Every time the door opens to the White Sands Pupfish bullpen and Windsor’s Mike DeLong comes charging out, he figures he’s taking another step toward opening the door to a long career in professional baseball.
The rookie reliever is enjoying a splendid rookie season with the Alamagordo, N.M.-based Pupfish of the Independent Pecos League, which on talent level is comparable to class-A minor league baseball.
In 12 appearances covering 27 innings, DeLong, who played high-school ball at Assumption before pitching for Detroit’s Henry Ford Community College, shows a 1-1 record with one save, a 2.66 earned-run average and a 0.92 WHIP. He’s allowed 22 hits and just eight earned runs, while striking out 32 against a mere 11 walks.
The 6-4, 220-pound right-hander who played his high-school ball at Assumption thinks his biggest break came when he threw NCAA ball for West Texas State. In 2010, they moved him to a relief role. As a senior, he became the team’s closer.
“I like coming out of the bullpen,” DeLong said. “I think I’m more effective as a 1-3 inning guy.
“A big thing that’s helped me be successful is having command of my secondary pitches, my slider and my change-up. Throwing those over for strikes in fastball counts, or starting off with a slider and then coming back with a fastball is working for me, because guys are a little more aggressive in this league.
“Everyone’s hungry. Everyone’s trying to make a name for themselves, so the hitters are a lot more aggressive. Everyone wants to hit home runs.”
Thinking the game is another positive development that’s allowed DeLong to make progress as a pro.
“It’s all about being smarter than the hitter,” DeLong said. “At this level, everyone can throw 90-plus and everyone can hit 90-plus. It’s just a matter of what’s coming. If you can outsmart the hitter in different counts, you’ll have success.
“That’s been a big step for me in jumping from college to the professional level, being more of a pitcher than a thrower trying to blow it by guys. Now it’s more, ‘OK I’ve faced this guy before, so I can start him off with this pitch.’
“It’s about using more of the mental aspect of the game and knowing which pitch to throw at certain points in the count that has been really helping me.”
DeLong travelled to Michigan regularly during the winter to work with a professional pitching coach, his brother Ray tagging along to catch.
He earned a tryout with the Gary Southshore Railcats of the American Association, but the team was overstocked with 14 pitchers and he was advised to go to the Pupfish.
“They said, ‘Go here and put up the numbers and doors should open up for you,’” DeLong said. “From there I drove out here and it’s been a pretty good choice, because I’ve been doing quite well.”
A desert community lying in the Tularosa Basin and bordered on the east by the Sacramento Mountains, Alamagordo is a military town. Fort Bliss, the second-largest U.S. military base covering 1,700 square miles is nearby.
“It’s hot here,” DeLong said. “It got up to 107 (degrees Fahrenheit) yesterday. It will drain you if you’re in the sun every day.
“All our games are at 6:30-7 (p.m.) because the sun will kick your butt if you’re out in it too long.”
DeLong finds himself facing the likes of the Trinidad Triggers, Roswell Invaders and Las Vegas Train Robbers and loves every minute of it, hoping it will lead to chances to further his pitching career.
Since 2011, 161 Pecos League players have moved on to higher levels of baseball. Nine signed with major-league clubs.
“I’ve been in touch with a couple of teams,” DeLong said. “This league ends the end of July. The other (minor) leagues go until September-October, so other doors should open up if I keep putting up the numbers and hopefully, I’ll sign with an affiliated team.”
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