Take a second and imagine playing three sports throughout your childhood, eventually choosing your favorite and seriously pursuing it in effort to make a living out of the game you love. You get offers from SEC schools, junior colleges, even your hometown school wants you to come to your school. What would it take for you to turn them all down?
RiverDogs reliever Keegan Curtis made that tough decision, signing with the University of Louisiana Monroe over his hometown school, among others.
"The thing that stood out about UL Monroe is the culture that's there," Curtis said. "I really liked the group of guys and they made me feel at home even though I was five hours away from home. I still felt like I was just walking out of my backyard there. That's really why I chose to go to ULM. I turned down some SEC offers and a lot of other JUCO offers, and some other smaller Division 1 mid-major schools. I even turned down my hometown, South Alabama, to go to Louisiana Monroe. It was just the culture that was there, I really enjoyed it."
The RiverDogs have seen that mindset before, in right-hander Daniel Bies, who started the season with Charleston and is now a member of the High-A Tampa Tarpons' relief corps. Bies, who attended the University of Gonzaga, likened pitching his teammates to being around brothers. The same feeling of community was what ultimately drew Curtis to the next stepping stone in his baseball career.
It was during his time at UL Monroe that Curtis ultimately made a career-defining, full-time move to the bullpen. He sat down with his coach and had a chat about what the right move was for the right-hander's baseball career.
"Me and my head coach, Mike Federico, sat down, and we just talked about me relieving," Curtis recalled. "He said, 'I think you'd be better off, for the type of pitcher that you are, and I think it's really going to benefit you.' I said, 'Okay, let's give it a shot. I have nothing else to lose.' We gave it a shot my senior year, and I fell in love with it. I'd done a little bit of relieving my first three years, but my senior year I was primarily a reliever. I enjoy it."
Now a member of the RiverDogs after beginning the season in Extended Spring Training and with the Staten Island Yankees, Curtis has been thrown into tough spots right from the start. He made his Charleston debut at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, coming out of the bullpen with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning and the tying run standing on first base.
Curtis induced a groundout from left fielder Malvin Matos, and then struck out third baseman Seth Lancaster looking to secure the win for his club, helping the Dogs avoid being swept, as well as nailing down his first save with the Holy City.
"I've always liked being thrown into the fire," Curtis said. "I trust my stuff and I trust my defense behind me. In those types of situations, you have to slow everything down and remember that all you have to do is throw strikes. It was really good to get acclimated, and to get my feet wet with a new team. I really enjoyed coming in and getting a save the very first time coming out, that was pretty cool."
After being selected in the 22nd round of the 2018 MLB Draft by the Yankees, Curtis has seen time with the Gulf Coast League Yankees East, the Staten Island Yankees, and now the Charleston RiverDogs as he continues his climb through the ranks of New York's farm system.
Through his first 25 career relief appearances, the righty had a 3.38 ERA, though the mark is inflated a bit by three rough outings in 2018 with Staten Island in which he allowed six earned runs in 2 2/3 frames, giving him a 20.25 ERA in his brief time finishing the year there. He fanned 43 hitters against 13 walks in 37 1/3 innings pitched, and also nailed down each of his first five professional save opportunities.
The early success Curtis is experiencing is no surprise to those he is close to back home, including two guys who are well known in the baseball community around his hometown.
"When I was younger, a guy named Jay Powell from Mobile, Alabama, and Larry Thomas as well from Mobile, both saw me in high school, and they were really good names in the Mobile area," Curtis remembered. "They said 'You have a shot at this, you just have to work hard. You're a smaller-body type guy, you're going to have to out-work all the other guys that are 6'4", 250. You're going to have to sit there and have a great work ethic to be able to outwork them and to maximize your potential.' I took that to heart and ran with it."
Now with his first Riley Park appearance under his belt, Curtis couldn't be more thrilled to be pitching in front of a packed crowd and in an electric atmosphere every night, and hopes to continue getting the ball in high-leverage situations to help the Dogs make one final push to make the South Atlantic League playoffs.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.