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Slama living the dream09/16/2010 1:40 PM ET
By Ryan Vowles / Rochester Red Wings
Miles away from his home in warm, sunny California, Anthony Slama of the Rochester Red Wings has become one of the team's most reliable relief pitchers. Standing at six-foot-three-inches, it's easy to understand why the righty saw himself playing basketball in his early years. However, with the way the 2010 season went for him, it is probably safe to assume he doesn't regret his switch to baseball.
With the advantageous weather of California, Anthony was able to benefit for the sake of his baseball career.
"We can play all year round in California," Anthony said regarding the baseball scene in California. "I played Little League and Pony Baseball. You know, like any kid, my dad was the coach."
Baseball wasn't Slama's first choice, however.
"I wanted to play basketball in high school," Slama said while sitting on a couch in the family area of the Red Wings clubhouse. "I was six-foot-two-inches as a freshman, tall and skinny. I went out for basketball and played as a freshman. Our [varsity] team was really good, number one in the country my sophomore year."
Realizing that cracking the roster of a nationally recognized basketball team at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, CA, would be difficult, Slama put his focus on baseball. With standout performances in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons at Mater Dei, he knew baseball was the right choice.
"I ended up going to Santa Ana College for two years," commented Slama on his college baseball career. "I did really well my second year there and got a scholarship to the University of San Diego where I finished my college career and got a degree in sociology."
In 2006, Slama was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 39th round of the Major League Baseball first year player draft, but opted to go back to school. Slama admitted that being just a 39th round pick wasn't as appealing financially and decided to continue to pursue a degree. In 2007, Slama pitched to the tune of a 3.18 earned run average for the Toreros at San Diego before taking up the Twins on their offer.
After only six games at the Short Season-A level for the Elizabethton Twins, Slama was promoted to the Beloit Snappers at Class-A. In 21 games, Slama posted a 1.48 ERA, opening many eyes in the Twins organization, earning himself a spot on the Fort Myers Miracle at the Class-A Advanced level in the Florida State League.
Slama did not disappoint in his 2008 season with the Miracle. He held hitters to a .173 batting average, had a 1.01 ERA and struck out 110 batters in 71 innings. His impressive numbers earned him a spot, along with fellow Miracle teammates Wilson Ramos, Brian Dinkelman, Danny Valencia, Jeff Manship and Rob Delaney, in the FSL All-Star game. This would not be Slama's last All-Star game.
After impressing in 51 games with the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats in the 2009 season (4-2, 2.48, 93 SO, 65.1 IP), Slama was promoted to Triple-A Rochester for the remainder of the season.
Little did Slama know in 2009, the 2010 season at Rochester would produce some of his most cherished moments as a professional baseball player.
Compiling a 1.28 ERA at the midway point of this season, Slama earned spots in the MLB Futures Game in his home of Anaheim, CA, as well as the Triple-A All-Star Game in Lehigh Valley. Both were moments that Slama will never forget.
"My parents have only seen me one time in professional baseball and that (the MLB Futures Game in Anaheim) was the second time," Slama said. "The opportunity to pitch so close to home was a dream come true. Anaheim Stadium was five minutes away from my house and is a place I've been going to since I was a child. It was pretty awesome. My extended family also got to see me for the first time. Aunts and uncles came out. It was pretty cool. It was a familiar situation and a good time."
Slama pitched an inning of scoreless relief in the game on July 11 before traveling from the West Coast to the East Coast to pitch in Lehigh Valley, PA, where he also pitched a scoreless frame on July 14.
"I had to go back to Lehigh Valley and pitch in the Triple-A All-Star Game, which was a blast," said Slama. "They did it really well over there. The whole atmosphere was very cool. I got the win in that game."
While most players in Rochester were coming back from their midseason break, Slama had traveled across the country and pitched in consecutive days on both coasts, giving him anything but a break. But that didn't stop manager Tom Nieto from pitching Slama on his first game back on July 15 against Indianapolis. Though Slama did give up a run in that game, he didn't admit to being tired, saying "I'd like to be out there every night if I could."
Though both the Futures Game and the Triple-A All-Star game were memorable for Anthony, they didn't compare to his next milestone. On July 20, The Minnesota Twins announced that they had demoted pitcher Alex Burnett to Rochester and purchased Slama's contract. Just one day later against the Cleveland Indians at the new Target Field in Minnesota, Slama lived his dream of being a Major League pitcher.
In his first outing, Slama pitched a scoreless inning, giving up one hit and striking out two, and slamming the door on a 6-0 Twins victory.
"I had a great time when I went up [to Minnesota]," said Slama. "My first outing went really well, after that I struggled a little bit. I couldn't find my release point and started walking guys."
Those struggles were highlighted in Slama's game in Baltimore against the Orioles two days later.
"The guy who got me was Luke Scott," remarked Slama when referring the most difficult batter he faced in his time in the Majors. "I made a couple real good pitches on the outside half and I tried to go back in on him and he got to it and crushed it. It was a two-run homer. He put a real good swing on it. He was so quick to the ball."
Even though the last few games didn't go as well as the first game, Slama is still pretty pleased with the opportunity.
"I still had fun," Slama noted. "It was a learning experience being up there and being around the guys. It was a dream come true to come out of the bullpen in Minnesota and see all the fans. My first big league outing was definitely the highlight of my career, so far."
As the Red Wings season has ended, Anthony Slama can look back and say he learned a lot on the eventful year. From lessons he learned in Little League, to his playing days at San Diego, he still admits he is learning, even as a Red Wing.
"I picked up a slider in Rochester," Slama said. "Me and Bobby were working on one pretty much all year and when I got back from the big leagues it kind of clicked what he was talking about. So I credit my time here in Rochester with learning a new pitch."
Slama knows the importance of having an additional pitch in his arsenal, but also the ability to throw it with assurance.
"You've got to have confidence in a pitch and be able to throw it in any count," Slama pointed out. "Against righties and lefties. It's still a project but I definitely have a better feel for it."
Aside from the slider, a full year at the Triple-A level and time at the Major League level has also taught Slama to pitch to better, more accomplished hitters.
"Learning to be patient with hitters [is something I have learned]," Slama accounted. "They have experience and a lot of them have big league time. You can't pitch a guy the same way over and over again. You have to mix it up. They will wait, get their pitch and put a good swing on it."
After another long season in the minors, Slama will go into the off-season with even more knowledge than in seasons past, making him a much better and more poised professional pitcher. Though Slama won't be playing in any fall or winter leagues, he will find other ways to stay busy.
"I'm going to do some refereeing for the basketball league right around my house to get a little cash," commented Slama. "I'll probably take the rest of September off and just kind of relax and in October I'll start training."
From his All-Star games in Anaheim and Lehigh Valley, to his Major League debut in Minnesota, Anthony Slama made the most of his 2010 season and understands there is still work to be done to get to the next level in his career. So until pitchers and catchers report for yet another spring training in February, Anthony Slama will be soaking up the California sun while training to have an even more eventful 2011 season with the Wings, and hopefully the Twins.
Anthony's player page at RedWingsBaseball.com with his Red Wings stats.