Binghamton Mets Double-A pitcher and Catonsville native Adam Kolarek acknowledged he had some extra adrenaline when he made his first relief appearance Tuesday in the second game of the series with the Bowie Baysox at Prince George's Stadium.
The crowd, which included many Catonsville friends and family, welcomed him into the game with a hearty ovation.
His father, Frank Kolarek, who is a Baltimore Orioles scout for four teams in the Double-A Eastern League, including Binghamton, felt the love for his son.
“As Ad starts making his way in from the bullpen, you see all the groups start standing up and cheering. It was like a little wave,” said Kolarek, who played in the Oakland Athletics organization from 1976 through 1982.
Kolarek retired the only batter he faced in the seventh and pitched a scoreless eighth that ended with a 95-mile-per-hour fastball on the outside corner for strike three.
“I was pumped, and I was letting one go,” said Kolarek, whose fastball was consistently in the low 90s.
“That was for Catonsville,” his dad said. “It was the Catonsville pitch. It was either going to hit the black or hit the screen and it was so cool because everybody was up. You would have thought he was at a home game because of all the people that were here.”
Although it took until the Baysox final home series of the year, Kolarek was excited to be playing close to home.
“We were a little disappointed we had to wait so long, but it definitely was worth the wait,” said Kolarek, whose oldest sister Karen was in town from Arizona with her baby, allowing him to meet his new nephew.
In Bowie’s home season finale, Kolarek pitched another scoreless inning in a 13-1 loss that included three home runs from Baysox third baseman Brandon Waring.
But that was just a tune-up for the playoffs. The Mets had clinched a berth in the Eastern League playoffs two weeks earlier.
It will be the fourth straight year Kolarek has been on a playoff squad in a career that began with a postseason appearance in 2010 for the Brooklyn Cyclones in the New York Penn League after he was drafted in the 11th round out of the University of Maryland.
He went with Savannah in 2011 and with St. Lucie in 2012, when he led the Gulf Coast League Single-A squad with 18 saves.
That season, he played in the Florida State League All-Star game and was a postseason all-star as well as MLB.com Organization all-star.
It earned him a promotion to Binghamton, and he’s had another strong year with 42 appearances in a late-relief role.
He has struck out 61 batters in 61 innings while working to an earned run average of 1.74 and WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) of 1.10.
Although he’s not the closer — that’s the job of Jeff Walters (37 saves) — he enjoys his expanded role.
“I kind of like it more because I like going two innings and getting an opportunity to face lefties and righties, and I feel comfortable facing both,” said Kolarek, who has one save.
He pointed out the key to his success this season.
“The biggest difference has been my slider and changeup has made my fastball better because I’m able to throw sliders and changeups when I’m behind in the count,” he said. “I’ve kind of been pitching backwards.”
“He’s truly turned into a three-pitch pitcher,” said the father of the 24-year-old left-hander who has 244 strikeouts in 226 1/3 innings in the minor leagues.
One of those strikeouts came at Triple-A Las Vegas after he was promoted for two games in mid-April.
He was told at 11:30 at night and left on a flight for Vegas at 6 a.m. the next morning.
“It was a whirlwind for sure,” he said.
That first night, he pitched and allowed more runs in two innings (five) than he did in three combined months of May, June and August (three) for Binghamton.
“I was just trying to hang in the best I could,” he said. “It was a rough outing, but I pitched two days later and I had two good innings, so I was happy I was able to make up for it.”
His ability to shrug off the few rare bad outings are a reflection of his level-headed approach, his father said.
“He’s really learned the whole mentality. He takes it as it goes and doesn’t get really too high or too low,” said the elder Kolarek.
”He still loves it like he was running around in Catonsville,” his dad said. “He’s got the enthusiasm and that’s one thing I hope he keeps. You can get tainted in pro ball. It’s a tough racket.”
Unlike his father, who pours over the boxscores daily, Kolarek doesn’t focus on his numbers and doesn’t worry about promotions.
“You just put your numbers up and do the best you can do,” he said. “Things are constantly changing and you can only focus on what you do.”
Right now that means trying to win a championship for the first time in his minor league career.
“Just about everybody that is on this team now was here when we started,” Kolarek said. “That’s different, Guys deserve to go up, but it’s been cool to be together this long. I think this organization sees it that way too, because they want us to have a good shot at winning it all because that doesn’t happen very often.”
The Eastern League playoffs begin on Sept. 4 and Binghamton will most likely be facing Trenton.