By DOUG SMITH
Niagara Gazette — A Durham Bulls Athletic Park crowd of nearly 10,000 cheered last Saturday as Wilson grad Steve Geltz stilled the Norfolk Tide, a strike and an out away from closing out the game. Then Baltimore Orioles prospect L. J. Hoes ripped a drive that ricocheted off his body into the hands of the third baseman, who fired to first for out two of the final inning.
Shocked and awed by Geltz’s power pitching, the throng now went silent. The whole game had been a reminder of the danger of baseball, two players carried off the field two innings earlier, another nicked by a pitch. Now Geltz seemed like another casualty.
From DBAP’s raucous grandstand, Base Paths could read Geltz’s lips as he argued with manager Charlie Montoyo and pitching coach Neil Allen to stay in the game. “My foot’s fine, foot’s fine,” he seemed to be saying, or maybe some other word that starts with “f.” Clearly, they were going to have to pry the game ball from his cold, dead fingers. He declined even the pro forma practice toss.
Four pitches later, he had whiffed the final Tide batter and the game was over, Durham winning 10-4, not even a save, but a fearsome outing, 35 pitches, 26 for strikes, five strikeouts in two innings. Three of the K’s left Tides in disbelief.
“What a pleasure to be here,” Geltz had told Base Paths just before the game in town where they filmed “Bull Durham.” Geltz went on: “They sure love their baseball. The fan base is terrific. And it’s not the Pacific Coast League anymore.”
Geltz did not take Mapquest to Durham. Drafted by the Angels out of UB, he worked his way up to Class AAA Salt Lake City and in mid-August got a brief look at the “bigs,” two no-decisions at Anaheim. But he didn’t get his wings in spring training and when the Angels sent him down, Tampa Bay offered a trade. The Rays knew him well. He’d thrown a hitless, one-strikeout inning vs. them.
“It means somebody’s really interested in me,” Geltz said. “And this is a much better league for pitchers.” Bison announcer Duke McGuire was talking last Thursday of the perils of the PCL’s lighter air.
He has 15 strikeouts in nine innings, but four Tides made solid contact. “Gotta’ keep getting better,” said Geltz, after an interview hastily arranged by Tony Piraro, Bulls publicist who described him as “one of the very nicest guys on the team.” At 5-9, he also bucks the trend to tall pitchers.
Earlier in the game, an unwise attempt at a second-base force-out had bounced off the shortstop’s face into the face of the oncoming runner, the two then colliding and then leaving the game, the runner now out for the year, a new definition of “bang-bang” play.
But Geltz survived. At 5-9, he bucks the trend toward 6-4 pitchers but stands tall. He’s scheduled to suit up vs. the Bisons at Coca-Cola Field June 21-24; he’s in Syracuse tonight and Tuesday and Rochester May 14-17.Doug Smith offers his thoughts on baseball every Monday with Base Paths. Email Doug at email@example.com.