If all goes according to plan, the Texarkana Gunslingers, a professional independent league baseball team in Texas, will on July 25 debut their newest weapon in their bid to stay on top of their division: right-handed pitcher and Secaucus native Scott Van Es.
For Van Es, a rookie who signed with the team on July 7, the game against the McKinney Blue Thunder will mark the latest step in his bid to break into the majors.
Ball players usually start in the minor leagues, at the Triple A, Double A, Single A, or rookie levels before heading up to the majors. They can also start out playing for an independent professional league team such as the Gunslingers.
“In the professional leagues, no matter what level you’re playing at, you can’t make any mistakes,” Van Es commented last week, noting the differences between playing college- and professional-level baseball. “In college, I could throw my fastball pretty high, up around the neck even, and it wouldn’t really get hit that hard. But at the professional level, your fastball has to be much lower, around the knees.”
“And with all your pitches, you can’t miss your spot,” he added, referring to the target areas where pitchers try to aim their throws.
Van Es, whose family still lives in Secaucus, grew up playing little league baseball with the local Kiwanis Club.
“My parents were big baseball fans, so I guess that’s why they put me in little league,” he surmised.
Not much of a slugger, Van Es grew into the pitcher’s role more as a matter of necessity than choice.
“I couldn’t really hit,” Van Es laughs, “so one day my coach said, ‘You have a pretty good arm. Why don’t you try pitching instead?’ I asked him how I would do that. He worked with me and helped me develop as a pitcher. I was better at that, so pitching is what I stuck with.”
Eventually Van Es developed into a 6′ 2″, 195-lb. player with an arsenal of five pitches, including two different fastballs, a curve ball, a slider, and a change up.
The 2004 Secaucus High School graduate played throughout his local school days before attending Felician College on a baseball scholarship. In 2004, the Hudson Reporter’s sports columnist named Van Es “Pitcher of the Year.”
At Felician, he had a 14-15 win-loss record and a respectable earned run average of 3.89. Van Es, who is a few credits short of his B.A. in accounting, also was an all-Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference selection in 2006.
Now he hopes to catch the eye of a scout from a major league team or a recruiter from a Triple-A farm team.
“The minor league is where you pay your dues, and it’s tough,” he said. “It’s tough to keep that dream [of the majors] alive, especially when you aren’t playing that good, and you have to go on a 10-hour bus ride to a game, and you’re going through hell. But you can’t you lose hope.”
And Van Es has reason to hope.
Secaucus has produced several talented pitchers who made it to the major league and did quite well. Frank MacCormack signed as an amateur free agent with the Detroit Tigers back in 1974. More than a decade later, Jeff Bittiger made it to the majors at age 24 after being signed by the Philadelphia Phillies. He later played for the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox, as did fellow Secaucus native Mike Mongiello. And Mark Lukasiewicz pitched for the Anaheim Angels. (Could it be something in the marsh water?)
“All those players you see in the major league, they all went through the minor leagues first,” Van Es pointed out. “Not too many guys get signed out of college or high school and then go right to major league baseball. So before they went to the major league, they were just stand out players in the minor leagues. Every team has that stand out player. And of course, you want to be that player.”
Van Es noted that a scout from the Atlanta Braves attended a Gunslingers’ game. He wasn’t playing that day. But that’s just the type of on-field audition that could be the difference between toiling in the minors and earning a World Series ring.
“The major league is the best league in the world,” said Es, a lifelong New York Yankees fan who admires pitcher Andy Pettitte. “Every guy in the minor league is trying to make it to the major league, because that’s where the best players are. And if you’re trying to be one of the best players, you want to play among them.”