Aaron Shortridge doesn’t pay much attention to the news.
In early March, that was especially true. The Vintage High grad and Napa native, selected in the fourth round of the 2018 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, was coming off a productive offseason and was solely focused on spring training ahead of the 2020 season, his second with the Bradenton Marauders, the Pirates’ Class A-Advanced minor league affiliate in Florida.
“I was in full baseball mode,” said Shortridge, adding that he had seen some headlines about some virus spreading throughout the world but at that point hadn’t put much stock into them. “I was like, ‘It’s a hoax.’ I was that guy, not really taking it seriously.”
But that quickly changed when his girlfriend, Hannah Salvestrin, visiting over spring break from Texas Christian University, was notified that her spring semester was canceled.
“I think the next day the Pirates said we all had to go home. I was like ‘Oh my god, I just threw the best bullpen of my life.’ I was in a really good spot and I was wondering if I should stay and we’d be back in two weeks or if we’d be out for a long time,” Shortridge said last week over the phone from his home in Napa.
It was on March 12 when Major League Baseball suspended its season, leaving baseball players at all levels out of work and wondering when, how, and if America’s favorite pastime would return for 2020. Though a deal was finally reached on Tuesday between the MLB and the players’ association to start up the season again, the past three months have been full of uncertainty for players, especially minor leaguers like Shortridge. Even under this new deal, it’s still unclear if there will be a minor league season in 2020.
But Shortridge can’t control any of that, so he focuses on what he can: staying ready.
Since hauling across the country, making it back in to Napa from western Florida in just three days, the 23-year-old right handed pitcher who graduated from Cal in 2018 has spent the last three months throwing bullpens, working out and enjoying being back in his hometown.
“I love Napa,” he said. “I love all the support I get from the people there, coaches, friends, family, everybody. I know they’re rooting for me and it just feels good.”
Most recently he’s been working out at Optimum Athletics in Sacramento with other area minor league players trying to figure out what’s next.
“Feels like the offseason,” he said.
Shortridge entered spring training this season with high hopes for 2020.
His 2019 season, his first in High-A ball, had its ups and downs, he said. But he ended the year with a strong string of outings. Over his final 10 starts he went 6-3 and posted an earned run average of 2.21 with 38 strikeouts to only 11 walks in 57 innings pitched.
He finished the year overall at 9-5 (24 starts) with an ERA of 3.25 in 135.2 innings pitched with 104 strikeouts, 25 walks and a WHIP of 1.14.
“Definitely had a lot of high hopes and was really starting to settle into my role,” Shortridge said. “I just had a really productive season of growth in my last season, so it was like ‘OK, let’s move on to Double-A and keep kicking ass.’”
The biggest area of growth came in the development of his breaking pitches. Shortridge has relied on a fastball, changeup, slider and curveball as he’s climbed the ranks – he’s currently the No. 27 prospect in the organization, per mlb.com – but his pitching coaches with the Marauders posed a challenge to him, telling him to shelve his slider and throw only his curveball.
“I was basically forced to develop a curveball, and I did,” Shortridge said. “Got it a lot sharper and breaking a lot later and tighter and it turned into a weapon in my arsenal.”
Over the offseason he went back to working on his slider and entered spring training feeling that both breaking pitches were much-improved, a sentiment shared by his pitching coaches.
“Then COVID happened and they said ‘Go home,’” Shortridge said.
Showing off his new stuff would have to wait.
An uncertain 2020
Like most other people from March to June, Shortridge found himself slipping into boredom during the months-long shelter-in-place.
He played some golf and was able to find other friends from baseball to play catch with. Life has gotten a little more exciting recently since his gym opened in Sacramento, where he’s been throwing short bullpens every few days and facing live hitters during longer sessions on weekends.
He’s also currently making $400 a week from the Pirates, but those payments will stop at the end of June. Once the money from the organization stops coming in, he’s been thinking about doing private pitching lessons or helping out with camps in the Napa area, if it’s safe to do so.
He also hopes to make some money on the side through an autographed baseball card deal he has through the agency that represents him.
“I’ve signed I want to say like 5,000 cards, maybe 6,000, over the last six months,” Shortridge said. “They’re on the market now; probably hit the market about a month ago on eBay for $10, $15.
“They’re pretty cool cards. They’re shiny and not your typical minor league affiliate cards. I mean they’re cool. Baseball cards are cool, especially when it’s you on them.”
Shortridge said late Tuesday night after the MLB deal was agreed upon that he still had not heard anything from the Pirates about a return to play for minor league teams.
And again, there’s not much he can do about that. The powers that be above him will be the ones to make those decisions.
But while he does wait for an update, any update, he remains determined and focused on making it to The Show.
“My goal doesn’t change – I still want to be a big leaguer,” he said. “I’m just going to keep on keeping on, day by day, trying to get better.”
Contact Gus via phone at 707-304-9372 or email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustGusMorris.
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