NAUGATUCK — Pat Dean is enjoying the fruits of his labor.
The former Naugatuck High School pitcher and Minnesota Twins third round draft choice out of Boston College came back home this month and seemingly the entire Borough of Naugatuck was there to greet him.
It looked like a reunion at Jesse Camille’s as politicians, former coaches, players and anybody and everybody that has some kind of connection with sports in the Borough and the Valley came together to honor Dean at his stag.
Dean was relaxing with his brother, John, and his dad, Greg, along with soon-to-be father-in-law, Chris Watson, and brother-in-law, Patrick Watson, but took some time to reflect on the past year.
It has been a whirlwind of a year for Dean — one that started with him pitching in the Dominican Republic for the first time in his six-year professional career and will culminate with a November wedding.
“Getting ready for a wedding is certainly a lot to prepare for,” Dean said. “But Katie [Watson] has been extremely supportive as far as baseball goes, and she has done an amazing job pulling this all together. That has allowed me to concentrate on what I need to do going out there every five days and perform to the best of my ability.”
For the first time in a long time, Dean was away from the stress of competing at the Triple-A minor league baseball level, and the smile he wore from ear-to-ear showed he felt right at home.
Mingling through the crowd greeting former teammates and classmates, Dean seemed to have the weight of the world off his shoulders. It wasn’t long ago that the crafty left-hander was wondering if he had reached the end of the road in professional baseball.
The 2010 Minnesota Twins draft choice earned a spot start for the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats in 2011. It would be another year before Dean toed the rubber again in New Britain. He spent 2012 in Ft. Myers, Fla. putting up his highest win total (10) at the Single-A level.
Dean returned to New Britain the next two seasons, but the results were not what he had hoped they would be. Dean posted a 6-11 record and an ERA 4.68 in 2013. In 2014, he went 8-9 with an even higher ERA of 4.81.
But there was a bit of a silver lining. At the end of 2013 a left-handed pitcher from Triple-A Rochester was called up to the Twins. The Red Wings looked at the New Britain staff and chose the first left hander on the list, that being Dean.
He was told by his manager to pack light, since it would probably only be one start, but throw a few more things in the suitcase just in case.
Dean followed instructions to the tee. In his first start for Rochester against Durham, the then best team in the International League, Dean opened some eyes taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning.
It’s a good thing Dean packed a few more things because after throwing seven innings of two hit ball, he wasn’t going anywhere, especially back to New Britain. He wound up helping the Red Wings to their first playoff appearance in seven years going 3-2 in six starts with a tidy 2.03 ERA.
Expecting to be back at the Triple-A level the following year Dean was disappointed when he was sent back to New Britain. He endured the toughest season of his career allowing a career-worst 20 home runs and his highest ERA.
“I put an awful lot of pressure on myself last year,” Dean said. “Maybe trying to do too much and trying to be a pitcher that I wasn’t. This year I just went into it having a lot more fun and getting ready for a wedding was a good distraction allowing me to take my mind off a lot of the worrying part of pitching 24/7.”
After spending the winter playing in the Dominican League, Dean entered this season with a refreshed outlook, and his early success in spring training got him another shot with the Triple-A Red Wings.
Dean hit the ground running. He started the year 2-0 with a microscopic 0.95 ERA in three starts and earned his second International League Pitcher of the Week award.
“Katie and I talked a lot about it in the offseason about not putting so much pressure on myself and just enjoy the experience,” Dean said. “That helped tremendously to approach this season with a whole different mindset. To just be happy to be putting on the jersey every day and take advantage of the opportunity.”
By the end of the season Dean pitched the most innings (179) of any minor league pitcher. He went 12-11 with a 2.82 ERA — good enough for fifth in the league — with three shutouts and five complete games.
When Rochester was in the heat of a pennant race Dean was at his best. During the final weeks of the season Dean showed his stuff going 4-1 with an eye-popping 1.21 ERA with two complete games and two shutouts.
Now that the season is over Dean, who is under contract with the Twins through 2015, can look back and be satisfied that he put his best foot forward. As far as where their crafty left-hander will end up next season, the ball is in the Twins’ court.
Dean is Rule-Five eligible, which means he is available for a draft to be held at the Major League Baseball annual winter meeting. If a player isn’t on his current team’s 40 man roster, that player can be selected by another team.
“I’ve been Rule-Five eligible for the past three years,” said Dean, who will head to the Dominican Republic for another round of winter ball following his wedding. “So it will be interesting to see what the Twins want to do with me after this season. But there will be no decisions made until they get a chance to evaluate all of their players throughout the organization after the season is over. I did what I could do on my part and I’m satisfied with that. Hopefully I gave them something to think about.”