Tolman playing big role for curve

Commentary

TRENTON, N.J. — Mitchell Tolman was ready to head home about two weeks ago, set to pack up his car in Bradenton, Fla., and make the long drive back to California with his girlfriend, Ashlee.

But a funny thing happened the night before Tolman was scheduled to play his final game for the high-A Marauders. Following a walk-off victory, he and teammate Casey Hughston were promoted to Double-A to help out the Curve in the playoffs.

And man oh man, what a help Tolman has been.

In less than two weeks, the scrappy second baseman has come up with some huge hits. If the Curve do go on to win their second Eastern League championship, Tolman will forever have a place in franchise history with his contributions.

He belted a walk-off three-run homer in the final game of the regular season. The Curve had already clinched a division title earlier in the day because Bowie had lost, but Tolman’s homer still was the kind of hit that sent the team into the playoffs on a high note.

Oh yeah, the Curve haven’t lost since, sweeping Bowie in three games and beating Trenton in Game of the ELCS on Tuesday.

Tolman came up with the biggest hit of Game 1 for Altoona, an RBI single in the fifth inning for a 1-0 lead. In four playoff games, he’s 6-for-16 (.375) with three RBIs and a run.

Not bad for a guy who thought his season was about to be over two weeks ago.

To his credit, Tolman hadn’t mentally checked out even though he had just one game left to go at Bradenton.

“At the end, I was telling myself, grind through it, you’ve got one left, push hard,” he said. “And then getting called up here, I wouldn’t say anything flipped the switch. Personally, I’m just a competitive guy myself, and it’s fun to go out there and play.”

It’s also a blast to be playing in very meaningful games.

“I was telling Jordan George when I was on first base, it’s fun playing with nerves again,” Tolman said. “When you’re out of the playoff race (like at Bradenton), you don’t have the nerves of every at-bat going up. So it’s fun playing with that.”

Manager Michael Ryan credits Tolman for coming up and wanting to make a difference with his new team.

“There’s some guys it’s not make or break for them, they might not care about the team as much,” Ryan said of players who get promoted so late in a season. “You never know. But he’s a grinder, man. He has some really good at-bats, especially in big situations. His approach is really good, and he’s come up big for us.”

Tolman said he hasn’t put any extra pressure on himself since joining the Curve.

“When I go up to the plate, I have my plan and my approach, and I try and slow down as much as I can,” he said. “I watch big leaguers go through at-bats when I’m watching online, and I see how calm and collected they are during at-bats.

“I wouldn’t say I put pressure on myself too much, just because I’m trying to stick to my own plan and approach, be myself.”

Tolman’s girlfriend wound up driving his car up from Florida to Altoona, but that wasn’t easy. She drove 17 hours one day and nine the next while dealing with heavy traffic as people evacuated Florida because of Hurricane Irma.

“She’s all good. She’s up in Altoona now, so I’m glad she’s safe,” Tolman said.

Tolman and the Curve have just a few games left this week, then he and Ashlee can drive back to California.

It just might be as an Eastern League champion, too. And if so, Tolman will have played a big role in that.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM.

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