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Written by Mark Firkins
It’s no secret that I attend as many games in the NY PENN League as I possibly can. While I will travel to other ballparks throughout the season, the Batavia Muckdogs and their home, Dwyer Stadium, is an easy drive for me. Being a short season A league that starts in mid June and ends Labor day, your chance to see some of the games’ young bright stars is brief and summer (as we all know) always goes by too quick.
When I was offered the opportunity to sit down with some of the Miami Marlins’ prospects and interview them, I jumped at the opportunity. The day was Saturday, July 21st. The game was scheduled to start at 7:05 and I was invited to arrive at the stadium at 4:00 to watch batting practice, bullpen warm ups, fielding practice, and walk around the outfield grass and warning track to take some photos from a different view. Players would be available for me to interview after they cooled down, grabbed something to eat, and changed into their game uniforms.
Around 5:00 I was introduced to Muckdogs Pitcher, Bryce Howe. Bryce was selected in the 18th round of the 2017 draft. Bryce looks nothing like most of the pitchers the Marlins have drafted over the past few years. The Marlins tend to favor tall, lean pitchers who have a feel for the slider and curve early in their careers. Bryce is 6′ 2″ – 250 lbs and resembles a middle linebacker more than a baseball player. He is a classic power pitcher who works the corners and pounds the strike zone early with his fastballs. In his 1 1/2 seasons with the Marlins organization Bryce has pitched 61.2 innings, has a 2.63 ERA and has struck out 46.
We sat down in the picnic grove area of the ballpark next to the Muckdogs clubhouse and bullpen area. We shook hands, exchanged greetings, had some pleasant small talk and then began our interview. Bryce was extremely pleasant and gracious. He was very descriptive with his answers and offered personal stories to add to my questions.
MF: Tell me what it’s like being a minor league pitcher in the Marlins organization?
BH: It’s awesome. I’m being taught so much and really developing as a player. The Marlins minor league pitching coordinator, Chris Michalak has put together such a great program and philosophy for me and other pitchers to follow.
MF: Can you share what their philosophy or strategy is for you?
BH: They want me to pitch for early contact and try to get outs in three pitches or less. The pitching coach here, Jason Erickson is great to work with and so supportive of all the talent we have here.
MF: You started the season at Greensboro in the South Atlantic League. You started a few games, pitched middle relief, and even closed/saved a few games there. Here in Batavia you’ve started and have been used in those middle innings situations. What’s the strategy and how do you prepare yourself for such different roles?
BH: So what the Marlins are doing here is having me start one game every 5 days, then another starting pitcher relieves me in the middle. Then in 5 days someone else starts and I piggyback or relieve the middle innings on his start. I look at it as I’m the next starter in that game and I prepare myself pregame as a starter even though I’ll be down in the bullpen and entering and pitching the middle innings. In Greensboro I was filling any role that they needed. I wasn’t on a regular schedule or routine like I am here.
MF: You’re pitching against some young players who may be using a wood bat for the first time in their career. Do you find that to be in your advantage?
BH: Maybe at first there might be some advantage, but if they were good enough to get drafted or placed here, they must know how to hit and play the game.
MF: Who has been the biggest influence on your baseball career?
BH: I’ve had so many great coaches in high school and college, but my dad was my first coach. He’s always encouraged me, coached me in youth leagues, and you can’t get better support than that of your dad and family.
MF: I’m a baseball equipment geek and I always ask the hitters what bat they swing. You don’t get that opportunity too often so I’ll ask what brand of glove goes on your hand?
BH: I like Easton gloves. I’ve used them all through college and now as a pro. I like how they feel and how the ball fits into the palm when I’m getting ready to put my grip on it.
MF: I was watching BP today and then heard a small roar from the players on the field and saw a pitch go over the left center wall. That was you.
BH: Yeah (laughing), I’ll take a few swings with the bat every few days. I haven’t game hit since high school, but I can still swing and enjoy taking my cuts. I’ll work with the pitching machine when I can and lay down some bunts and work on that.
MF: Who’s bat did you use in BP today?
BH: That was my catcher, JD Osborne’s bat. That hit felt perfect the moment I made contact.
MF: You’re from the Tulsa, Oklahoma area. Played your high school and college ball there as well at Oral Roberts University. There’s really no easy way to get from Tulsa to here. Has any of your family made it here to visit and see you play yet?
BH: My dad has made the trip here and my girlfriend has been to visit as well. When I was in Greensboro my Grandparents were able to see me play there. I’m hoping my dad can see me on one of our road trips at some point this season, I know he’s trying to coordinate something.
MF: Ready for some quick, fun, and mostly baseball questions?
BH: Go for it.
MF: Favorite athlete?
BH: Josh Beckett as a ball player. I love golf and love Tiger Woods.
MF: Do you play golf then?
BH: Not lately of course, but I do and can shoot in the high 70’s mid 80’s
MF: Impressive, you’d have to spot me 25 or so strokes.
MF: Favorite MLB Ballpark?
BH: There’s something special about the Green Monster and Fenway Park.
MF: Favorite game/promotion you see the kids playing between innings?
BH: In Greensboro they have those giant inflatable Sumo Wrestling suits and have the contestants Sumo wrestle. Although after seeing that guy take off his shirt last night and dance for his dinner to the song “All the Single Ladies” – that was something I’ve never seen before and thought that was crazy awesome.
MF: Favorite ballpark food or treat?
BH: A hot dog with mustard and onions.
MF: Would you rather sing the National Anthem or dance with the team mascot?
BH: Sing the Anthem
MF: Day games or night games?
BH: Under the lights at night.
MF: Let’s get a pitchers point of view on this: Why is it called the foul pole?
BH: Yeah, it’s a fair ball, home run if the ball hits it. At least it stops the ball from going farther. If it’s the foul pole and a ball hits it maybe it should be a foul ball for me and a strike on the batter.
Bryce Howe was a pleasure to interview. He was confident, humorous and not shy at all to talk. He has a very positive and upbeat attitude, knows the road to the show is a long one and is willing to put in all the work to succeed. In 1 1/2 season he’s pitched in the rookie Gulf Coast League, NY PENN League, and South Atlantic League. He’s confident in the Marlins pitching philosophy and the coaching staffs guidance. His Oklahoma country smile tells you he loves this game and the game is loving him back.