’ve talked to the Braves, Nationals and other teams to try to get some of these guys lined up.”