Preparing for ‘the biggest game they’ve ever been in’

Red Rams take final lesson from Yankees farmhand before title game
Roller smacks game-winning HR

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

Related coverage
* Photo gallery – more than 400 images
* Video – Red Rams coach Ralph Butler
* Game day: Roller’s HR propels RailRiders to 3rd straight win * Box score
* Jan. 31: Roller’s hitting clinic aids Red Rams fundraiser
* July 21, 2014: Yankees prospect eyes the show
* USAToday.com: Minor league team’s “Star Wars” jerseys so wrong they’re right

DURHAM — Even without being asked, Kyle Roller was up to teach a lesson or two in the art of hitting.

MacKenzie Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Alex Anderson, left, and Dawson Bryant give what is likely their first interviews inside a Minor League Baseball stadium on Saturday in Durham to The Pee Dee Post.

MacKenzie Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Alex Anderson, left, and Dawson Bryant give what is likely their first interviews inside a Minor League Baseball stadium on Saturday in Durham to The Pee Dee Post.

Through five innings, Roller and his Scranton-Wilkes Barre (Pa.) RailRiders teammates faced a 2-1 deficit to the host Durham Bulls in Durham Bull Athletic Park.

The New York Yankees’ prospect at first base and DH, who turned 27 in March, had two less-the-stellar plate appearances in the early innings of Sunday afternoon’s game. Roller, who hit from the cleanup spot on Sunday and played first base, struck out swinging his first at bat and tipped the ball so lightly on his second try at the plate the ball went only a few inches in front of home plate.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Jahan Jones asks Kyle Roller to sign his glove while Dallas Cowick and Eli York look on.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Rasheed Patrick asks Kyle Roller to sign his glove while Dallas Cowick and Eli York look on.

The ball went a little further his third time up. In the sixth inning, Roller worked Bulls pitcher Dylan Floro to a 3-2 count before launching the ball more the 373-foot fence in right-center field. His two-run shot lifted the RailRiders to their third consecutive win and put his team above .500 for the first time since Opening Day.

Had Hamlet Middle School baseball coach Ralph Butler obtained the tickets he’d requested — on the grass bank in right-center field — his 16 players and two team managers might have had a shot at catching Roller’s home run.

As it was, the Red Rams were nearly two full sections removed from where the ball finally landed, but the lessons sunk in: Be patient at the plate. Remain calm. Don’t dwell on the past, good or bad. Take your swings. Good things can happen.

It was a session only a live-game setting could create. Butler said the seeds for Sunday’s trip to Durham were planted on Jan. 31, when Roller helped kick off the Red Rams Hit-a-thon hitting clinic, batting contest and fundraiser before the start of the middle school baseball season. Butler finalized the ticket purchase about three weeks. Even then, he had knowing that at first pitch Saturday afternoon, his team was only 47 hours from the start of the Southeastern Middle School Athletic Conference championship game against Hamlet.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Kyle Roller puts his autograph on Jeremy Ward's Hamlet Red Rams shirt as Chase Hudson, Tripp Stewart and Storm Graham wait their turn.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Kyle Roller puts his autograph on Jeremy Ward’s Hamlet Red Rams shirt as Chase Hudson, Tripp Stewart and Storm Graham wait their turn.

“We kicked off our season with Kyle Roller,” Butler said. “We thought this would be a good way to pay him back. I thought it would be good for our players to see another level of play” and be part of an announced crowd of 10,882 fans.

Alex Anderson, 14, is one of the team’s top two starting pitchers, and Dawson Bryant, 13, have led the Red Rams to a No. 2 seed on Monday in the conference championship against Rockingham. Overlooking Goodmon Field at Durham Bull Athletic Park, the pair spoke of the team-building exercise their coach organized for them.

They were there in Durham, Anderson said, “just to have fun” and “so we can play together well.”

Bryant said he can sometimes be a little nervous by coming up to the plate with the game on the line — it hardly shows, as he has game-winning hits in each of his team’s last two playoff contests. Butler sometimes calls him over and tells him to “slow down” and “calm down.” The strategy works, Bryant said.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

The Red Rams’ visit to to Durham included Anderson, Bryant and teammates Storm Graham, Nate Hudson, Tripp Stewart, Jahan Jones, Rasheed Patrick, Chase Hudson, C.J. Greene, Noah Blake, Luke Preslar, Dallas Cowick, Will Chappell, Austin Talton, Mitchell Paul and Stewart Davis. Team managers Jeremy Ward and Eli York also traveled with the team, as is their custom, along with Scott McInnis, father of Red Rams assistant coach Garrett McInnis.

Each of them took advantage when, after the game, Roller and a few teammates — right fielder Tyler Austin, outfielder Ben Gamol, third baseman Rob Segedin and second baseman Rob Refsnyder met with the Hamlet squad to sign autographs. Outside the visitors’ locker room outside Durham Bull Athletic Park along Blackwell Street at Jackie Robinson Drive, Red Rams players had their Hamlet ball caps, gloves, game programs and more signed by No. 23 and his teammates for more than half an hour before Roller went to dinner with family.

Hamlet-Rockingham

Butler spoke of the heyday of the rivalry between Rockingham and Hamlet. When the two facilities were high schools, Butler said athletes of past generations felt the rivalry was stronger more heated.

“It’s a different rivalry now,” Butler said as the players consolidate beginning at the Ninth Grade Academy and on to Richmond Senior High School. “It’s not what it used to be. I don’t think that’ll be the case on Monday. It’s going to be exciting.”

That doesn’t mean the two schools take the rivalry lightly since the consolidation. The Red Rams might not have had asking Roller for hitting tips.

“I’m not sure if he’d be willing to give any, seeing as he was a Rockingham Rocket,” Butler said. “I feel certain he probably would wish ’em well and hope that they do well. I’m sure it’s going to be a great game.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

To be sure, the two schools look to each other as a measure of success in each sport. This season, Rockingham has been on a solid streak — the Rockets have won conference titles in volleyball (beating Hamlet), football, boys basketball and girls basketball. On Friday, the Red Rams’ girls soccer team snapped that string of success with a 4-0 shellacking of the Rockets.

This week, there are two more Hamlet-Rockingham conference title tilts — at 4 p.m. Monday, the top-seeded Rockets host the No. 3 Red Rams in baseball and at 4 p.m. Tuesday, No. 1 Rockingham plays host to No. 2 Hamlet for the boys soccer championship.

Roller watch

Roller went 1-for-4 at the plate on Saturday with a home run and 2 RBI. That gives him a team-leading six home runs for the season through 34 games, along with eight doubles, 20 RBI and a .272 batting average.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com The Hamlet Red Rams watch as Kyle Roller's game-winning home run lands in the grass seat section, two removed from their own.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
The Hamlet Red Rams watch as Kyle Roller’s game-winning home run lands in the outfield bleachers one section removed from their own.

He’s also drawn 21 walks and struck out 43 times. Between Double AA Trenton and Triple AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre in 2014, Roller finished with a .300 batting average with 26 home runs, 30 doubles, three triples and 74 RBI in 125 games.

Roller, a graduate of Rockingham Middle School and Richmond Senior High School, was selected by the Yankees in the eighth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of East Carolina University. He was a two-year starter for the Pirates and earned 2010 preseason All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball. He was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 2009 draft but did not sign.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Mitchell Paul gets one of his two Red Rams ball caps signed by Kyle Roller.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Mitchell Paul gets one of his two Red Rams ball caps signed by Kyle Roller.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

 

Filed in: Featured News, Hamlet, Latest Headlines, News, Rockingham, Sports

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