For Kevin Comer, life on the West Coast isn’t too bad.
The 2011 Seneca High School graduate is doing what he’s always wanted to do, a call away from reaching the big leagues.
As a reliever for the Fresno Grizzlies, the right-hander is making the most of his opportunities with the Houston Astros’ Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. It’s a day-to-day grind, a journey that has tested his mettle but certainly proven to be worth the hard work.
“The dream becomes a little more real when you start to see lights at the end of the tunnel. I’ve got to keep pushing, keep working to stay afloat,” said Comer, who turns 25 on August 1.
“It’s been quite the roller coaster and a little longer journey than some other (pro) guys from South Jersey. It’s been tough at times, but I’ve stayed true to what I try to do. You make adjustments, keep pushing. It’s starting to come around and it’s nice to see the results.”
Going into Monday’s game against Round Rock, Comer was 4-3 with a 2.60 ERA in 34 games out of the bullpen. He had converted five of his seven save opportunities, striking out 60 and walking 18 in 52 innings of work.
He made two appearances at Double-A Corpus Christi to open the season, striking out five and not allowing a run in three innings before being promoted.
“Within the first week I was sent up because of a lack of arms,” Comer said. “I pitched my way into staying.
“I’m doing a little bit of everything. They’re not really looking to call up a Triple-A closer, so I want to be ready to throw as much as they need me to throw.”
Taken 57th overall in the 2011 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, Comer passed on a scholarship to Vanderbilt in order to pursue his dream. He signed for $1.65 million and immediately became part of a young and talented group of pitchers.
But in August 2012, Comer turned out to be the “player to be named later” in a 10-player deal between the Astros and Toronto. At the time, he was considered the Blue Jays’ No. 11 prospect.
Now, he’s part of an organization that’s on the rise. The Astros hold a significant lead in the AL West and trail only the Los Angeles Dodgers as the winningest team in the majors.
“It’s been exciting watching what’s unfolding here,” Comer noted. “I’m as much as a call away from being part of the excitement. Four or five years ago, that trade was the building block of their version of the process (referring to the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA), loading up with talent. Here we are now at the high point of the AL West.
“At the time, I was in camp with a lot of young guys. It’s the same here. It makes you push a little harder. There’s more satisfaction when you move up the ranks in an organization stockpiled with talent.”
Looking back, Comer is glad he passed on college and took a shot at pro ball. He’s climbed the minor-league ladder, overcome a shoulder injury and went from starter to reliever with no objections.
“Things don’t ever go the way you planned them to go, but I don’t have any regrets,” he said. “I knew I wanted to play baseball and that’s something that will never change.
“I try to do the best at what I can. I know it’s tough, but you have to push regardless because of the numbers. You make sure not to slip up or get too comfortable. … A lot has happened. There were some hard days career-wise. You just have to grind and push to get out of that hole. You’re fighting for a position with other guys to keep a spot.
“Once I was out of shoulder rehab last year, which wasn’t looking too pretty, I just had a hell-bent attitude. I wasn’t going to let anything hold me back. I’m definitely enjoying this rare opportunity as far as life compared to a lot of people. It’s quite a good life.”
The 57th overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, Kevin Comer was traded to the Houston Astros as part of a 10-player deal the next year. He's a reliever for the team's Triple-A affiliate in Fresno. Photos courtesy of Fresno Grizzlies