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Baseball made up of dreams and nightmares

When I look at baseball right now, it seems to be full of dreams and nightmares. Not much in between.

If you’re a Detroit Tigers fan, it is the nightmares. The Tigers are awful, potentially legendarily awful.

What makes it worse, though, is that players who have left the franchise have blossomed. Justin Verlander won a World Series with the Houston Astros in 2017, J.D. Martinez led the majors in RBIs last year and got his World Series title with Boston, and now Nick Castellanos has been going on a tear with the Cubs since being sent to Chicago at the trade deadline.

I’m sure there’s a small proud spot in the hearts of Tigers’ fans that three popular players are having success in new locations, but it’s just a reminder of how far the team has fallen from being a championship contender earlier in the decade and barely missing the playoffs just three years ago.

Not to rub it in, but this year’s Tigers team has a slim possibility of equaling the legacy of the infamous 2003 squad. As of Saturday morning, Detroit was 39-87 and 37 games out of first place in the American League’s Central Division. The Tigers are also 11-30 since the All-Star break and they’ve lost six games in a row twice during that span.

This is a far cry from a team that started the season by winning seven of its first 10 games and even had some in the media thinking that maybe this “rebuilding” phase wouldn’t take as long as first thought. Yeah, all of us were way off.

The Tigers have battled injuries throughout the year and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is on his last legs. Their best prospects in the minors aren’t ready to be called up to Comerica Park yet, although Casey Mize might be at some point next year if the Tigers want to test him.

Detroit’s best hitters in the minors are even further from getting to the majors with the best one, Isaac Parades, currently in Double A. It’s going to be a rough ride in the Motor City with 2021 being the first year that the Tigers could emerge from the cellar of the AL Central. So the nightmare will continue for probably at least one more season.

There may be nightmares going on in Detroit (and anywhere else Tigers fans can be found), but there are also dreams coming true around the country.

Three of them are becoming video stars. The first two are pitchers whose chances at getting to the majors were either slim to none.

For Chris Nunn, his opportunities were in the “slim” category. According to CBS Sports, he’d been released by three Major League Baseball organizations in three years and spent last season with the St. Paul Saints, the independent minor league squad in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

Seeing as he’s 28 years old, that’s a meaningful sign that his career was on life support. MLB franchises would be reluctant to put any strong effort toward a pitcher who probably would give them a handful of seasons at best if he came close to the majors.

So at this point, Nunn was hitting the desperation stage. Over the winter, he decided to set up a camera and record his mechanics to see if he could make some improvements. Nunn ended up hitting 99 mph on the radar gun and after going viral on social media, he was picked up by the Texas Rangers. After getting cut by the Rangers following spring training, he got picked up by the Los Angeles Dodgers and is with their Triple A team in Oklahoma City.

He’s still got a way to go, but Nunn also still has a shot at getting to the majors.

The other pitcher is Nathan Patterson, and his chances at the majors were even more bleak if they even existed. Just like Nunn, though, Patterson was discovered through the magic of social media.

The San Francisco Chronicle said that Patterson, who was a computer software salesman in Nashville, Tennessee, decided to play the speed-pitch booth at a minor league game.

For those who’ve never done it, fans get a chance to pitch at a tarp and a radar gun calculates how fast you throw. Patterson said that the first pitch he threw hit 90 mph, which was impressive considering he said he hadn’t thrown in years and his career peaked on his high school junior varsity squad, where he wasn’t even a pitcher.

He eventually hit 96 in that booth and then really got noticed at a Rockies game in Denver. In Colorado, the 23-year-old Patterson checked out a booth during a rain delay and after he said he stretched his chest and shoulder, put on another eye-popping performance even after drinking a beer or two.

He hit 96 again on the gun and posted his session to a pitching app called Flatground (which also had Nunn’s clip). His clip got picked up by the Instagram account Pitching Ninja before things really picked up.

Two days later, he signed a minor league contract with the Oakland A’s. In the Chronicle article, the A’s director of scouting made sure to say that Patterson hit 96 after a running start, but that might not have mattered — when he made his debut with Oakland’s Arizona League squad, he struck out the side during his lone inning of work. Talk about an impressive start to a career.

It’s not just guys who are making statements as girls are doing the same at a different level.

It’s been national news for a while now, but Maddy Freking became the 19th girl to play in the Little League World Series when she suited up for the Minnesota squad out of Coon Rapids-Andover. She also was the first girl to play since Mo’ne Davis and Emma March in 2014 and was only the sixth girl to ever pitch in the LLWS, striking out one and making a nifty defensive play to cut down a runner at home.

Like Davis in 2014, Freking was the talk of this year’s LLWS and still is even though her team has been eliminated. She even drew praise from Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, whose team played the Cubs in the MLB Little League Classic, while Minnesota Lynx head basketball coach Cheryl Reeve wore a Freking jersey before a WNBA game.

According to an interview with ESPN, Freking hopes to break more barriers like her baseball hero, Jackie Robinson.

Will she break a huge barrier and become the first woman to pitch in MLB? That’s probably not even on her radar at this point seeing as she’s only 12 years old, but who knows?

Unexpected stuff happens all the time in baseball; just look at the two pitchers I mentioned earlier.

Dreams come true all the time in baseball, whether it is well-known players getting their shot at the majors or some truly unknown people getting discovered and receiving a chance at glory.

Nunn and Patterson could join baseball’s list of unexpected stories like Chris Coste, who finally made the majors at age 33, and Jim Morris, a high school science teacher who pitched two seasons and had a movie made about him by Disney.

At this point, just about anything is possible.

And that’s what Detroit fans should keep in mind. As frustrating as it is to watch the Tigers try to avoid joining the 2003 team in the record books, there’s always hope.

The Astros lost 111 games in 2013 and won the World Series in 2017. The Cubs lost 101 in 2012, then made the NLCS in 2015 and ended its 108-year title drought in 2016.

This might be the last disastrous year for the Tigers before the turnaround truly starts.

Patterson and Nunn weren’t noticed until their performances went viral, and now their dreams might come true.

Maybe Tigers fans’ dreams can as well and their nightmare will finally end.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.