How Do Sioux City Explorers Spell Relief? R-O-B W-O-R-T
Back in the 1970s and 80s, there was a commercial for an antacid tablet that espoused that when a person was suffering from some kind of stomach discomfort that was leading to acute distress, the answer to that was to call R-O-L-A-I-D-S. This was the jingle that captured the attention of American consumers and made them turn to Rolaids as the solution for their heartburn. In fact, for many years Rolaids was the sponsor of the award given to the top reliever in both the American and National Leagues.
The Sioux City Explorers have their own solution to stomach discomfort, at least for Manager Steve Montgomery. For the last two seasons, when his team has been in some trouble and has needed a big out, he has dialed up his own remedy for an aggravated stomach, calling on R-O-B W-O-R-T.
Rob Wort has been as dominant of a reliever as one can ask for over the last three years. At 6’1, 155-pounds, Wort does not have the appearance of a guy that would look particularly imposing, but he has proven to be just that when he takes the hill. When his manager is in trouble and needs a big out, no matter what point it is in the game, you can be sure that Rob Wort’s name will be called to end the threat.
Nothing Like Having Good Genes
From an early age Rob Wort knew he wanted to play baseball. He had grown up watching brother Kyle play and always admired his sibling. That inspired his passion in the game.
It was not just his brother however. His dad played baseball as well and his mom was an outstanding athlete in her own right.
“My brother was great at all the sports he played. My dad was an all-American javeline thrower, so he probably gave me some of the gifts I have today. My mom was athletic as well, so I come from a pretty athletic family.”
With good genes like that it made it only natural that Rob would be a good athlete himself. While he loved the sport of baseball, it was actually soccer that Wort was best at. He excelled on the pitch, but the pressure to quit playing all other sports and turn to soccer actually had the reverse effect on the teen.
“I used to be really good in soccer too, and everyone was harping on me on how I needed to quit all sports and just play soccer. I got tired of it, so I quit and I just started focusing in on baseball and it worked out well.”
Rob graduated from Francis Howell North High School (St. Charles, MO), where he was dominant on the diamond. Upon graduating, the right-hander moved on to Jefferson College (Hillsboro, MO) where he had an unexpected incident that changed his career path forever.
“I wasn’t expecting to be drafted. I went to community college where I wanted to be a hitter. Most scouts told me I was too small to be playing baseball. I had a great arm from the outfield and I wound up hurting my ankle my freshman year of college. So the coach was like, “Hey, do you want to be a closer?” I was like, “Not really, but if I can’t walk I guess I’ll do that.” I wound up doing that into my freshman and sophomore years. That got me a little notice from some big league clubs. The Washington Nationals were really the only team who knew who I was and they called me up on draft day and told me they were going to draft me, but I did not know when.”
In the 30th round of the 2009 MLB amateur draft, Rob was selected by the Washington Nationals. In true Rob Wort fashion, he was not particularly emotional about the selection, at least not outwardly.
“I was playing Tiger Woods golf and I remember my mom was screaming upstairs. My mom started going nuts and I was excited about it but I wasn’t overly expressive in my emotions about it. I just kept playing the game, then we went out to dinner later.”
Starting His Professional Career
Now drafted, Rob headed off to the Washington Nationals rookie league team in the Gulf Coast League. He made 18-aeppearances there, posting a 3-3 record with a 3.91 ERA and a save.
The next season he started at Low-A Hagerstown but reached High-A Potomac by the end of the season. He had an impressive 5-0 record with a 2.08 ERA in Hagerstown, including 8-saves, but in Potomac he was even better. In eight appearances he posted in a miniscule 1.08 ERA with a 1-0 record.
It was an impressive early start to his career, but it was not an easy adjustment. While he was performing well on the field, he quickly realized that being a minor league player was not all it was cracked up to be.
“I moved from extended Spring Training to High-A all in the same year. I remember the season seeming like it was two years long, because I would miss my family or I would think someone was coming in two weeks and it seemed like two years until I saw them even though it may have been only three weeks. It’s rough. Everyone says baseball is all glory and wonderful but it’s a lot rougher than most people think it is.”
Rob spent 2011 and 2012 in Potomac. Injuries limited his time on the field his first season there, and he appeared in 34-games, going 2-2 with 3-saves. In 2012 he pitched much better, going 2-3 with 13-saves and a 2.38 ERA, but he was limited to just 40-appearances because of injury. Despite the limited action, Wort had a ridiculous 95-strikeouts in 56.2-innings pitched.
The 15.1 strikeouts per 9-innings pitched did not go unnoticed by the organization. Rob started 2013 in Potomac, but moved to AA-Harrisburg late in the year. He struggled in Harrisburg and was released at the end of the season.
The Sioux City Explorers Opened the Door to Opportunities
Out of the Nationals organization, Rob Wort was looking for a chance to keep playing baseball. He did not find any takers from affiliate teams, but the Sioux City Explorers were happy to give the lanky right-hander a shot.
Wort instantly proved that he was healthy and ready to return to an affiliate team. In 24-appearances he posted a 0.97 ERA, going 2-1 with a save. He also was really bringing the heat again, striking out 58 batters in 37-innings.
The success caught the interest of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who purchased his contract. Rob was sent to Short Season Hillsboro where he pitched incredibly well. In 7-appearances he posted a 3-0 record with a microscopic 1.08 ERA. Inexplicably, that was not enough to keep Wort on the roster and he was released once again.
While a disappointment for him, this became a real positive for the Explorers. Wort returned to the team and was an integral part of the team’s 2015 run to the best record in American Association history, as the team won a record 75 games. Wort was as big of a part of that as anyone.
Working exclusively out of the bullpen, Rob made 41-appearances, winning 11-games and saving four others. He allowed just 61 runners (35-hits, 26-walks) in 65.1 innings pitched, while striking out 92. It seemed that no matter what part of the game the team was in, if they needed a big out, Rob Wort’s name was going to be called.
“Anytime the game was on the line I felt like I was going in even if it was in the fifth. It just seemed that I came in anytime during the game, often coming in to bail out someone when I didn’t even think that I would be pitching. It was hard but I think it made me more mentally strong as a pitcher and helped me to figure out that I could do more than just roll one or two innings.”
His second impressive performance in an Explorers uniform got the attention of the Boston Red Sox, who signed the 27-year-old to a contract. He reported to AA-Portland, but did have a successful run with the organization. In 17-appearances he was 0-4 with a save and a 6.75 ERA. It was an absolutely disappointing performance for the right-hander, but what disturbed him most was that he personally felt that he caused his own failure.
“I can tell you from experience that I have had the worst possible year this year and the beginning when I was with the Red Sox was mental. I was giving up a run every time I went into the game it seemed. That made it so that every time I entered a game I would come in thinking to myself I hope I don’t walk a guy or give up a hit here. That was the first time in my life that I felt that I was mentally weak on the mound.”
It is that kind of candor that makes Rob Wort quite refreshing. There is no sugar coating what he has done or the shortcomings he has had. When he has not achieved to his own expectations he is the first to call himself out, sometimes to the point of being quite hard on himself.
“I’m such an emotional pitcher when it comes to when I fail. I know I don’t show it on the mound, but when I get off the mound I can blowup at myself. Little things, like I could strike a guy out but I would be pissed because I didn’t make the pitch the way I wanted. I didn’t think it was a good pitch and I got lucky because he didn’t swing well, but I’ll still be mad at myself.”
After being released by the Red Sox, Rob opted to return to Sioux City. He had success with the Explorers before and it only made sense to him to come back once again.
“The guys at the Red Sox loved me and really gave me a great opportunity, I guess I just wasn’t a cold weather pitcher. I didn’t have it. They released me and I had had lots of fun here last year, we had a great team here and the coaches were good, and I had friendships with the fans and the GM. I just thought it would be a great place to potentially kickstart my career again. I’ve got picked up twice here so it’s a good place to return to.”
Since returning back to Sioux City, Rob Wort has been his usual dominant self. He has appeared in 18-games so far this season, posting a 3-3 record with a save and an impressive 1.70 ERA. That has earned him a spot on the American Association All-Star team. His numbers have been incredibly impressive, only allowing 14-hits in 31.2 innings pitched while striking out 43. Clearly another All-Star performance by the right-hander.
Relief in More Ways than One
While Rob Wort has established himself as one of the best relief pitchers in the American Association, it is the quirky character that has made him a real winner with his teammates. While a very intense guy about his pitching, he has also been one who has believed that keeping the locker room as light as possible is essential to the success of his team. Management has not always agreed with him, however.
“I take a lot of pride in being a good teammate. I am always goofing around and screwing around. I used to get in trouble a lot when I was in affiliate ball. I racked up some hefty fines doing stupid stuff. It keeps a good reputation with everyone.”
Even on the mound he wants the atmosphere to be light, especially when he is struggling. When they are laboring, any relievers want their catcher to come out and kind of calm them down, give them advice, or go over the game plan – not Rob.
“He should point out a hot girl in the stands and get my mind off of what I’m doing. Half the time my pitching coach comes out during the game he will make fun of the way I look or point someone out in the stands. Nothing about the game. That will bring a smile to my face and then I get angry again and I am ready to go. The harder I throw the more accurate I am.”
While being the locker room cut up has earned him a reputation, so has his success on the mound. During Spring Training with the Red Sox he had an experience that left an indelible impression with him.
“One of the coolest things that happened to me was that I used to play against Xander Bogarts in High-A a lot. I was backing up games with the Red Sox earlier this year, and he comes up to me and says, “Hey, where do I know you from?” I was like, “You used to face me three years ago in High-A.” He was like, “I thought so. You were that skinny closer that no one could see the ball off of you.” It made me feel good because Xander Bogarts is hitting really well in the Majors, yet he remembered me. That is the impression I want to leave with hitters.”
For the last three years, Rob Wort has been leaving quite an impression on all the hitters in the American Association. One has to wonder if he will get another chance to prove his stuff in affiliate ball, but there is no doubt he deserves it. He continues to dominate and get his team out of a lot of bad situations. He has proven to be the best relief possible for Manager Steve Montgomery. However, he is giving a whole lot of other managers a severe case of indigestion.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA