Remembering 2014: Cody’s close call
The off-season is upon us, but we have plenty of content to keep you occupied here at BlogToBlogChamps. Each Monday, we’ll publish a feature from the 2014 York Revolutionary Times, the official game day magazine of the York Revolution, for you to re-enjoy, or read for the first time in case you missed it at the ballpark. This week, we delve into the seldom-known story about how Chris Cody was nearly a Lancaster Barnstormer, before becoming a York Revolution all-time great and the ‘Stormers greatest tormentor.
By Paul Braverman
“After I got released by the Brewers, I was talking to Butch Hobson. He said ‘Chris, I don’t have a starter spot open right now. Maybe Etch might need someone in York,’” remembered Chris Cody.
At the time, the manager of the Lancaster Barnstormers probably didn’t think much of doing what all managers do in the Atlantic League; helping a free agent advance his career by pointing him in the right direction toward a job, even if that means to the competition. Three and a half years later however, it has to be a move Hobson regrets.
This is the fourth season Hobson has managed Lancaster, and since the beginning of the 2011 season, Chris Cody is 12-3 against his club in 15 starts, the most wins against the Barnstormers by a single pitcher…ever. Cody is 7-1 at Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster.
By now, the Revolution fans reading this are over their cold sweat, having realized that one of the top two pitchers in franchise history nearly ended up wandering 25 miles across the Susquehanna in the wrong direction. Most would agree that if Butch Hobson had to do it over again, he’d have created a spot for Cody heading into 2011.
Last season Cody sported an ERA around 1.00 in his four victories over Lancaster, a season in which he led the Atlantic League in strikeouts with 139. He has already bested them twice this year, striking out 15 while allowing just three earned runs in the pair of victories.
It’s a good thing too, or Cody might be out on the street. No seriously.
Tina and Larry Young have been Cody’s host family in York since he first arrived, and minced no words with the southpaw when first welcoming him into their home.
“They said if they I didn’t beat Lancaster enough, they’d kick me out,” Cody said. “It’s a fun story to tell, considering I’ve had success against Lancaster. I’m not sure why, It’s always an intense atmosphere when the two teams get together. Right now I’m just trying to concentrate on taking the same mentality against the rest of the league. They’re good people…they weren’t serious about kicking me out…I don’t think.”
Ok, so not seriously. But with a healthy 7-3 lead in the War of The Roses to start this season, York has already clinched the tie-breaker against their cross-river rivals, should the Freedom Division First Half end in a tie. After a 12 games to eight triumph last year to take back the Community Cup, the Revolution need to win just four of the final 10 meetings this season to become the first outright winner of the Cup two straight seasons, since the rivalry was born in York’s inaugural 2007 season. The Revolution’s all-time War of The Roses lead of 78-68 will be safe for a while, and it’s no coincidence the Revs went 10 games up on the Stormers all-time just as Cody personally did the same.
While no player is fully satisfied unless he’s in the big leagues, and understandably so, Cody does not take for granted coming back to a place where everyone knows his name, and where everyone looks forward to his next start. Last season, Cody passed up potentially lucrative offers to pitch in foreign leagues, hoping to instead hook on with a MLB organization, as he did with the Braves at the tail end of 2011. It’s bizarre to consider now, but it’s true that Cody wasn’t even with the organization when it won the Atlantic League Championship that year.
Despite Cody’s 3-1 record and 3.46 ERA in six starts to end 2011 with the Double-A Mississippi Braves of the Southern League, he was not re-signed, and returned to York only to be overlooked despite his excellent career ERA of 3.05 and 16 starts at Triple-A Nashville with the Brewers in 2009. Having turned 30 this past offseason, Cody understands the urgency, but is still optimistic about playing the game at its highest level.
“Some opportunities came up last year that sounded appealing at face value, but with the season I was having, and winter ball lined up, I thought it was a better idea to stay in York to get signed by a Major League organization,” said Cody. “Having been here before, it’s a comfortable place. A lot of returning teammates and good friends of mine are here, so it’s a no-lose situation.”
However, in his ninth professional season, should an opportunity come up to make good money in a short amount of time, considering it’s a game for the young; it would have to be considered by Cody. Knowing that, he’s been privy to the sometimes less than scrupulous dealings in international baseball.
In short, the Mexican League is widely known for releasing players shortly after they arrive, sometimes within the same week, before any player could adequately prove anything. Cody, who thought he had a deal in the offseason to pitch in the Chinese Professional Baseball League on the island of Taiwan, saw the deal fall through when it turned out he was likely used as a bargaining chip against another pitcher the team in question was negotiating with.
Both leagues, along with Korea, which have seen several Atlantic League players come and go, all have stringent rules on how many foreigners can play for each team at one time. Of course the Atlantic League doesn’t – nor will it ever – favor American players in such a way. It’s a double-standard by any definition, and one could only imagine the firestorm that would come from such a policy in the U.S. With this league welcoming players of all nationalities without qualification, it’s been easy for a handful of players, English speaking or not, to become the toast of the town in their respective Atlantic League cities. Despite Cody’s determination, his place in Revolution history isn’t lost on him.
“I can’t afford to daydream about what might be next or money too much when I’m trying to get my work done here; so you can’t get too distracted about the destination rather than the journey. It’s cliché, but I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older that if you can just enjoy where you’re at and have fun, that’s just as valuable as getting that extra few thousand dollars.”
With plenty of stories from friends, teammates and other players about negative experiences in leagues abroad, Cody is more than happy to continue in his role as “Deputy Mayor” of York (the “Mayor” Corey Thurman continues to run unopposed), while he waits for his next opportunity.
“I promised myself I won’t fall for it again, unless someone hand-delivered me the contract. From now on I won’t believe anything unless I see it written in ink,” he said.
Cody did get a taste of Caribbean baseball in the offseason however, when he pitched in winter ball for the first time for the Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Republic, the chief rival of Salvador Paniagua’s winter club, Tigres del Licey.
“The team I played for, they’re widely known to be the Yankees of the Domincan Winter League, success-wise, history-wise, tradition-wise. Paniagua will argue with me now, because he plays for the Red Sox of the league. They’re good too. I’m sure my body could’ve used a little bit of rest, but I really enjoyed it. It was gorgeous weather, we had a really nice hotel, I got to lounge by the pool, so I have nothing bad to say about it. If they ask me back I’d love to do it again.”
After being named the Revolution’s Player of The Year last season, going 15-9 with a 3.12 ERA in 28 starts, Cody posted similar stats in his nine starts for Aguilas Cibaenas, sporting a 3.18 ERA in 45 innings. As in York, it didn’t take long for Cody to endear himself to his new fans.
“Around town, of course I stick out like a sore thumb down there. Everyone knew who I was even though it was my first time there; as far as sports go it’s really all they have down there and it’s really important for them to win. Their season is only four months long, so they really pour their heart and soul into watching these teams go at it,” said Cody.
When it became clear he would not go to Taiwan as Atlantic League Opening Day neared, there was one more accolade for Cody to collect with the Revolution, a first in his professional career: He was named the Opening Day starter by Manager Mark Mason.
Cody, who always shows a quiet, sincere appreciation of all the adulation in York, understood the gravity of the decision.
“What can I say, opening day is special,” he said at the time.
If only Butch Hobson had known how special Cody would become for the Revs.