American Association Daily provides insights and features on the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions going on with teams around the league. In today’s edition, we feature reliever Mike Devine, who is reporting for duty for the St. Paul Saints.
Introducing Mike Devine
Former Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey once famously quipped that “baseball is a game of inches.” It truly is a sport that requires a great deal of precision as a fastball that is two miles less per hour, a ball that lands 4 mm into foul territory, or a double-play relay throw from the second baseman that is a little low to the shortstop can become the difference between a 1-2-3 inning and a five run rally.
With that kind of precision, it takes a certain kind of mental approach to be successful in baseball. Most understand that this is a game of failure, but it is these small details, the precision of the game that can be the most frustrating part of the sport.
Baseball is a game of failure, so one must have a form of mental toughness that allows them to learn from the mistakes of the previous at-bat, the previous pitch, or the previous play in the field, yet brush that aside and focus on the moment at hand. It’s something that not every player is able to handle, but one area where newly acquired St. Paul Saints reliever Mike Devine has used his background and maturity to be able to excel on the diamond.
Toughness Starts at the Top
It is easy to understand why Mike Devine has a love and passion for baseball, while still possessing a mental approach to the game that few can surpass. His dad, Bill Devine, had introduced the sport to his two sons, and they instantly fell in love with the game. Not only have Mike and his brother enjoyed playing baseball, but they still love watching dad play, whol still competes to this day, playing in the Roy Hobbs league in Florida and Las Vegas each year, even at the age of 61.
Mike starred at Springdale High School (PA), where he earned letters in all four years at the school playing both shortstop and pitcher. All four seasons he was named All-Section and earned All-Area honors his senior season. His success on the diamond was on both sides, as he set school records in home runs and RBI, as well as in wins, strikeouts, and ERA.
While building quite a reputation for himself on the diamond, Mike was not heavily recruited to be a pitcher. While he understood that he had much greater success hitting, he still wanted the opportunity to pitch on a regular basis. This led to him making the only choice he saw as the correct one to continue his baseball career.
“My first recruiting call was from East Carolina. They offered me 75 percent tuition, but they wanted me to catch. I had never caught in high school. I just played shortstop, but I had quick hands and quick feet. I never threw as a pitcher in showcases. Every Division-I call I got was to hit. VMI (Virginia Military Institute) just seemed like the kind of place where they gave me the best of all worlds. The education there, the best educational school that called me, it just seemed like a really good fit. I really didn’t have to worry about anything else other than school and baseball, because they told you everything else you had to do,” the right-hander explains with a laugh.
While having great success during his high school career, Mike acknowledged that he didn’t believe that his time on the mound was going to last long.
“I had success in high school, but I never threw that hard, maybe 86, 88. To be honest, I didn’t like pitching, but I never thought that that would be taken away. I just wanted to go to a place that was going give me an open door and if pitching got shut down, I really didn’t care. I wanted to hit but I thought that I could have some fun pitching in college, which is what I got to do, but I thought that I could hit while doing it.
More P.T. Drill Sergeant!
Mike Devine chose to attend the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), because it offered him the opportunity to continue his baseball career on both sides of the diamond, while also getting a first-rate education. While enjoying the opportunity, he found the rigors of the school a bit challenging in his freshman season.
“I went at 205 and went home for Christmas at 178. I lost a lot of the baby fat. I played my freshman year at like 190 pounds and just didn’t really feel strong. Military school got the best of me; my body was weak.”
It was a tough freshman campaign for Mike. In 15 games he hit .190, and his time on the mound was not much better, going 0-6 with an 8.93 ERA in 19 appearances. He was beginning to question whether he would have success in either endeavor, but the rigorous training at VMI coupled with improved dietary habits helped him to gain a lot more strength.
“When I got some time to finally recover after that, pitching in summer ball after my freshman year, I was throwing at 94. I started eating better food, put some weight back on, and I just felt stronger. I probably cleaned up my mechanics a lot, too. In high school I was just a kid who let it go.”
The transformation was instantaneous. In his sophomore season, Mike posted a 4-1 record with 7 saves and a 3.26 ERA. He was having the most dominating campaign of his life, but that led to the end of his hitting career.
“I came back for my sophomore year in college and I was hitting 95 on the gun. Once I did that, I started closing full-time in college and they really didn’t let me hit anymore.”
He followed up his sophomore season with an equally impressive junior year. In 23 appearances, Mike posted an identical 3.26 ERA with an 0-2 record and 5 saves. It looked like he was clearly on his way to a professional career, when shoulder injuries near the end of the season ended calls from scouts.
He returned to VMI for his senior season, but it took quite some time for the right-hander to restore his strength and command. Mike posted a 5.95 ERA with a 1-1 record and 3 saves, and it looked like his dream of becoming a professional baseball player may have been coming to an end.
Taking on a New Frontier
Many would have simply tipped their hat to the great career they had and moved on to the next phase of their life, but Mike Devine was not ready to give up baseball. He opted to join Traverse City (Frontier League) where he would spend the first three seasons of his career.
Mike was a late addition in 2012 after graduating from college. He appeared in five games, saving three of them, while posting a 2.84 ERA. The next season, the right-hander moved to the starting rotation, where he was 6-2 with a 3.95 ERA.
The 2014 season would begin with Mike in Traverse City, but he would join Normal late in the year. The transition to a new club was not a positive one, as his ERA jumped from 3.72 to 6.99, leading to him moving on for 2015.
Lake Erie became his new destination, where the right-hander moved back to the bullpen, posting a 3-4 record with 4 saves and a 3.33 ERA. What was most impressive was that in 96 games for Lake Erie that season, Mike appeared in 60 of them, striking out 83 in 78.1 innings pitched. It was the exact kind of action he was longing for.
“I would throw every day if you let me. It is part of the reason why I love to hit. I want to be out there every day, and I will go out there every day if they give me the chance.”
In 2016, the righty returned to Lake Erie where he started out the season in the bullpen, but was also given the opportunity to play left field when not closing games. Mike was hitting. 250 as he began to get regular at bats, but the Crushers manager was replaced halfway through the season, and the right-hander moved back to the starting rotation.
Wanting to Go ‘Nuts
While ready to serve in whatever capacity the Lake Erie Crushers needed, Mike Devine wanted to be more involved. He had been performing quite well out of the bullpen before moving back to the rotation, and wanted to be given the opportunity to make the biggest impact for his team.
With Lake Erie looking to move Mike because of his veteran contract, an opportunity arose when former teammate Todd Kibby contacted him about coming to play for the Wichita Wingnuts. The right-hander jumped at the opportunity, joining Wichita to close out the 2016 season.
In 10 appearances, he posted a 1-0 record with a 2.08 ERA. His command improved as well, walking just two batters in 13.0 innings pitched.
In 2017, the righty returned to the Wingnuts where he became a late inning specialist for former Manager Pete Rose, Jr. In 44 outings, Mike posted a 3-4 record with two saves and a 2.25 ERA, the second best on the team. Both seasons he helped the team reach the American Association championship series, as he made 13 total appearances in the 20 combined playoff games for the team.
Truly in Heaven
At the end of the 2017 season, Mike Devine was looking for an avenue that could help him to finally reach affiliate ball. Despite putting up impressive statistics last season, the right-hander had never been part of an organization. He asked the Wingnuts to move him to the Atlantic League, looking for that chance. He was dealt to the Sugar Land Skeeters, but was released before ever having the opportunity to prove he belonged in the league.
Looking to continue his career, Mike joined the St. Paul Saints. It was the kind of blessing that Saints Manager George Tsamis was truly thankful for. “He’s got good stuff and should be a great addition to our team,” explained the Manager the day the signing was announced. “It was surprising he was available at all.”
The Mentality of a Soldier
Being a reliever in baseball is one of the most difficult tasks, not necessarily physically, but mentally. You are truly either the hero or the goat, and putting aside past failures is something Mike Devine feels is an area where his time at VMI allows him to excel.
“As a late inning reliever it’s feast or famine every time. You know you’re coming in with there just being six or nine outs left in the game and those can be crucial, so if you come out, give up a crooked number and get the L that day, then you have to come out the next day and do your job again. That’s one thing I think VMI really helped me with. They come out and test you every day when you woke up at 7 AM and people were screaming at you already and you only have one eye open.
“That’s why I think the whole military aspect was great for my career. It taught me more mentally how to deal with adversity that way, rather than trying to keep your foot on the gas physically all the time because you’ll just burn yourself out.”
The toughness that is required to be a reliever is like that of a soldier who’s got to hold his position during a battle. You’re depended upon to deliver in a pressure packed situation, but also to brush aside past mistakes and deliver when the next battle arises.
“It’s just kind of a test of your mental fortitude I guess. To see if you can come back and try to be as strong the next day. It’s just passing the mental test every day, especially as a reliever. I like to think that that’s one of the things that I do well. Success or failure is when you come out the next day expecting to do well. Just be confident in your abilities and, if you can keep that confidence, it makes that roller coaster ride a little easier.”
An Interesting Paradox of a Man
On the mound, Mike Devine presents as intimidating of a look as any you will see in baseball. The red goatee, steely eyes, and burly upper chest make him intimidating to look at, even when you aren’t aware of his 95 mile-per-hour fastball.
Off the field, Mike is the nicest guy you will meet. A person that teammates love to hang out with, always with a smile on his face, who understands that his relationship with his teammates is more important than any numbers he could ever produce.
The relationship between players is one of the most important things I take away from the season. A lot more so than hitting .350 or whatever your numbers are. It is the relationships that you make, especially through the years, that are things that last a whole lot longer.”
It’s also the relationship that he has had with his parents and his brother that have meant so much to him. Bill and Bonnie Devine have had an incredible impact on their son, one that has helped him both professionally and personally.
“My father has been such a huge influence on me. Just from growing up and especially on the baseball side, pretty much everything I’ve learned is from him, especially the roots. You can go and pick finer points from this guy or that guy, but the mentality I still play with is what I learned when I was six years old. The general love for the game I got from my dad.
“My mom has been super supportive my whole career. Everywhere I go, she’s calling every day, wishing me luck for each game and calling after, ‘How did it go,’ so between those two I have a great deal of support and inspiration.”
His brother, who played baseball through college as well, has become a big inspiration to Mike. It is not hyperbole to state that each time he takes the mound, his brother is going with him.
“He’s had both of the major surgeries for a pitcher and the fact that he had ambitions past college makes me push harder. I text with him often, he calls me. It’s like we’re playing together. We’re having the same conversations as if we were playing together.”
Living Up to the Creed
The motto at the Virginia Military Institute is “In Peace a Glorious Asset, In War a Tower of Strength.” In essence, if you need us, we’re ready to deliver.
This has become the creed by which Mike Devine has based his baseball career. Whether you needed a guy to pitch four days in a row, a starter to give you eight innings, or a guy to deliver a big base hit late, Mike was your guy.
Saints Manager George Tsamis will be calling on his new right-hander quite a bit this season, knowing he can have confidence that when that little ambulance delivers his reliever from the bullpen the jovial, lighthearted Mike Devine will be gone, and the one ready for battle will be on center stage. So, buckle up St. Paul Saints, reliever Mike Devine is reporting for duty.
Images of Mike Devine with Wichita Wingnuts courtesy of Ed Bailey
American Association Daily Notes
The Lincoln Saltdogs signed RHP Tyler Wilson and acquired OF L.J. Kalawaia. Kalawaia came from Lake Erie (Frontier League) to complete an earlier trade. This will be his third professional season. Last year, the outfielder played for Lake Erie where he hit .326 in 61 games with 2 homers and 19 RBI. Wilson was selected in the 13th round of the 2008 draft by the Boston Red Sox and spent four seasons with the organization, reaching Mid-A Greenville in 2012. The last five seasons, the right-hander has been in independent ball, playing for Long Island (Atlantic League) in 2017. Wilson was 2-2 with a 5.47 ERA in 24 appearances…The Wichita Wingnuts traded OF Greg Golson to the Texas AirHogs for RHPs Kevin Hilton and Jesse Pratt. Golson is a former Major Leaguer, who played for the Philadelphia Phillies (2008), Texas Rangers (2009), and New York Yankees (2010, 2011). Last season, he split time between Quintana Roo (Mexican League) and Somerset (Atlantic League). In Mexico, the outfielder hit .260 in 27 games. Hilton has one year of professional experience, pitching for the AirHogs last season, where he was 1-2 with a 4.93 ERA in 11 appearances. Pratt began his career with the Wingnuts in 2016, going 6-2 with a 3.48 ERA in 35 appearances in 2016. Last season, he split time between Wichita, Gary, and Texas, posting an overall record of 3-4 with a 4.62 ERA…The Cleburne Railroaders signed IF Alex Polston, OF Axel Johnson, and RHP Dylan Mouzakes. Polston will be entering his third professional season. Last year he was with the Railroaders, where he hit. 212 in 77 games with 25 runs scored and 21 RBI. Johnson is also entering his third season and was with Cleburne last year. He hit .251 in 87 games with 23 runs scored and 26 RBI. Mouzakes split time between the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks and the Railroaders last year. He was a combined 7-8 with a 4.66 ERA in 21 games, 17 of which were starts.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA