Mets prospect remembers Rockford roots
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April 19, 2010 - LOVES PARK, Ill. – Every year, it seems, there’s a new tale of a major-league player who got his start in the independent leagues – the anything but an overnight success story. Derrick Ellison isn’t yet one of those stories, but he’s at least in the same state

For the second year in a row, the veteran left-hander has opened the season in the upper reaches of the minor leagues. Ellison is pitching for the Binghamton Mets, New York’s Class AA affiliate in the Eastern League, just two steps and about 200 miles from the Big Apple and the big leagues. Last season, the former Rockford RiverHawk opened the season with the Milwaukee Brewers’ Double-A club, was released and rebounded with a dominant mid-season stretch back in indy ball, and resurfaced in the affiliated leagues with a late-season stint with the Mets’ Triple-A Buffalo farm club.

“What a blessing from the Lord to start my career in independent baseball and to be given that opportunity,” Ellison says. “I’m just thankful that the organization gave me that opportunity and I threw the ball well there and that gave me the opportunity to come back.”

Ellison was the key southpaw setup man for the RiverHawks’ 2004 Frontier League championship team, but he started out that spring as just another face in the Frontier League tryout camp. Ellison, who had broken in with the Richmond Roosters in 2001, had been a part of their back-to-back FL championships in ’01-’02, but was battling his way back from injury. The RiverHawks took him in the draft at the conclusion of the tryout and his subsequent success has led to opportunities with the Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs, Brewers and Mets organizations.

“There’s no one from my ’01 team that I played with in Richmond still playing, so I’m very grateful to still be out there playing,” says the 32-year-old Ellison, a devout Christian. “And I still feel like I can do that at the major-league level. … It all comes from the man upstairs, it’s nothing I’ve done.”

Ellison and his wife, Robyn, became parents right after last season. Their daughter, Adilynn, was born on Sept. 14.

“We were pushing it to get that season finished and get home so I could be there.”

By the end of last season, he had gone back to indy ball as an Atlantic League All-Star with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs and had been picked up by the Mets. After a three-appearance stop at Binghamton, the Mets promoted him to Triple-A, where he made six appearances, including a start. Ellison was a composite 4-3 with a 2.97 earned-run average, six saves and 55 strikeouts. Ellison struck out 15 in just 12 2/3 innings in the Atlantic League. He walked just 20 batters all season; 15 of those were with the Brewers’ Huntsville affiliate before his June release.

This season, Ellison’s first few appearances with Binghamton have been a little more hit or miss. Last week, he struck out five and held Erie to one hit over three scoreless innings. Last Saturday at New Hampshire, however, he gave up four runs on four hits and walked three in an inning. After four appearances, Ellison has no record, a 10.80 ERA and no saves.

“This has been a humbling start,” Ellison says. “This has probably been the toughest stretch of pitching I’ve had in I can’t remember when. … kind of dug myself into a statistical hole, but that’s just a point where you have to put your faith in the Lord.”

Ellison, who has a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2-to-1 and who has averaged nearly a strikeout an inning, says the problem is that he has been using his offspeed pitches earlier in the count this year than in the past.

“Getting away from the fastball has kind of burned me,” he says. “I’ve been kind of pitching backwards this year. … (On Saturday), I was just trying to pick the corners instead of trying to stay aggressive. At this level, staying consistent and fastball command is the key to getting a shot to play up there (in the majors).

“I certainly feel I’m capable of it, and I’m certain the Mets feel I’m capable of it, otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.”

Ellison says a number of his Binghamton and Buffalo teammates from last year are already in the majors, so he knows that the right combination of performance and circumstances could make him the first former RiverHawk to reach the majors.

“What being in the game the last 10 years has taught me is be who you are, no matter the circumstances,” Ellison says. “There’s peace in knowing it’s so far out of my hands that I find peace in knowing if it happens, I can’t take credit for it.”

The RiverHawks are members of the Northern League, an eight-team independent professional baseball league that will play its 18th season in 2010. The RiverHawks’ ninth season begins at 7:05 p.m. May 20 against the Schaumburg Flyers at Road Ranger Stadium. Advertising and ticket information is available by calling (815) 885-2255. Games are broadcast live on ESPN 1380 (WTJK-AM) and on ESPN1380.com. Fans can also visit the RiverHawks online at www.rockfordriverhawks.com.


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