After almost two weeks of bus rides and long nights spent waiting on the bench, Medford's Braden Shipley will finally make his professional baseball debut tonight when the Hillsboro Hops play in Eugene.
Shipley, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander, will pitch the first two innings of the Northwest League game against the Emeralds as he makes his much-anticipated first start at the Class A short season level. He was the Arizona Diamondbacks' first-round selection (No. 15 overall) in last month's first-year player draft.
"I'm a little anxious," the 21-year-old ex-North Medford High standout said Monday. "I haven't been on a mound for a while and I'm just ready to get back out there and experience that feeling of playing baseball again. I'm excited."
"Every day when I'm on the bench I'm just like, 'Gosh, I just can't wait to pitch,'" added Shipley. "It's been tough because I hate sitting on the bench. It's not as bad when I know I'm pitching every five days, but when I'm sitting there just watching guys play and wanting to be able to help out, it's pretty tough."
Shipley posted a 7-3 record and 2.77 ERA with 102 strikeouts in 107.1 innings this past spring at the University of Nevada, earning conference pitcher of the year honors for the second straight season. His last game action was May 22 in an eight-inning start for the Wolfpack, although Shipley has maintained his workout regimen in the weeks since then.
"It really hasn't been that long for me as far as my workouts and stuff," he said of the wait, "but every day as it draws closer to my start, it's just seemed like the days have gotten slower and slower. Now that it's finally here, it's really starting to sink in and everything's beginning to get more exciting."
Hillsboro and Eugene opened a three-game series on Monday, with tonight's game slated to start at 7:05. The Hops entered the series having lost four straight games and were 4-13 overall, last in the NWL's South Division but only one game behind Eugene. Salem-Keizer led the division entering Monday's play with a 13-4 record.
Shipley said the plan is to pitch two innings tonight, then advance to three innings when he makes his next start at 1:35 p.m. Sunday in Hillsboro against the Vancouver Canadians — who were the Southern Oregon Timberjacks before they relocated from Medford in 2000.
"They're just kinda trying to keep my innings down for now and then maybe get me up to 150 innings by the end of the summer," said Shipley, who will be penciled in to start every five days for the Hops.
If all goes according to plan, Shipley said he'll likely end up with the Class A South Bend Silver Hawks by the end of the summer to help with the Indiana team's playoff push. The regular season runs through Sept. 2 for Hillsboro and South Bend.
For now, Shipley said he's enjoying his time with the Hops and has been well-received. The typical jabs given to a first-rounder are there, along with the hints that he routinely should be picking up the check, but Shipley said he feels like he's fitting right in with the squad.
Arizona's organizational standard is to not work with its players until 60 days after they are in the organization, so for now Shipley said the bulk of his time with the coaches has been in a supportive role.
"For the most part they're just letting us go out there and play and pitch right now," he said. "They're letting us do what we've been doing and has brought us success to this point. I'm sure if they saw something really important they would say something, but otherwise they're just holding off until we get more comfortable with where we're at."
Part of that comfort level — or lack thereof — that comes with being in the minor leagues are the lengthy bus rides Shipley has endured. After signing with the Diamondbacks on June 18, he was in Hillsboro the following day and then part of an eight-day road trip to Everett, Wash., and Boise, Idaho.
"It's pretty brutal," he said of life on the road. "Last week we spent five days in Everett and then took a nine-hour road trip to Boise, then had another seven-hour bus ride back to Hillsboro. You don't get a lot of sleep when you play 7:05 p.m. games, get done around 10:30 and back home at midnight after eating dinner. And then you do it all again the next day. It's kinda funny how everything goes, but it's still exciting being part of it all."