Courtesy of Salem Red Sox
Courtesy of Salem Red Sox
SALEM, Va. – From the stadium you can see the green rolling hills of the Appalachian Mountains.
Those mountains often are obscured by clouds and mist, and it’s not La Plata County, but hey, it’s not bad.
“Reminds me of home here a little bit,” Will Latimer said Aug. 20 in the concrete hallway under the grandstands at Salem Memorial Baseball Stadium.
It’s 90 minutes before the Salem Red Sox host the Frederick (Md.) Keys in a Class A minor league baseball game. Latimer pitched three innings during a marathon 14-inning game two nights before, so he almost certainly will not pitch (he didn’t) the day after. Coaches are careful at this level not to overwork a pitcher. An arm injury can kill the investment.
He misses his parents, Larry and Karolann Latimer of Bayfield. (Karolann works in The Durango Herald advertising department.) And he misses his sister, whom he hasn’t seen since Christmas.
“That’s probably the hardest part,” the 24-year-old left-hander said of his journey through the minor leagues.
Don’t think for a moment that Latimer’s not concentrating fully on baseball. Some days he may kill a couple of hours watching videos in the house that eight players rent in Salem. But other than that, he’s full-on baseball.
The 2004 Bayfield High School graduate was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 22nd round in 2007. He was injured in 2008, and in 2009 he played the bulk of the year for the Lowell Spinners and Greenville Drive, the organization’s low and intermediate Class A teams, respectively.
Salem is high Class A, so there is more to learn, more improvements to make. Of course, in the professional ranks, there always are improvements to make.
With his fastball, which now reaches a respectable low-90s, he’s been “pounding the strike zone,” he said and issuing few walks.
With his slider, it’s a matter of fine-tuning.
And his changeup, a work in progress last year, now is usable in games.
“He’s making a lot of little subtle adjustments to help him in the future,” said Salem’s pitching coach, Dick Such.
The coach corroborates Latimer’s own assessment. The changeup is something Latimer is beginning to master, Such said. It’s a pitch that, if not thrown right, can lead to quick disaster.
“Sometimes learning the changeup you go through some hard times,” Such said.
Such pitched in the major leagues with the Washington Senators in 1970 and has been a pitching coach for more than three decades. His biggest claim to fame is coaching the Minnesota Twins’ pitchers from 1986 to 2001, during which they won two World Series.
The coach not only talks about Latimer’s improvement from last season at Greenville but his attitude. It’s obvious his coaches and teammates love to have him around the clubhouse.
“It really is a pleasure to have a kid like that,” Such said. The day after a bad game, “he doesn’t bring it in here. He comes in and continues to work and get ready for his next turn.”
The season ends Sept. 7, unless the Red Sox make the four-team playoffs. They’re right on the bubble, vying with Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Kinston, N.C., for the final spot.
After that it’s back to Bayfield and home. At least temporarily. Latimer knows that to make it to the big leagues – every player’s ultimate goal – he can’t afford a true offseason. He’ll be working out and following his organization’s advice. Despite the long bus rides and time away from Colorado, his love for the game and his willingness to put in long hours to improve has not waned.
And coach Such is impressed with that work ethic. The major leagues are a ways off, but lefties always are in short supply, and his statistics – a 3.36 earned-run average on a team with a 3.78 ERA – are not shabby.
“We’ve been very pleased with how he’s progressed,” Such said. “He’s going to give himself a chance.”