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Locke finally gets to pitch at 'home'07/13/2011 8:55 PM ET
By Brian Moynahan / Special to MLB.com
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- In the second round of the 2006 Draft, with a pick obtained from the Dodgers as compensation for the signing of Rafael Furcal as a free agent, the Braves selected Jeff Locke, a left-handed pitcher out of Kennett High School in North Conway, N.H.
Locke spent four seasons in the Braves organization before being traded to Pittsburgh in June 2009 as one of three players the Pirates acquired for All-Star outfielder Nate McLouth. He started last season at Class A Advanced Bradenton and pitched a scoreless inning in the Florida State League All-Star Game before receiving a promotion to Double-A Altoona in mid-July.
In 10 starts for the Curve last season and 18 more appearances this year, Locke had yet to pitch in his home state. That changed Wednesday with his appearance in the fourth inning of the Eastern League All-Star Game at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
The 23-year-old left-hander received a pair of nice ovations from the crowd, first during pregame introductions and again when he came on to pitch. He walked one batter, gave up a double and had a runner thrown out at the plate in his inning.
"I've never pitched here in my life," Locke said before the game. "I played one game and lost, my senior year in high school. So I've never had a chance to pitch here. I've had more at-bats here than anything.
"It's kind of weird, but it's an honor to come back here and be able to play in front of your friends and family, especially with a group of talented guys like we have over here."
Locke was scheduled to start in Manchester opposite rehabbing Blue Jays right-hander Jesse Litsch on June 23, but Mother Nature failed to cooperate. The rainout pushed him back a day. Instead of appearing in front of the hometown fans for the first time, he pitched in Harrisburg, Pa.
"I don't think it was as frustrating for me as it was for the 'X' amount of people that were coming," Locke said. "I don't live close to here, being from North Conway. It's not far, but it's a hike, it's a little ways away, and people who were taking work off, people who were planning to come, it kind of messed them up a little bit.
"I would've liked to have thrown that night because instead I got on a bus for eight hours and had to pitch the next day and was tired. But it didn't really frustrate me as much as them."
Last season, Locke had a homecoming of sorts when he returned to New England with a start in Portland, Maine. The Curve were nearly 600 miles from home, but it didn't feel like a road game.
"Just below 2,000 [supporters] showed, and that was a lot of fun," Locke said. "That was like pitching a home game."
He wasn't expecting similar numbers for Wednesday's outing but figured that there would be a sizable contingent cheering him on.
"I left three tickets. I left one for my girlfriend, her dad and a friend," Locke said. "And my family bought tickets, all my other family bought tickets. There will be people, for sure, there will be a lot of people. Not as if I was starting a team game, not like that, but it'll be very exciting nonetheless. You could see anywhere from 20 to 500, who knows?"
Prior to the game, Locke was unsure how it would feel to step onto a New Hampshire mound for the first time as a pro. He was nervous last year against the Sea Dogs.
"When I got to Portland, my mouth was all messed up. I couldn't even swallow," he said.
But he knows that an All-Star Game carries far less pressure than a regular-season contest.
"It'll be exciting, won't be any sense of nervousness," he said. "I don't have anything to prove to anybody. I don't need to go out there and throw a scoreless inning or a hitless inning. I don't have to do any of that stuff. I just have to go out there, get the inning over with and have fun."