Kinney gets the call from ChiSox

(Photo courtesy of the Charlotte Knights)

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
August 25, 2011

When Josh Kinney opened the 2011 baseball season with the Charlotte Knights instead of their parent club, the Chicago White Sox, he took the Triple-A assignment in stride but never stopped working toward a return to the big leagues.

“All you can really do is just play the game and do your best, and hopefully it works out,” the veteran reliever said during the Knights’ May visit to Buffalo.

Last Friday, that work paid off. When ChiSox pitcher Philip Humber ended up on the disabled list, Kinney got the call he’d been waiting for, and barely had time to unpack in Chicago before taking the mound against the Texas Rangers that night.

The quick turnaround apparently didn’t bother the Port High grad, nor did facing the defending American League champions in his first major-league appearance since October 2009. Entering the game with the Sox trailing 7-4 after the Rangers touched starter Jake Peavy for three home runs, Kinney merely whiffed a career-best six of the 11 batters he saw, allowing just one hit and an intentional walk in three scoreless innings of relief.

“Given the circumstances, you don’t really want to see Peavy have that happen to him the way it worked out,” Kinney told reporters afterward. “But I know that’s probably going to be my job – to go in there in those types of situations and save our ‘pen. I was glad to be able to get the three innings and save our guys.”

And those six strikeouts?

“Yeah, that’s nice,” he said. “Obviously, I’m not going out there trying to strike guys out. My game’s kind of letting them put the ball in play and let the defense take care of it. It’s just kind of the way it worked out last night. I was happy with the way I threw the ball and real happy to give the bullpen a break.”

The 32-year-old Kinney started the season as a setup man before taking over the closer’s role in Charlotte. He compiled a 6-3 record and 2.77 ERA in 49 appearances for the Knights, holding opposing batters to a paltry .221 average and earning a team-high 14 saves before last week’s callup.

Now, if the Sox can creep a little closer to the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers, he might even find himself in a pennant race again.

“It’s been a long road for me in my career,” Kinney said. “Just to get the call to come up here with these guys this time of year, with the position this team’s in, it’s pretty special. I can appreciate that. Forty games left to play and we’re after something. It’s pretty cool and I’m delighted to be here.”

 

(Information from MLB.com and ESPN.com was used in this story.)

Kinney still throwing strikes

Port Allegany native Josh Kinney warms up before a recent game. Kinney currently has a 1-2 record and a 3.60 ERA for the Class AAA Charlotte Knights, the top affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. (Photo courtesy of the Knights' media relations department.)

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
May 26, 2011

Before Port Allegany started its own high school baseball program, students who wanted to play had to catch the bus over the hill to Shinglehouse for practices and games as part of a co-op agreement with Oswayo Valley, a trip the players jokingly called the “squirrel trail.”

Little did pitcher Josh Kinney know that those rides through the northern Pennsylvania woods would lead to a World Series ring and an 11-year – and counting – professional baseball career.

“I don’t think you could ever plan it like this. I count my blessings every day,” the 1997 Port High grad says during a Sunday-morning chat in Buffalo, where his Charlotte Knights are preparing to play the Bisons that afternoon. “When I look back on stuff like that, it’s just funny how it all works, because I didn’t think I’d be playing baseball for a living. I just always played because it’s what I like to do.

“But I really cherish those memories and those times,” he adds. “Guys don’t get to do that now, because we’ve got our own team.”

***

Kinney spent 10 years in the St. Louis organization, going from the unimaginable high of the 2006 World Series championship run to the low of reconstructive surgery on his elbow the next spring and the lengthy rehab which followed. He finished with a 1-4 record for their Class AAA affiliate in Memphis in 2010, earning 17 saves and compiling a 1.80 ERA in 56 appearances, but his time with the Cardinals came to a close when they removed him from their 40-man roster and allowed him to become a free agent after the season.

“When they took me off, I was pitching really well, felt great. It was one of those things where I never really understood what was going on,” he says. “In baseball, as a player, you have a perspective from the player’s view. You don’t know what owners and managers are thinking. But when they took me off, they kept giving me lip service, telling me, ‘We can still call you back up. We’ve still got plans for you. We were just trying to trade for someone and our roster was full, so you were a guy we thought we could take off without anybody grabbing you.’ Stuff like that. Then I tried to get traded and they wouldn’t trade me, so they just basically let me sit there. I really still don’t know why, but that’s neither here nor there. I finished the year and had one of the best years I’ve ever had. You look at my numbers, they speak for themselves.”

While the Cards were no longer interested in his services – a stark reminder that at its highest levels, baseball is as much a business as a game – at least four other teams were. Kinney chose the Chicago White Sox from the offers he received, thinking it was his best chance to get back to the big leagues, but for now he’s with their Triple-A team in Charlotte.

“In the offseason – you’re looking at November when I signed with these guys – at that time, they had lost several guys out of their bullpen. They only had four or five guys returning to their pen, so it looked like it would be a good fit. Then they signed a bunch of guys after that, and here we are,” he says, then shrugs. “But that’s the way it goes. All you can really do is just play the game and do your best, and hopefully it works out.”

Signing with Chicago meant plenty of adjustments for Kinney, including a move to North Carolina and his first trip through the International League.

“I was pretty excited about it, to tell you the truth,” he says. “Being that it’s a totally new league, every park I go to is new. After playing as long as I’ve played, it’s neat to have something fresh, wear a different-colored uniform. I wore red for 10 years – wouldn’t change it – but red cleats every day for 10 years, and all of a sudden I got a pair of black ones sent to me. It’s like, ‘What is this?’

“But the change has been good. I really like our team. I like our coaches a lot – our manager, our pitching coach here, our hitting coach. They’re good people that know the game, that played it, so you have respect for them. It’s good. I’m enjoying it.”

The respect is mutual from Knights manager Joe McEwing, a former major-leaguer who split time between four teams during a nine-year pro career.

“He’s a pro’s pro,” McEwing says. “He’s taken guys under his wing and showed them the right way. He leads by presence and by example, the way he goes about his business every day. Guys can look at it and say, ‘This is what it takes to get to the big leagues.’ I’m very fortunate to be in a situation where I have a veteran leader like Josh – the type of person he is, and the way he goes about his business – and that doesn’t even mention what goes on on the field. He’s an outstanding pitcher, and hopefully we can get him back to the big leagues.”

One other change in his job description: Because the White Sox are an American League team which uses the designated hitter, batting practice is a thing of the past.

“I haven’t swung a bat since I’ve been over here, and that’s fine with me. Those days are over,” he says with a laugh. “Any more, I’d go swing and I’d be sore from swinging it, so I don’t care anymore. Besides, I hit last year. My last at-bat, I got a hit.”

***

Saturday night was a good one for Kinney. Walking to the mound in the bottom of the seventh inning with a two-run lead, he rolled up five strikeouts in two scoreless innings of work, handed the game over to closer Brian Bruney for the save in Charlotte’s 6-3 win, and got a hug from mom Debbie outside the clubhouse afterward.

“This is awesome. I got to see my family last night. To me, that’s wonderful,” he says. “Today, I’m going home after the game, and I haven’t been home in the summertime since I was in college. Just getting to see familiar faces has been nice. You know, actually, I was thinking about that last night …”

Kinney goes on to note that on seemingly every Knights road trip, someone from Port Allegany – which he still considers home, no matter where he’s playing – has shown up at a game.

“It’s been great,” he says. “I didn’t get that with the Cardinals. It was so far away from home that you just didn’t run into people. In the big leagues, I had people come to Pittsburgh, Washington, New York … But it’s different when you’re in the big leagues. You really don’t have as much time to spend, and do everything. So I’m excited to be here.”

***

The biggest adjustment of all had nothing – and everything – to do with Kinney’s baseball career, when wife Jorni delivered the couple’s first child, son Saxton Thomas Robert, shortly before he left for spring training. How’s the new dad doing?

“It’s awesome,” he says. “I don’t know how it happened so quick. You look at this game, you’ve honestly got to be kind of selfish to play baseball and do it at a high level. You’ve just got to be committed to it; I don’t know how to describe it other than that. You’ve got to be committed to the game – the work, the time here – and I’ve always been good with that.

“Now, there’s somebody more important. I’ve got a wife, and now I’ve got a son. I realized when I got married, you know what? There’s a lot more to today than how many runs I give up or how many strikeouts I get, how bad I pitch or how good I pitch. Now it’s not about me, it’s about my family.

“I went through that with my wife a little bit, but it’s a lot easier dealing with an adult. You can reason with them,” he jokes before quickly adding, “I love being married. And now we have a son, and it’s just wonderful. I mean, it’s so nice to come home and see him, to have him puke on me or whatever else he does, but we’re just having a blast. Aside from the no-sleep part” – Kinney’s stellar outing against Buffalo becomes even more impressive when he explains that he’d gotten only two hours of shuteye the night before – “it’s been great. Had to learn how to change diapers, I’ve been peed on several times, and I wouldn’t change it. Love it.

“It’s so hard for me just to go on an eight-day road trip. Yesterday, I had to kiss them goodbye. Kiss my wife, kiss the baby, kiss the dog … Before, it was no big deal. Now, I come home and he’s doing stuff different. When we came home from the last eight-day road trip, it looked like he grew, he gained a pound or something. His hair looks different, and he’s grabbing stuff, and blowing bubbles, so I don’t know what he’ll be doing this time. It’s great.”

While the 32-year-old Kinney misses his young family on the road, it doesn’t sound like he’s ready to make the transition from professional baseball player to stay-at-home father just yet.

“The competitive side of me, I love it. I don’t know if it’ll ever go away,” he says. “Last night was great going out there, close game, my family’s here. And obviously I’ve still got a little bit of stuff. I got some guys out.

“I feel good, as far as my age and my body. I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t thought about what I’d do if it was over, being what I went through with my arm and now that I have a family. But I feel too good, and I still love it too much, to just quit.”

***

Kinney doesn’t get into Sunday’s game, as the Bisons rough up Knights starter Matt Zaleski on their way to a 7-5 win. But he’s all smiles as he heads for the clubhouse door – the first player out – dropping into the coaches’ room on the way by to tell them, “See you tomorrow. I’m going to go home and shoot a turkey.”

McEwing tells him that if he gets one, to bring it back with him and they’ll have the Bisons’ chefs cook it for them. A coach adds, “Get a deer and we’ll cut that bad boy up, too.”

Everyone laughs, and Kinney heads out the door, shouldering his backpack and walking down the hallway to his waiting rental car.

Going home.

© Lori Chase, 2011.

Baseball: Gators drop playoff opener to Hubs

Thanks to a spring full of rainouts and canceled games, when Port Allegany and Smethport met in Tuesday’s District 9 baseball playoff opener at Roulette, the longtime rivals were seeing each other for the first time all season.

For the Hubbers, it was worth the wait. Al Myers and Tony Farrell keyed a seven-run second inning with back-to-back home runs off Gator ace Garrett Drabert, and following a Port rally which cut the margin to 9-6, Kolin Strawcutter added another two-run shot in the fourth to power the ninth seed to an 11-7 victory and a quarterfinal-round matchup against No. 1 Coudersport on Thursday.

“We’ve been struggling all year, but it seems like when it’s warm out we swing the bat, and tonight they did against a very good team,” Smethport coach Rick Austin said before admitting, “I was scared to death coming over here to play. I know what Stuckey can do, Lowery, Drabert, all of them. We knew coming in it was going to be a tough game. They’re very well coached. It was exactly what we had planned, but I didn’t think it would be by this amount of runs. Big win.”

In the opposing dugout, Port coach Nate Zitnik reflected on a game – and season – that seemed to slip just out of the Gators’ grasp.

“A couple of those hits, if you shift them over a few feet, were double-play balls and ground-ball outs,” he said. “And Garrett does a great job getting guys on their front foot and getting fly balls, but when the wind is blowing out and you’ve got 320 feet in the power alleys … I’m not making excuses, but it just didn’t match up well for us today.”

Jory Okerlund picked up the win for Smethport with Brian Zetwick and Clay Schuler coming on in relief, while Drabert and Camrin Stuckey shared mound duties for the Gators.

“I do give credit to Camrin,” Zitnik said. “He was the first pitcher we’ve had this season to throw over 100 pitches, and he gutted it out. He wanted the opportunity to keep us close, and he did. We didn’t take advantage of opportunities that we should have.”

So while the Hubbers (8-4) move on to face a 12-1 Falcons team which eked out a pair of one-run wins in their two meetings this season, the Gators conclude an on-again, off-again year at 10-5.

“With the type of season we had, not being able to practice outside, being stuck in the gym … I wouldn’t trade any of these guys,” Zitnik said. “They didn’t hit the panic button. One of these times they’ll get rewarded for that work ethic and effort; I just hope it happens sooner rather than later.

“I feel awful for the seniors that they had to go out on this note, with this type of season, because it really wasn’t a baseball season. It’s unfortunate for them. It was a good senior class, and I’m upset that we couldn’t have done more with those guys.”

At Roulette, May 24:
Smethport 1 7 1 2 0 0 0 – 11 8 2
Port Allegany 1 0 5 0 0 0 1 – 7 7 5
Jory Okerlund (4 SO, 3 BB), Brian Zetwick (3) (4 SO, 3 BB), Clay Schuler (6) (3 SO) and Al Myers
Garrett Drabert (1 SO, 1 BB), Camrin Stuckey (3) (8 SO, 3 BB) and Zach Sigafoes
HR: Myers (S), Farrell (S), Strawcutter (S). 3B: Kysor (PA)

Baseball: Getting back into the swing of things

With the weather finally beginning to cooperate – although not without a few more raindrops and grumbles of thunder – the Port Allegany baseball team went 3-1 in a pair of doubleheaders last week, splitting with Kane on Thursday and sweeping Otto-Eldred on Saturday to improve to 5-2 on the season.

But after almost three full weeks since their last game, the Gators struggled to get back into the swing of things when they finally got back on the field in Kane, dropping a 3-2 decision in the opener before rebounding to take the nightcap 11-2.

“Give credit to Kane for making us pay, but we didn’t play well. We didn’t deserve to win,” coach Nate Zitnik said of the first game, when Port stranded several baserunners and the three Wolves runners who scored got on base via a walk, an error, and a hit batsman.

Scoring wasn’t a problem in the second game, when Rickie Bova’s solo home run and doubles by Seth Lowery, Camrin Stuckey, Sam Kysor and Garrett Drabert highlighted an 11-run outburst.

“Rickie busted out. He roped that one; it was a great hit,” Zitnik said. “Everyone contributed. I couldn’t be any happier with that stat line.”

In Saturday morning’s first game, the Gator bats were sluggish again, but Stuckey homered to lead off the second inning and combined with starter Garrett Drabert on a one-hit shutout to give the Gators the 1-0 win over Otto-Eldred.

“Stuke’s been on fire lately. He did almost kill me – he hit a laser right out at me (in the third-base coaches’ box), so now every time he’s been up to bat, I’ve been coaching from the other team’s dugout,” Zitnik noted with a grin. “But he’s been hitting really well. He came in and shut the door pitching-wise, and gave us our only run with that home run. We got off to a slow start; we put the ball in play, but they made plays. We were lucky to get out with a win there.”

First, though, Port had to withstand a bases-loaded threat from the Terrors.

“Cory Burr, who hasn’t played that much – he was filling in for Charlie Buchanan, who was taking his SATs – makes a diving play in the gap and flips to second to Sam to really save that game for us. So while it’s not exactly how I wanted it, there were some bright spots, too. I would be remiss to not acknowledge that we did some good things,” Zitnik said.

Zach Sigafoes drove in four runs and Sam Kysor added three in the second game, as Port completed the sweep with a 7-4 win.

“I do have to credit the guys in the second game,” Zitnik said. “Seth got himself in the groove and scored runs for us, Sam had a good game with multiple hits, and Stuckey stayed hot. But the surprise for us was Zach Sigafoes, with the clutch RBIs that put us ahead.”

But while he was happy to get out with the wins, Zitnik knows there’s plenty of work to do if his team wants to make a deep postseason run.

“It’s almost like we’re starting all over again, which is difficult with the playoffs just around the corner,” he said.

At Kane, May 5:
Port A 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 – 2 4 1
Kane 2 0 0 1 0 0 x — 3 3 3
Kyle Hildebrandt (3 SO, 2 BB), Camrin Stuckey (4) (1 SO, 0 BB) and Zach Sigafoes
Evan Depto (2 SO, 2 BB), Dave Swanson (4) (2 SO, 0 BB) and Jordan Kumher

Kane 0 1 0 1 0 — 2 2 1
Port A 2 9 0 0 x – 11 9 1
Swanson, Mitch Kumher (2), Matt Flickinger (2), Dan Park (3) (3 SO, 7 BB), and J. Kumher
Stuckey (3 SO, 1 BB), Garrett Drabert (3) (4 SO, 1 BB) and Sigafoes
HR: Bova (PA)

At Port Allegany, May 7:
Port Allegany 0 1 0 0 0 – 1 3 0
Otto-Eldred 0 0 0 0 0 – 0 1 1
Drabert (5 SO, 3 BB), Stuckey (4) (4 SO) and Sigafoes
Clay Pinner (2 SO) and Noah Colebert
HR: Stuckey (PA)

Otto-Eldred 2 2 0 0 0 – 4 4 2
Port Allegany 3 0 2 2 x – 7 6 1
Ryan Jeannerette (1 SO, 1 BB), Craig Halstead (4) (3 BB), Sam Colebert (4) and Pinner
Stuckey (1 SO, 1 BB), Hildebrandt (2) (3 SO, 1 BB), Sam Kysor (5) (2 SO, 1 BB) and Sigafoes

Gator baseball/softball: still stuck in the swamp

Lori Chase
April 28, 2011

Weather woes continued to plague area high school baseball and softball teams last week, and Port Allegany was no exception. While the Lady Gators managed to get in games against Smethport and Otto-Eldred, their counterparts on the baseball diamond have played just six innings – in a suspended contest against Cameron County – since April 16.

On Wednesday, Smethport piled up seven runs in the top of the first inning, and Logan Akers hurled a eight-strikeout, two-hit gem in the Lady Hubs’ 12-1 softball win.

“It’s hard to come back against a good team like Smethport,” Port coach Dave Morey said. “We didn’t give up, but when you dig a hole like that, and against a dominant pitcher …”

Cora Bova singled in the bottom of the first, then scored the Gators’ only run on a fourth-inning double by Kris-Ann Raymo. Jenny Shelley (2 SO, 6 BB) and Kira Nolder shared pitching duties for Port, which dropped to 1-3 following the next night’s 6-3 loss at Otto-Eldred.

Eleven days after their last game, a 5-4 decision over Johnsonburg, the Gator baseball team’s record remains at 2-1. Both teams are off for the remainder of this week; weather permitting – a common refrain in this washed-out season – they’ll resume playing on May 2, when the Northern Potter baseball and Kane softball teams are slated to visit Port Allegany.

At Port Allegany, Apr. 20:
Smethport 7 1 1 3 0 – 12
Port Allegany 0 0 0 1 0 – 1

Baseball: Gators win pair after dropping opener

After two weeks of rainouts – and even some snow – the Port Allegany baseball team finally got some games in the scorebook last week, dropping their first game to Coudersport before bouncing back with wins against Oswayo Valley and Johnsonburg.

By the time the Gators opened their long-delayed season, coach Nate Zitnik joked, the Allegheny River had spent more time on the Moose Park field than his team had.

“We’ve had one legitimate outside practice where we went over everything,” he explained. “We’ve been getting on the guys for mental mistakes, but the bottom line is, we haven’t gotten to go over a lot of stuff, either. There’s a lot of situations we’ve talked about in the gym, but just aren’t the same when you put them on 90 feet.”

Walks, errors, and chilled bats combined to thwart the Gators in last Tuesday’s 9-4 loss to the Falcons, a rain-shortened six-inning affair moved to Moose Park from an even soggier C.A.R.P. Field.

“We would’ve liked to have played a little bit better against Coudy,” Zitnik said, “but you can say that about all the games you lose, I guess. But these guys are good kids and quality individuals; they work hard and they’re playing with something to prove. You can’t ask for more than that as a coach. So hopefully we settle in, and it turns into some winning ballgames.”

The Gator bats heated up in time for Thursday’s game at Oswayo Valley, with Sam Kysor and Garrett Drabert homering as Port pounded out 12 hits in its 10-4 victory. Kysor finished the day 2-for-4 with 3 RBI and also threw a perfect 10-pitch seventh inning to close the game. Charlie Buchanan (3-for-3) and Chad Barnard (2-for-4) also added to the Gator attack, while Drabert struck out two and allowed just one hit in four innings of work to pick up the win.

The next night’s win over visiting Johnsonburg was nowhere near as comfortable, and not without its share of controversy. With the score tied 4-4 in the bottom of the sixth inning and Gator runners on second and third, a dispute over the ball-strike count led to a balk which plated the winning run, stirring a heated argument between the Johnsonburg coaches and the home-plate umpire.

Standing in the third-base coaches’ box, Zitnik had a front-row seat: “From my perspective, I don’t know what the ump said, but the kid started his windup, and the coach walked out and said, ‘stop.’ The kid stopped in the middle of the windup, and I said, ‘Balk,’” he explained.

Johnsonburg coach Jeff Peterson was still fuming about the sequence of events afterward, calling it some of the worst officiating he’d ever seen before adding, “Overall, good game, nice showing on their part – they’re tough – but we’ll be back.”

The Gators struck early, with Seth Lowery and Matt Bodamer singling to lead off the bottom of the first and coming home on Camrin Stuckey’s standup double to right-center. Johnsonburg cleanup hitter Joe Holmberg tied the game with a two-RBI double in the third, then scored the go-ahead run, but Port quickly answered in the bottom of the inning as Chad Barnard singled home Lowery and Stuckey to go back on top 4-3. The Rams pushed a run across on a throwing error in the top of the fourth, setting up the controversial finish.

If the weather cooperates, Port (2-1) is scheduled to play a doubleheader at Smethport on Wednesday, then travel to Cuba-Rushford for a non-league game next Monday.

At Port Allegany, Apr. 12:
Coudersport 4 2 0 0 1 2 – 9 7 2
Port Allegany 2 0 1 1 0 0 – 4 5 3
Wolfinger, Jolley (4)(4 SO, 3 BB) and Whitman
Hildebrandt (3 SO, 6 BB), Stuckey (4)(2 SO, 3 BB), Drabert (6)(1 BB) and Lowery

At Shinglehouse, Apr. 14:
Port Allegany 4 2 0 0 0 2 2 – 10 11 1
Oswayo Valley 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 – 4 3 4
Drabert (2 SO, 4 BB), Stuckey (5)(3 SO, 4 BB), Kysor (7)(1 SO, 0 BB) and Sigafoes
Miller (3 SO, 6 BB) and A. Jandrew
HR: Kysor (PA), Drabert (PA)

At Port Allegany, Apr. 15:
Johnsonburg 0 0 3 1 0 0 0 – 4 4 1
Port Allegany 2 0 2 0 0 1 x – 5 5 3
M. Holmberg (5 SO, 1 BB) and Z. Luhr
Hildebrandt (4 SO, 2 BB), Stuckey (5)(4 SO, 1 BB) and Sigafoes
2B: Stuckey (PA), Lowery (PA), J. Holmberg (J)

“Pain-free Kinney back in the groove”

Here’s a story by Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader sportswriter Kary Booher on Port Allegany native and current Memphis Redbirds pitcher Josh Kinney, who spent the 2005 season and a 2008 rehab assignment with the St. Louis Cardinals’ Double-A team in Springfield.

Pain-free Kinney back in the groove

Since the story originally appeared on June 20, Kinney has continued to pitch well for the Redbirds. In his last 10 appearances, he struck out 15 batters without allowing a walk, gave up just one earned run, earned three saves, and compiled a microscopic 0.84 ERA to lower his season average to 2.14.