MCGILL: Straily Returns to Huntington, Shows Path to Bigs
The Word on the Herd -- Oct. 3, 2016
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – On the first day of the Major League Baseball offseason, Dan Straily traded in his red and white Cincinnati Reds uniform for a backward hat, T-shirt and jeans. The 27-year-old Marshall baseball graduate did keep a ball in hand, though, as he stood to the left of home plate and addressed the current Thundering Herd baseball team Monday at Kennedy Center Field.
Those players took a knee and listened to an ordinary man talk about accomplishing the extraordinary. How a 24th-round pitcher, selected No. 723 overall, made 213 starts in the minor leagues, played with five organizations in five seasons in the majors, and developed into one of the most reliable starting pitchers in the National League this season.
Straily and Atlanta Braves pitcher Aaron Blair have been the latest Marshall players to crash the big league party. He implored the 2016-17 Herd baseball team to be next.
“The door is open,” Straily said. “They’ll understand once they get into pro ball … it doesn’t matter what round you were drafted in or how much you got paid out of the draft. There’s a lot to learn in pro ball once you get there, but everybody gets a chance.
“If you’ve got a jersey on, you’ve got a chance. It’s a challenging road. It’s not easy. And right now, they all have the chance here to get drafted and make it to the big leagues, so I’m hoping to keep that carrot in front of them.”
The 2016 season is the first time Straily has seen Opening Day and the season finale in the majors, and he was one of baseball’s best arms – especially after the All-Star break. He finished 14-8 overall with a 3.76 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 191 1/3 innings.
After the All-Star Game, however, Straily compiled 10-2 record with a 3.10 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 90 innings. He was tied with the Cubs’ Jon Lester and the Nationals’ Max Scherzer for the National League lead in wins in the season’s second half.
He was stellar in Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark, a place that typically frustrates pitchers. Straily was 8-1 with a 2.90 ERA and a .197 batting average against at home this season.
His circuitous road to Cincinnati, though, began in Huntington. That is why the first day after the end of the regular season, Straily headed east to the college town in western West Virginia he called home for two years. He brought along his wife, Amanda, for her first glimpse at Marshall University and the community that embraced Straily.
“It’s fun getting to come back,” Straily said. “This was a big stepping stone in my life and a big growth period. I hadn’t been back here since 2009. You come back and you see the changes, but you also see a lot of the same people.
“It’s been really cool to show my wife where I went to college and see the growth and the new facilities. It’s been a cool day.”
He encouraged the players who surrounded him to pick his brain about what it takes to graduate from each level: college to the minors to the big leagues.
“Just because I play Major League baseball, it does not make me any better than anybody else,” Straily said. “I don’t want any of these guys to think they can’t come talk to me or ask me a question or be afraid of anything because I am the same person they are, just at a different stage of life.
“I really am the same person I was when I went to Marshall.”
Straily was drafted by the Oakland Athletics and then traded three times and waived before landing with the Reds prior to the 2016 season. He was initially expected to provide bullpen depth after the Reds acquired him, but instead he made 31 starts.
On Monday afternoon, he made sure to remind his audience of major league aspirants how he allowed more home runs than any pitcher in baseball this season (31), but that didn’t tell the whole story. He also finished No. 15 in the NL in WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) at 1.18, and No. 7 in batting average against (.220). The latter number was better than National League stars like Carlos Martinez and Johnny Cueto.
The deceiving home run total was Straily’s way of letting the players know to focus on the skills a player possesses, not what one does not have.
“Figure out who you are,” he said with a couple dozen faces staring back at him, “and be the best version of yourself.”