Armstrong heads to Columbus with purpose

Rainiers hurler to remember late friend at Triple-A All-Star Game

Working in his eighth pro season, Shawn Armstrong has a 2.04 ERA and leads Triple-A Tacoma with seven saves. (Jeff Halstead)

By Josh Horton / MiLB.com | July 10, 2018 10:30 AM

To Rainiers reliever Shawn Armstrong, getting to participate in Wednesday night's Triple-A All-Star Game between the Pacific Coast League and the International League is an honor, but it's much more than that.

It's a chance to return to Columbus and pay respects to a close friend, former Clippers clubhouse manager Matt Pruzinsky, who died in December from cardiac arrest at age 32.

Pruzinsky is survived by his wife Shannon and his twin sons, Matthew and Brayden, who were born on Feb. 26.

"Having the ability to be able to go there [for the All-Star Game] is a little ironic after something like that happened," said Armstrong, who was traded to Seattle late last year after spending the first seven seasons of his career in the Cleveland system. "But, obviously, I definitely want to see the twin boys -- I've only seen them on a postcard and stuff -- and with [Columbus general manager Ken] Schnacke, it's a family there. ... It might be a little bit of an emotional experience.

Tweet from @SArmstrong90: At a loss for words after receiving a call expressing the terrible news of the loss of @CLBClippers home club house manager. Matt was a true friend and what I considered a teammate. Rest easy my friend and watch over us and those twin boys due March. We all love and miss you!

"I'm going there to represent the Tacoma Rainiers and the Seattle Mariners and hopefully the PCL comes back with a [win], but it will also be really good to see those individuals after everything that happened."

Armstrong, who partnered with Indians reliever Cody Anderson to set up a GoFundMe page that raised over $100,000 for Pruzinsky's family, said his friend was beloved to many because of his above-and-beyond approach to his position.

"For guys that go up and down from Columbus to Cleveland or down to Double-A to Akron, he did everything he could possibly [do] to make sure that everything was acclimated for you and made sure everything was easy," Armstrong said, "because he knows the game isn't easy."

Tweet from @SArmstrong90: Some of my teammates and I wanted to create a page for Matts future twin boys and his wife in his memory. Thank you for your prayers and support! @Indians @CLBClippers I'm raising money for The 26th Man- Matt Pruzinsky. Click to Donate: https://t.co/PT1b6x3kP3 via @gofundme

When Armstrong found out he was being promoted to the Indians for the first time in 2015, Pruzinsky already had the hurler's gear packed when he reached the clubhouse. Whenever Armstrong was called to join the Indians on the road, Pruzinsky drove the right-hander's truck to Cleveland so it would be waiting when the team came home.

Clippers players referred to him as "the 26th man," and many were close friends with him.

"On off days, you'd go play golf with the clubbie," Armstrong said. "He wasn't just the clubhouse manager -- he was a friend and a brother and a teammate to everybody, especially to me. I was in Columbus for parts of four years and we became really, really close. He was like a brother to me, and that's one reason why it's extremely special for me to go back there."

Armstrong, Tacoma's lone All-Star selection, is worthy of the trip to Columbus for reasons beyond his connection to the Clippers. The 27-year-old reliever boasts a 2.04 ERA with 54 strikeouts in 34 appearances this season. He leads the Rainiers with seven saves and hasn't allowed a run in his last 11 games.

A midseason uptick in velocity, from 91 mph to 94 mph, has aided Armstrong's recent success.

"Not only that, but his command is better," Tacoma manager Pat Listach said. "He's very deserving of it."

With Armstrong's All-Star ticket punched, Columbus' front office is thrilled about the reunion.

"It'll be great to see him," Schnacke said. "I can't say enough about him. ... There's been an overwhelming sense of family and all of us coming together, and Shawn was a very big part of that, but he was also a very big part of our team here, too."

All the player-autographed jerseys from Monday's skills competition will be sold online and 100 percent of proceeds will go to Pruzinsky's family, according to Schnacke.

A special T-shirt commemorating Pruzinsky is waiting for Armstrong in Central Ohio, and he knows he's going to enjoy himself -- just like Pruzinsky would have wanted him to.

"The biggest thing with him is that every day you walk in the clubhouse, he has a smile on his face," Armstrong said. "He tried to make it enjoyable for everyone to be there. No matter if he was having a bad day, he brought the mood up for everyone."

Josh Horton is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @joshhortonMiLB This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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