Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

July 4, 2012

Conner builds on future as ‘professional hitter’

BLUEFIELD — Seth Conner made friends pretty quickly after he arrived during a Sunday afternoon game at Bowen Field on June 24 with Johnson City.

Breaking up a no-hitter with two outs in the bottom of the ni \nth inning will do that. The fact that it came against the Cardinals was just a bonus.

“That was pretty cool and obviously it was against a Cardinals’ affiliate too, which was a lot of fun because growing up that is the team I liked,” said Conner, whose single was followed by a double from Carlos Ramirez in what turned into a 4-2 loss. “I am all Blue Jays now.

“That was a lot of fun, that helped me get relaxed and get me started off on the right foot. Thankfully Carlos Ramirez came up with the big hit after that and we went from no outs to having two hits and two runs so that was good deal.”

While Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg wasn’t happy with the loss, he was pleased that the player he calls a ‘professional hitter’ came through with a solid single to center field.

“That is what he has told me and it is always nice to have the confidence of your manager. I really enjoy playing for Dennis,” said Conner, who had played for Holmberg in the past in extended spring training in Florida. “I think it is just having a quality, professional at-bats is what he means by that and it’s just getting the job done when called on.”

A 41st round draft choice in 2010 from Rogersville, Mo., Conner is leading the Blue Jays at the plate, batting .357 (10-28) with three RBIs and five runs scored, having collected eight hits in 10 plate appearances in his last four games.

That includes a game-winning hit in a 2-1 win over Pulaski on Monday.

“That was nice too. I have been telling everyone I haven’t been smoking balls, but I have just been finding holes,” Conner said. “I have been blessed to get some hits and have some timely hitting when the opportunity comes.”

While Conner’s bat has been productive, it is his glove that has changed. He spent last season in the Gulf Coast League, batting .276 with four home runs and 23 RBIs in 50 games, while playing the infield.

Upon arrival in extended spring training, Conner was handed a catcher’s mitt.

“During spring training I was real tentative back there and I just didn’t have much confidence on how to handle a pitching staff or even find out what it took to be comfortable to catch for me,” Conner said. “After catching in spring training and catching all through extended, now I feel much more comfortable.

“I am still learning a lot back there, but I feel much better back there and I can play that position adequately now.”

Making the adjustment to catcher is never easy, especially at the position that is the most physically challenging on the field.

“You have to be very tough to be a catcher and I really just do an acting job back there, that is really not my nature, but everyone else is so tough that plays back there so I just have to assume that role,” Conner said. “You are suppose to be a leader back there and I guess showing no pain is probably part of that.

“You do get beat up back there, but you just have to go back there and know that is your job.

“When you have that mentality going into it that makes it all right.”

Conner was a standout high school standout in the Springfield, Mo., area, and had expected to continue his career at Missouri State, especially when he didn’t hear from the Blue Jays long after the draft ended in June of ‘10.

“Really I didn’t know if I was going to sign because they were trying to sign those guys in the top 10 rounds,” said Conner, whose prep career had been followed by a local cross-checker with Toronto. “I ended up getting an offer right before the deadline like eight minutes before the deadline and that was my first offer.”

He didn’t have much time to make a decision, but he knew what his answer was going to be.

“The thing for me is you are never promised another opportunity,” said the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Conner.

“I am not saying I would have gone to Missouri State and not gotten drafted out of there and done well because that is a great program, they have had a lot of good players come through there.  

“Just for me and my family, I felt the right thing for me to do right now was to go and pursue my dream of playing professional baseball and so that is what I decided on. I felt like it was best for me at the time...

“To me it seemed like what I wanted to do, that was my dream,” he added. “I have heard the best way to get developed is to play pro ball so that is what I wanted to do and the Blue Jays have done a great job with that so I am just enjoying learning and trying to become a professional baseball player.”

Conner didn’t arrive in Bluefield when the rest of the team arrived on June 16, but since getting in town eight days later — and breaking up a no-hitter — he has liked what he’s seen in the Appalachian League.

“It has been really good so far, I really enjoy the schedule,” Conner said. “It is not quite as hot here as it is in Florida and you get to play night games which has been a real joy and a treat for me which is a lot of fun.

“I really enjoy the schedule. I am just trying to make the most of it and enjoy it day by day and not take anything for granted.”

Away from the diamond, Conner has found many parallels between his summer home and Rogersville, a small suburb of Springfield.  

“This reminds me so much of home other than this has a little more mountain tops,” Conner said. “I love it, I love small town USA, where everybody knows everybody and it is really friendly and I really enjoy playing here so this hasn’t been too weird for me at all.”

The road ahead will be long and full of obstacles for any minor league baseball player, but Conner seems to have a grasp on what must happen to achieve his dream.

“You really feel like as a ball player you can’t control any of that, all you can do is go in day in and day out and work your hardest and just try and learn to be a consistent ball player,” Conner said. “I think that is what those guys in the major leagues do. They just don’t have too highs or too lows, they might have a high and they might have a little bit of a low, but they pretty much stay in that mid-line.

“That is what I am trying to do as a ball player is trying to be consistent all the way around with the bat as well as defensively and baserunning, that is really what I am trying to do.”

Conner grew up in St. Louis Cardinals’ country, but all it took was a late offer to play professional baseball to change his allegiance to a different team and different colors.

“The Blue Jays were the ones who gave me the opportunity to pursue my dream of becoming a major league baseball player,” Conner said. “I can’t say enough good things about the organization and how much I have enjoyed my time playing with them.

“I love being a Blue Jay.”

—Contact Brian Woodson

at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

 

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