In only his second year of professional baseball, Naugatuck native Stephen Hiscock will be a part of something few players experience at that level: The postseason.
Hiscock’s team, the Bowling Green Hot Rods, clinched a playoff spot in the Single-A Midwest League. The Kentucky-based Tampa Bay Rays affiliate won the first-half crown in the Eastern Division of the league and qualified for the playoffs.
And while individual development may be the focus of the minor leagues, Hiscock said the opportunity to play extra baseball this season is something special.
“Clinching a playoff berth was probably the greatest experience in my baseball career,” Hiscock said.
The former Naugy High standout has appeared in 33 games in 2011 through last Sunday. Despite a 5.06 ERA out of the bullpen, he has struck out 53 in 53.1 innings with a 2-0 record and one save.
Plus, Hiscock has added a pitch to his portfolio—a cutter.
“They wanted me to work on that this season,” Hiscock said. “I feel like I’ve developed a lot.”
The right-hander is in the midst of his second full season in the minors. The biggest difference from his first year has been the length of the season. Hiscock played his first year in the New York-Penn League, which plays a shorter season than the Midwest League.
“We play 144 games,” said Hiscock, who serves as the team’s setup man. “Playing that many games is definitely a grind.”
More games require more preparation, according to Hiscock. The physical demands of a long season made the offseason that much more important.
“I pretty much stuck to what they gave me (for workout plans),” Hiscock said. “It comes down to you taking care of yourself with workouts and eating right. It sounds simple, but it makes a big difference.”
There’s also the game-to-game preparation. It requires a game plan.
“You face a lot of the same hitters,” Hiscock said. “You know the hitters you don’t want to beat you.”
The extended season also equates to more travel. The Midwest League spans from Kentucky to Wisconsin.
“It’s pretty much a long ride anywhere you go,” Hiscock said.
The travel has been an easy adjustment for Hiscock. He and many of his teammates played last year for Hudson Valley in New York and work well together.
With 15 other teams in the league, Hiscock has played in many unique cities and some large crowds. He’s also been able to perform in front of his family members.
Earlier this year, Hiscock made another local connection when his team faced Pat Dean, who also played for Naugatuck. Dean was pitching for Beloit in Wisconsin.
The moment was almost surreal for Hiscock, who had played with Dean his entire baseball life. For one night, Dean was an opponent. The game turned out to be a sort of win-win scenario.
“Pat threw very well, and we ended up getting the win,” Hiscock said.
The 23-year-old Hiscock said this year has been enjoyable. While there may be ups and downs in a 144-game season, the road to the big leagues is lined with many opportunities.
“I still get to play the game I grew up playing for free,” Hiscock said, “and now I get to play in front of thousands of people.”