By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com Follow @JCameratoNBA
Welcome to the third edition of 1-2-3 Inning, a step inside the Boston Red Sox bullpen and a look at the individuals who make up this cohesive unit. We have brought you unique glimpses at Alfredo Aceves and Matt Albers . . . now up, Dan Wheeler.
After pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Mets, and Houston Astros, the Rhode Island native is playing closer to home this season. Wheeler, a 33-year-old right-handed reliever, has posted a record of 2-2 with a 4.31 ERA in 46 games. In this edition of 1-2-3 Inning, he talked to CSNNE.com about honing his game in the desert, going from an expansion team to one of the most storied franchises in baseball, and turning a childhood dream into a reality.
1. Wheeler graduated from Pilgrim High School in Warwick, Rhode Island, packed his bags, and moved nearly 3,000 miles from home to improve his baseball skills. His time out west eventually landed him in Florida, the first step in a career that would lead back to New England.
I went to college in Arizona, so that was a big step for me. I was 17 years old when I graduated high school and I went to a little, small junior college in central Arizona. It was halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. If you know anything about Arizona, theres nothing out there, middle of the desert. Thats kind of where it all started for me. I wasnt drafted out of high school. I went out there and started playing more baseball than I ever had in my life. We were practicing every day because theres really no restrictions in junior college. Im throwing every day, throwing bullpens three times a week. Thats when I started building some arm strength and throwing harder than I did in high school. I was topping out at maybe 85 (miles per hour) in high school and by the time the fall semester was over, I was throwing 92, 93. Then I started to open some eyes to scouts.
2. Wheeler was drafted by the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 34th round of the 1996 amateur draft (he signed with the team in 1997). As the Red Sox begin a three-game series against the Rays on Friday, Wheeler has seen the development of the organization from the start. Starting his career with an expansion team gave him a different perspective once he joined one of the most historic organizations in all of sports.
I signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the time. I figured, You know what? Expansion team, maybe if you do something good you might have a quicker chance to get to the big leagues. . . . I think playing for an expansion team, theyre looking for an identity. I think that was the most important thing. It took them a while to get their identity. I think they have a great game plan now because I started off in Tampa, they released me (in 2001) and I went to a couple different spots before I actually went back to Tampa again (in 2007), so to see the two ways the organization was, one was just trying to sort of survive and the other one, we were a team to be reckoned with. That was kind of fun to be part of that from one aspect to the next. But coming to Boston, you know what to expect. You expect to win every single day, so thats really great to be a part of. You know the history and the drought that the Red Sox had, and then all of a sudden were a team that legitimately can win the World Series every year.
3. As a child watching baseball in New England, Wheeler always dreamt of playing for the Red Sox. He didnt know if that fantasy would become a reality, though, so he dedicated himself to becoming a professional baseball player first and foremost. Now that hes in Boston, he is focused on helping the Red Sox win, rather than the fact that hes on the team.
Growing up in Rhode Island, I never even really thought about playing for the Red Sox. When I was a kid, I absolutely wanted to, but my main goal was to make it to the big leagues. I didnt care where I played -- I just wanted to become a big-league pitcher. This offseason when the opportunity arose for me to become a Red Sox, I kind of jumped at it. I was really excited about it. My family was definitely excited about it, me being up here more instead of just three times a year coming in as the enemy (laughs) . . . Im not going to think about it too much now. I try to live in the moment as much as I can. I think when its all said and done and Im retired thats when I can reflect back on things and say, Ok ,that was kind of cool. But right now I know its cool, believe me, dont take that the wrong way (laughs), but I think that stuff sidetracks what the ultimate goal is. You try everything in your power just to try to help win todays game. I think thats the thing for everybody. You throw out personal statistics, personal goals because at the end of the day, if you want to win, thats the most important thing. When youre in this clubhouse thats all you want to do. I think whatever you can do to help this team win a game, youve done your job.
Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.com!JCameratoNBA.