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Baseball - Wed, May 27, 2015

Former LMC Baseball standout has big league experience with the Tigers and Marlins

Duane Below was drafted out of Lake Michigan College by the Detroit Tigers in the 19th round in the 2006 draft and came up through the minor league system before making his major league debut on July 20, 2011 with the Tigers.

 

That meant Below, 29, who grew up in Britton, spent several years in spring training in Lakeland, Florida, at the long-time southern home of the Tigers.

 

But this past March was the first time Below, a 6-foot-3 left-handed pitcher, was at another spring training site in the Sunshine State. "This is my first spring training away from them since when I signed in 2006," he said.

 

He signed as a free agent on Jan. 29, 2015 with the New York Mets, who train in Port St. Lucie on the east coast of Florida.

 

"I did not know how many teams had interest," said Below, who became a free agent on November 4, 2014. "I got a call from my agency that the Mets had offered a minor league contract. I said let's go for it. Maybe I can pitch well and get to New York."

 

While he signed a minor league contract, Below was called up to the big league club during spring training and made one appearance for the Mets in March. He was also warming up in the bullpen on the road in Tampa against the New York Yankees during spring training but didn't get into that game.

 

"I thought it was a good opportunity to take and maybe get back to the big leagues," he said of joining the Mets. "They needed some lefties. I still want to play. I am not ready to stop."

 

"I wasn't sure what I was getting into but camp was awesome. I enjoyed myself. I went in there every day and tried to work hard. I tried to do it the right way," added Below, who pitched for Triple-A Toledo – the top farm club of the Tigers – in 2014.

 

Signing with the Mets was fortuitous as the club had very few left-handed relievers on the 40-man roster during spring training.

 

Josh Edgin, a lefty reliever for the Mets in 2014, had injury problems this March and is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

 

New York was low on lefty relievers so the Mets had to scramble as they traded outfielder Matt den Dekker to the Washington Nationals in late March for Jerry Blevins, a veteran lefty out of the bullpen. On the same day they acquired lefty pitcher Alex Torres in a trade with the San Diego Padres.

 

But Blevins was placed on the 15-day disabled list April 21 after he fractured his pitching arm in a game.

 

While Below did not make the Opening Day roster of the Mets, he was assigned to their top farm team – the Las Vegas 51s of the Pacific Coast League - in April after he remained in Florida for extended spring training in order to build up his arm strength as a possible starter.

 

Below pitched in 41 games for the Tigers in 2011 and 2012 and just three of them were as a starter.

 

"I appreciate everything they have done for me," Below said of the Tigers. "They gave me a huge opportunity through my career. I am grateful for everything they have done. It was a great opportunity. I might be back there down the road."

 

But for now he is trying to get back to the majors for the first time since 2013, when he pitched in two games out of the bullpen for the Marlins.

 

Below made his first appearance of the 2015 season for Las Vegas on April 17 against Fresno as he allowed two earned runs in 4 1/3 innings while picking up the loss. His next outing was at Reno on April 21 as he allowed no runs in three innings.

 

He got his first win of the season on April 27 at home with Albuquerque by allowing no runs in 1 1/3 innings. Below was 1-1 with an ERA of 2.08 in his first three appearances out of the bullpen for Las Vegas, where his pitching coach is former Mets All-Star pitcher Frank Viola.

 

"I am looking forward to working with Frank Viola," Below said in late April. "So far it has been good. It is my first time playing here (in Las Vegas). I am in the bullpen for now and I may get to start at some point. I enjoy being able to compete."

 

Even if it means he was not able to spend training this year in Lakeland, the spring home of the Tigers since 1934.

 

For more information about athletics at Lake Michigan College, visit redhawks.lakemichigancollege.edu.

 

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Editor's note: Photo and press release by David Driver. Driver is a free-lance baseball writer who has contributed to Baseball America, Baseball Digest and milb.com. He can be reached at davidsdriver.com

  
 
 
 
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