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Curve's Sampson gets raw deal from Pirates having to sit out EL All-Star Game

July 13, 2014 - Cory Giger
The Pirates are robbing Curve pitcher Adrian Sampson of a chance to enjoy perhaps the biggest highlight of his career as they are not allowing him to pitch in this week's Eastern League All-Star Game.

Now, to be fair to the Bucs, there are some legitimate, hardcore baseball reasons why Sampson isn't getting a chance to pitch. I'll get to those in a bit.

But let's face it, the very disappointing decision smacks of an organization being too rigid and failing to understand the immense personal value that being able to pitch would mean for Sampson.

Here's the situation:

* Sampson started Saturday night for the Curve -- giving up one run in a seven-inning complete game win at Harrisburg -- and his next scheduled start is Thursday. The EL All-Star Game is Wednesday, so it doesn't line up with the pitcher's normal routine to throw that day.

* Sampson already has family members scheduled to attend the game all the way from Washington state.

* The game is in Sampson's home ballpark as the Curve are hosting the league's summer showcase.

* Last but certainly not least, Sampson stood a very strong chance of getting to start the game, which undoubtedly would lead to memories he could cherish for a lifetime. He's fourth in the EL in ERA (2.79), and his manager, Carlos Garcia, is in charge of the Western Division team and would have had a tough time not selecting his own pitcher to start.

It's not the end of the world that the kid won't be able to pitch, but it does show a clear lack of humanity on the part of the Pirates.

"We factor in more things than you can possibly fathom when we make decisions, and yes, we're factoring in all those things," Pirates assistant general manager Kyle Stark said Friday. "Ultimately, this is not the first time somebody hasn't been able to pitch in an All-Star Game, and it won't be the last.

Stark later added: "We are extremely sympathetic to these guys as people and their lives and everything; we factor all that in. But we also have to factor in the baseball side and maybe make decisions that are maybe unpopular at times but that we feel like are in the best interests for the individual long term and for us as an organization. We felt like those things outweighed the sentimental reasons of pitching in that All-Star Game."

Sampson wasn't available for comment Friday, but really, there's no way he would risk challenging the Pirates publicly by ripping their decision to sit him out.

So I'll do it for him.

The Pirates need to show more compassion in this situation for a kid who just made his first All-Star Game.

Sampson, 22, is a good pitcher, but he also had a 5.14 ERA at high-A Bradenton last year. He's had an impressive run so far this season for the Curve, and hopefully he keeps it up and goes on to pitch in the major leagues someday. If he does, then sure, having to sit out an All-Star Game might not be that big of a deal to him.

But there's also the possibility that Sampson is just having a career year, that his good numbers so far won't hold up as the season grinds on and that this is the only time in his career he will be selected to an All-Star Game. To rob him of a chance to pitch one inning and possibly the thrill of starting the game at his home park in front of his family is, frankly, cold-hearted.

The Pirates' reasons, Stark said, are two-fold.

Sampson won't have his full rest by Wednesday, and pitching would disrupt his routine. He's scheduled to throw a sideline Monday in preparation for his next start Thursday, and the Pirates don't believe it's in a pitcher's best interest to juggle schedules.

However, pitchers' schedules are juggled ALL THE TIME in the Eastern League, which has numerous rainouts that force teams to adapt on the fly seemingly every day in April and early May.

Would it really be that much of a hassle to alter Sampson's schedule this week and maybe use the All-Star Game as what would otherwise have been a sideline session between starts?

"I know some people believe that a side is the same as pitching a game, and we don't believe that, especially an All-Star Game where you're trying to impress," Stark said. "So we're not going to treat an All-Star Game appearance as a sideline day just from a workload standpoint."

The Pirates' second reason for sitting Sampson actually makes a lot of sense. The pitching staffs for both the Curve and Triple-A Indianapolis are getting taxed this week by doubleheaders. Altoona played one Tuesday and another Saturday, while Indy had one Thursday and another Saturday.

"We're a little tight, we need some guys to lug some innings," Stark said.

To alter Sampson's schedule given all the doubleheaders could create problems for the organization.

Still, this situation is an example of baseball in general nowadays, with pitchers being babied so much that organizations go to extremes to take every precaution with them. The Pirates are very much in that camp in the minor leagues and have been for years.

Stark mentioned Sampson had Tommy John surgery in high school and that precautions must be taken for him, which is absolutely true.

But come on. We're talking about a guy pitching one inning.

One inning.

That's what baseball has become, that trying to get a guy one inning in the prestigious environment of an All-Star Game is apparently like trying to move the earth and the moon.

"Trust me, I know Adrian Sampson would like to pitch in the All-Star Game," Stark said. "I'm guessing Adrian Sampson would much more like to get to Indianapolis soon and put himself in the mix for Pittsburgh as opposed to pitching an inning in a minor league All-Star Game."

Of course. But there are no guarantees in baseball, no assurances that Sampson will continue his strong season and get to Triple-A. The minor leagues are filled with players, particularly pitchers, who show glimpses of success but never quite take the next step.

Baseball is a business, no doubt, and tough decisions do have to be made.

But baseball players are people, with emotions and feelings. If they earn an honor, they should get to enjoy it because it helps them feel better about themselves, which in turn can further fuel their success on the field.

It's a shame the Pirates are missing the boat on this one. And it's absolutely a shame that it's going to cost a fine young man like Sampson what would have been a wonderful experience.

Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.

 
 

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