BY DENNIS SILVA II | DENSILVA2@GMAIL.COM
The unwelcomed phone call lasted 16 seconds. Washing your hands takes longer.
But for Carson Lance, that amount of time was enough to temporarily set back his career. A 2014 graduate of Katy High who was in the single-A minor league system of the Detroit Tigers organization, Lance was at his offseason home in Denton on July 2 when the Tigers called to notify he was being released.
“Short and sweet, to the point,” Lance, 25, recalled. “Nobody has money right now and there are a lot of players. I’m not the only guy with this story. I think Detroit cut 40-plus people that day. That’s the number I heard, so I’m sure he was busy that day and didn’t have a whole lot of time.”
On June 30, Minor League Baseball’s Board of Trustees canceled its 2020 season, which was scheduled to start in early April but never got going. The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, was fatal for its clubs, which rely significantly on revenue from fans in the stands.
The prospect of playing games in empty ballparks was simply not feasible.
For the approximately 8,000 minor league players who were not part of a Major League Baseball team’s 60-man player pool to open the attempted restart to the 2020 season earlier this month, an entire season was lost. Lance was one of them.
“As a competitor, I never want to say I expected it,” said Lance, who was drafted by Detroit in the 16th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball draft out of Lamar University. “And last year, I had a good year with my strikeouts per nine innings. My velocity went up. So, I never thought … you just don’t want to think it, you know?”
These days, Lance is a landscaper, one of his two offseason side jobs—substitute teaching was the other, but because schools are closed that isn’t an option.
“Texas landscaping never stops,” he said with an exasperated laugh after another exhausting day of work earlier this week.
Lance was in spring training in Lakeland, Florida, for only five days before the coronavirus forced the Tigers to send players home.
“We were all thinking it was going to be a two-week thing and then we’d be back to normal,” Lance said. “But the coronavirus thing just blew up, literally. I never wanted to believe it. You just have that thought in your mind that if you don’t play, it doesn’t look good. I’m not going to be 24, 25 ever again. Getting older is not a good thing.”
Still, Lance departed spring training encouraged. He has every intention to continue his pursuit of big-league dreams.
“My last bullpen I threw, I was hitting 95, 96 (miles per hour),” he said. “I can’t quit and live with that mentally when I’ve got that in the tank. I can’t do it.”
At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, Lance is a notable physical talent. On the mound, he has potent velocity, averaging 91.8 miles per hour on his fastball.
The right-hander went 7-15 in the minors over the last 2 ½ seasons with a 4.25 ERA. He started 30 of 41 games in all and has 144 strikeouts in 165 innings pitched with a .237 batting average against.
Lance has been contacted by a few teams this season, but his agent recommended signing on with the Grapevine AirHogs independent baseball’s American Association next season.
In the meantime, Lance is working on his splitfinger and slider to serve as No. 2 pitches to his fastball. His curveball is his fourth pitch. He said one reason why the cancelation of the season and impending release were so disappointing was it did not allow him to showcase what he learned in the offseason while working out with former MLBer Kyle Abbott.
He is a different, better pitcher than he was in 2019.
“Once you understand what you have to do to manipulate the ball and have it do certain things, then you can really get into the fine feels of releasing it,” Lance said.
Abbott, Lance said, taught him how to ‘feel fast,’ arm-speed wise.
“Growing up, you’re coached that you get your velocity from the ground and through your legs, and, yeah, that’s true, but your arm is throwing the baseball, and if it’s slow, the ball will still go slow,” Lance said. “I started doing drills to where I would get my arm speed as fast through my release point as I could possibly get it. I worked on that for a month or two, and 92 (miles per hour) got a lot easier to throw.”
Lance, who was an all-district player at Katy High and had multiple no-hitters to his name, is one of many Katy ISD products in pro baseball.
Former Taylor star Dane Myers, who was also selected in that 2017 draft by the Tigers, was a teammate of Lance’s in the minors.
“Dane and I were always enemies growing up, it seemed like, because we always faced each other,” Lance said of the Tigers-Mustangs rivalry. “Even before high school, it always seemed like we were competing, going up for it on opposite teams. And then we both get drafted by the same team. It was kind of weird seeing the guy you always went up against now in your locker room as a teammate. We’ve always been friendly. I did get tired of competing against him, though.”
There’s also Cinco Ranch’s Stefan Crichton and Seven Lakes’ Jon Duplantier, who were part of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 60-player pool. Both have already made their MLB debuts.
Former Seven Lakes stars Lamar Sparks (Baltimore Orioles) and Conner Capel (St. Louis Cardinals) are in the minors.
“Katy, at our age … we had some guys, man,” Lance said. “You had the Capel brothers (Seven Lakes’ Conner, Ryan and Tyler). You had Jon DuPlantier. You had Dylan Paul and Dane at Tyler. There’s a bunch of names. Katy bred a lot of pro baseball players those years, and still is. Katy is a hotspot for competition, for sure.
“The atmosphere of Katy ISD being so sport-minded … it’s a very exciting district when it comes to athletics.”
That intense competitive nature honed during his high school days has paid off considerably now.
“To be at this level, honestly, you have to have that mindset,” Lance said. “You have to know that you have what it takes to do it, or you’ll get weeded out. You can get weeded out by the fourth year just by that alone. The guys that don’t have that, they’re done by year one or two. In minor league baseball, guys get a piece of that first full season and they’re away from home and get that first slump or bad performance … guys come and go. It hits and they don’t like the game anymore and that’s about it.”