Watts to pitch in Alaska
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Jake Watts left the state of North Carolina to pitch at Milligan (Tenn.) College. This summer, he's leaving the lower 48 states to pitch in the Great White North.
Watts, the ace of the Watauga 2011 pitching staff, will pitch in the Alaskan Baseball League, a semi-pro baseball league that has games that begin at midnight, and features some of the top college baseball played in the summer in the nation.
Watts will pitch for the Mat-Su Miners, a team that is located about 30 miles from Anchorage. The estimated distance from Charlotte to Anchorage is 3,013 miles, according to wiki.answers.com.
Watts has traveled long distances before. He has dual citizenship with Holland and has visited the European nation before.
Still, it's a long way to travel to play baseball.
“I'm excited,” he said. “I'm kind of nervous. There are a lot of good players up there. They'll be harder to pitch against. I'll learn a lot. There are a lot of coaches who will help me. It's semi-pro too, so there will be scouts up there too.”
The Miners play a 44-game schedule that began Monday and ends on July 30. The weekend of July 20-22 is called Scouts Showcase.
“A lot of people get drafted out of there,” Watts said.
One familiar face to Watts is Mat-Su manager Chris Gordon, the pitching coach at Milligan. Gordon was the pitching coach in Mat-Su last season, and was promoted to head coach at the start of the season.
Gordon has been an assistant coach at Milligan since 2010. He was promoted to pitching coach and recruiting coordinator in 2010.
Another Milligan pitcher, closer Jake Howell, also will play for Mat-Su. Gordon talked Watts to traveling to Alaska to play baseball this summer.
“I started playing in Morganton and I got a call with a chance to play in Alaska,” Watts said. “A few of (his teammates) last year went to Alaska. I heard a lot about it from them. They played a lot of midnight games because it's still sunny. It's a good league.”
There are games late at night because the sun rises in Anchorage at 4:22 today, and will set at 11:38. Even with a little more than four hours when the sun is not out, it won't be dark for very long in Alaska, which allows baseball teams to play at odd hours.
Watts said the latest he's ever played baseball is, “around nine or 10 o'clock, but it's dark then.” Watts tried to do some research on Alaska, but knows reading about the state and actually living there are two different dynamics.
“It's actually pretty interesting,” he said.
No matter when game time is, Watts wants to improve as a baseball player over the summer. Watts had a solid freshman season at Milligan, going 5-4 with a 5.68 ERA in 44 1/3 innings.
Milligan finished 27-27 overall, 13-11 in the Appalachian Athletic Conference standings. Howell finished with a 1.04 ERA, a 2-2 record and 13 saves in 26 innings' pitched.
“I want to compete and try to win as much as I can and bring it back to Milligan for next year,” Watts said.