Craig embraces challenge

By Cory Giger

cgiger@altoonamirror.com

Curve manager Michael Ryan will get to manage an All-Star Game for the first time in his career in the Eastern League showcase Wednesday in Trenton, while tonight, slugger Will Craig will take his hacks in the home run derby.

Craig, playing for Wake Forest, finished second in the college home run derby prior to the College World Series in Omaha in 2015, so he has experience in this type of event. His initial reaction to getting asked to participate, however, was not one of excitement.

“At first I was kind of like, nah, I’m not too keen on it,” Craig said. “But in BP I hit home runs, so it’s not like I really change my swing that much.”

Craig is tied for the Curve lead with 12 homers, which is double his previous career high of six set last year. He hit five during one incredible week alone this season.

“I kind of already have a natural lift in my swing anyway,” Craig said.

That’s important because the last thing any hitter wants to worry about is getting his swing out of whack during a home run derby.

“I’m a little nervous just because I haven’t really tried to hit home runs consistently,” Craig said. “I’m more along the lines of just barrel balls and a few go out.

“It’s not like I’m not going to try (to hit homers tonight) because I want to win, that’s just kind of the competitive person I am,” Craig added. “But I’m not going to alter my body and swing in a way to where I hit home runs. If I hit zero home runs but I feel like my swing’s great, I’m not going to be upset. Obviously I’m not going to try and hit zero home runs, but for me, I’m not going to change my stance or get a leg kick. I’m going to try to do the exact same thing I’ve been doing and see what happens.”

Craig launched a bunch of homers during his strong showing in the college home run derby three years ago, overcoming a slow start to do so.

“I just kind of tried to have fun,” he said. “It was my high school coach throwing me BP, and I used to always launch balls off him in high school. He said to have fun. It looked like I was stressing out early on, so he said to relax, have fun, I’ll put it where you want it.”

Ryan and the entire Curve coaching staff will guide the Western Division All-Stars in Wednesday’s contest, a result of Altoona winning the division last year on the way to the Eastern League championship. Some days off would have been nice, Ryan said, but he is thrilled about his upcoming opportunity.

“I’m treating it as an absolute honor to be able to manage in the All-Star Game,” Ryan said. “This will be my first one to be able to do that, and I’m just excited to be able to watch the best players in our league go at it.

“To be able to win a championship last year, that’s one of the perks is being able to do the All-Star Game. So I’m going to treat it as an honor, and I’m excited.”

The challenge to managing an All-Star Game comes down to getting all of the players and pitchers in the contest, which is always difficult logistically. Ryan said he’s reached out to all the other EL managers to find out the primary position and a secondary position for each player.

Ryan will have 11 pitchers to choose from to cover nine innings, and the max for most guys is 30 pitches, although Erie’s two selections can only go 20.

“The No. 1 issue is the health of the players and have them go back to their teams and be able to perform, and we don’t want to put anybody in jeopardy,” Ryan said.

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