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Middendorf is big in size and working hard with Crushers

Middendorf is big in size and working hard with Crushers
August 10, 2013
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Dave Middendorf is so big that he has to sleep on the floor of the bus if he wants to rest comfortably.

Well, he doesn’t have to anymore, but it worked so well for him when he was a rookie in affiliated ball that he’s just stuck with it.

“I had to double up because I was a rookie. So I was like, ‘I’m a big dude. I want to sleep,’” Middendorf said. “So I started sleeping on the floor, and I started feeling better afterwards. I get my own seat now, but I still want to sleep on the floor because it’s more comfortable for me.”

The only difference between then and now is that he has learned how to get optimal relaxation out of the situation. He now brings a blanket and a pillow for himself, so he can sleep on the floor on every road trip.

“I get pretty comfortable, and now I can sleep better,” he said.

Listed at 6 feet, three inches tall and 225 pounds, Middendorf appears even bigger than that. He rivals fellow starter Matt Smith as the biggest player on the team. Smith, listed at 6 feet 6 inches, has Middendorf beat in height, but Middendorf has about 20 pounds on the right-hander. Middendorf’s size suggests that he is definitely a starting pitcher.

Apparently, the Kansas City Royals felt otherwise. After a four year collegiate career in which he went 25-12 with a 2.53 ERA at Northern Kentucky University, the Royals made Middendorf a 22nd round selection in the 2011 MLB amateur draft. The organization decided to make the southpaw a reliever, but Middendorf’s transition to the bullpen didn’t go so well in his first season. In seventeen rookie-ball games, he pitched 25.2 innings. He accumulated an ERA of 8.06 bouncing between the Burlington Royals in North Carolina, and the Idaho Falls Chukars.

He would spend one more season in the Royals organization. In 2012 he pitched in 22 games, 41.2 innings for the Chukars. He did collect three saves, but in doing so had a 5.18 ERA. The organization elected to not bring him back.

That’s how Middendorf found himself with Jeff Isom and the Lake Erie Crushers.

“They ended up making a decision to release him,” Isom said of the situation. “I guess that would be fortunate for us. We ended up getting him and getting him in a position where he could have success.

“Not everybody is made to be a reliever. It’s a tough adjustment. If you were a starter your whole life and all of the sudden you come in in relief, you don’t know when you’re pitching; it’s hard to get in any kind of routine. He didn’t get off to a very good start in professional baseball.”

Isom wanted to put Middendorf back in his comfort zone. He was a starter at NKU for four years, and he was a good one. Middendorf left the school as its all-time leader in strikeouts and innings-pitched: two records which he regards as the best on-field accomplishments of his career.

“His numbers were unbelievable as a starter,” Isom said of his college career. “It made sense to bring him in, see what he can do. You don’t know what you’re gonna get when you bring guys in. He was slated to be our fifth starter.”

He has turned into much more than just the fifth starter. On a pitching staff without a true ace, different pitchers have taken their own turns being the most dominant. Right now it is Middendorf’s turn, and the big lefty is paying huge dividends to his current club.

His nine wins are a team high, and his 2.61 ERA is second among the team’s starters. He also leads the team in innings pitched (110), and complete games (three). Middendorf’s superb season earned him a spot on the East Division’s all-star team, and has also won him the respect of his teammates.

At 24 years old, Middendorf is one of the Frontier League’s elder statesmen. In a league full of players just out of college at 21, 22 years old, Middendorf’s experience in affiliated ball gives him a worldliness that attracts younger players to him.

“I’m learning how to be more of a leader, be a role model with the guys. We’ve got guys who are just coming out of college asking me how I approach the game and stuff, and that’s cool.”

The thing that allows Middendorf to be successful and to be a team leader is the ease he finds in pitching in the Frontier League.

“I’m more comfortable here, honestly, than I was in affiliated ball,” he said.

Middendorf said he thinks he could take that comfort back with him to affiliated ball if he ever gets the chance, but he doesn’t want to get tangled up looking too far ahead.

“I’ve caught myself looking in the future back in the day. It was like, oh, I could be in double-A, triple-A in the a few years. That might have caught up to me and might have made me slack on the field a little bit. As far as now, I’m taking it just day by day and just hoping some team gives me that chance to play at the next level.”

That’s a wise attitude from a man who has already experienced the disappointment of being told he’s not good enough. There was being cut from affiliated ball, of course, but that wasn’t the first time Middendorf has been told he’s not quite there yet.

A year before he was drafted by the Royals, Middendorf was drafted in the 44th round by the New York Yankees. He described being drafted by the Yankees as a “summer follow up process.”

“They wanted to watch me during the summer and see what I could do. If they didn’t see what they wanted, they ‘suggested’ me going back to college.”

The Yankees did their due diligence, but ultimately decided that the late-round pick wasn’t ready.

“That was a kick in the stomach a little bit, saying I wasn’t really good enough for them at that time,” Middendorf said.

So he went back to college, and it turned out to be a good move for him. He had a better year in his senior season, and was drafted 22 rounds higher by the Royals. In hindsight, he sees it as a good thing that he went back to school for one more year.

“I’m definitely glad that it didn’t work out the first year I got drafted,” he said.

It was for the best. In his senior season Middendorf was a team captain. He finished the year with a 9-3 record, and a sparkling 1.73 ERA. He wouldn’t have been able to set the school records in innings-pitched and strikeouts if it wasn’t for the 109.1 innings and 127 strikeouts he accumulated that season. Those numbers earned him a second opportunity in the draft.

Just as being rejected by the Yankees turned out to be a good thing, it is probably best for Middendorf that he had to take a perceived step back into independent ball. The move has allowed him to learn, to turn himself back into a starter, and to be more comfortable.

Independent leagues are the floor of the bus in the baseball world, so perhaps that’s why Middendorf has felt so much comfort with the Crushers. Now that he’s found himself again, he’ll be better suited to make a career for himself in affiliated ball. With the season he’s having, it seems he’s due to get a second chance, again.

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