Most players begin playing professional baseball within weeks of being drafted. Kellen Kiilsgaard was drafted on June 8, 2010, but he still had to rehab from Tommy John surgery, and he did not make his professional baseball debut until Saturday night, more than one year later.
Kiilsgaard made up for lost time in his first game, opening the fifth inning with a line-drive home run and leading off the eighth with a double to the right-field corner. His teammates followed suit, as the ValleyCats' bats came alive for a 10-0 victory, evening their record at 1-1.
Right fielder Drew Muren reached base four times in five at-bats, singling twice, and first baseman Zach Johnson also racked up a pair of hits. Three pitchers threw three innings apiece to combine for the team's first shutout since the 2010 NY-Penn League Semifinals at Batavia.
"The guys finally relaxed and just started to hit," manager Stubby Clapp said. "They had better approaches today, hit pitches that they were looking for instead of just swinging at whatever was coming up."
"We got the first-night jitters out of the way yesterday," Kiilsgaard said. "When we're not putting a lot of guys on base, and we're swinging the bat like we were tonight, it's going to be hard to beat us."
After committing five errors that led to five unearned runs in the season opener, the Tri-City defense was much stronger on Saturday night. Though the 'Cats committed two errors, neither proved to be crucial. The team turned three double plays and killed two other baserunners - a first-and-third pickoff play retired Jeff Bercume at the plate in the first inning, and center fielder Justin Gominsky gunned down Jacob Tanis trying to score in the second.
Starter Jonas Dufek, Dayan Diaz and Travis Smink allowed only five hits in nine innings, all singles.
"[Pitching coach Gary] Ruby's done a great job with the pitching staff, so we put our trust in him, and everything turned out just fine today," Clapp said.
Vermont starter Argenis Paez kept the ValleyCats at bay through three innings, retiring eight consecutive hitters by keeping the ball harmlessly on the ground. Muren led off the fourth inning with a line drive single, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Left fielder Brandon Meredith hit a soft grounder to shortstop and Muren evaded the tag at home, giving the ValleyCats their first lead of the season.
Johnson's single plated Meredith two batters later, and Tri-City's advantage was never seriously threatened.
Lake Monsters reliever Jeiler Castillo - who appeared in three games for the ValleyCats in 2010 - did not fare well in his return to Joe Bruno Stadium. He walked the bases loaded on just 13 pitches in the seventh inning and was taken out of the game, eventually charged with three runs when third baseman Matt Duffy cleared the bases with a double to the center-field wall.
"There's an old saying that hitting's contagious," Duffy said. "It was good to see everyone swing the bat well tonight, a bunch of guys had extra-base hits, so that definitely gives us confidence, and now we can settle in and hopefully carry it over."
Kiilsgaard scored twice and also drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning. His home run was a low line drive that quickly carried over the fence in right-center.
"I got that ball in and turned on it ... I was seeing the ball well tonight," he said. "Sometimes the ball just flies."
Shortstop Jacke Healey injured his right ankle while running out a grounder in the third inning and is day-to-day.
Because the ValleyCats won on Saturday night, kids will be able to eat free at the Ninety Nine Restaurant on Sunday. The promotion is available at all six Capital Region locations - Clifton Park, Colonie, Guilderland, Queensbury, Rotterdam and Saratoga Springs - with the purchase of an adult entree.
The ValleyCats look to win the series and boost their record above .500 when they return to "The Joe" on Sunday. The game against the Lake Monsters begins at 5 p.m.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.