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MLB stint motivates Fisher Cats' Alford

By JOE DUBALL
New Hampshire Union Leader

August 17. 2017 11:34PM
Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Anthony Alford works out prior to a spring game against the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park in March. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

MANCHESTER — Once a pro baseball player gets a taste of Major League Baseball, a return to the minors typically isn’t welcome. However, Anthony Alford is aware his recent return to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats from the Toronto Blue Jays is far from a demotion.

Alford received a promotion to Toronto from New Hampshire on May 19, bypassing the routine tour through Triple-A that the majority of minor leaguers make. The 23-year-old outfielder picked up one hit in eight at-bats in four games with the Blue Jays before a broken hamate bone put him on the shelf from May 24-July 12.

Alford’s whirlwind of a week in May began with his unexpected call to the big leagues.

The Blue Jays were shorthanded in the outfield due to injuries and a suspension at the time of the call-up. Instead of plucking an able body from Triple-A, Toronto selected Alford while he was hitting at a .325 clip through his first 32 games with New Hampshire.

The Fisher Cats were arriving in Reading when Alford received word his marching orders from Toronto.

“It was midnight or 1 a.m. and (Fisher Cats manager Gary Allenson) was waiting for me off the other bus and once I was off, he told me I was going up,” Alford said. “At first I just thought I was going to Triple-A and I wouldn’t have been surprised by that after hitting pretty well to start. Then he said I was going to meet the big league club in Baltimore and my heart just dropped.”

Bouts with excitement and nerves plagued Alford over the three-game set against the Orioles as he went hitless in his six at-bats during the series. Alford said he was at ease once the team arrived in Milwaukee for a series with the Brewers and it showed as he doubled in the series opener on May 23 for his first MLB hit.

“It wasn’t like being around the guys was intimidating or anything, especially since I had been around them the past three years in spring training,” Alford said. “It was really more just realizing your dream has come true. I had been in big league stadiums and played in front of big crowds, but it really hit me that I was in The Show. That’s what got me.”

The expectation was for Alford to be up for one game in Toronto, according to Allenson. The extra days spent with the Blue Jays ended up costing Alford in the end when he was injured while collecting his first big league hit. Realizing a dream and then having it pulled away is no small setback, but Alford somehow managed to take everything in stride.

“It really could’ve been a lot worse and I’m glad it wasn’t,” Alford said. “It was something I couldn’t really control and injuries are bound to happen at some point. I’m just glad it happened then, when I knew I was likely going back down (to the minors) at some point. I wouldn’t want to get up there full-time and have it happen.

“It definitely (stinks) that it cut into my development and came at a time where I was swinging it pretty good, but I’m just thankful it wasn’t worse.”

Alford played six games with Single-A Dunedin (Fla.) before rejoining the Fisher Cats on July 21 and was assigned to New Hampshire when his stint on the major league disabled list ended four days later.

“I figured he’d be back eventually, but I also had a feeling he’d end up in Triple-A once his rehab was up,” Allenson said. “He’s getting back in the groove. I don’t think he is exactly where he was when he left here. He’s mixed in some hits but has really been coming around lately. There have been some adjustments and I think he sees things now, like how they like to pound him inside.”

Alford has just three multi-hit games over the first 21 games since returning to New Hampshire, but he’s gone hitless in only five of those contests. While he was riding an eight-game hitting streak into Thursday’s series finale against the Hartford Yard Goats, Alford even admitted he isn’t quite back to where he wants to be at the plate.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m searching,” Alford said. “After taking two months off and going six weeks without being able to swing, you’re kind of in that phase of where you were before spring training. You’re working towards that rhythm and timing. I just needed the repetitions.”

Alford added that seeing no pitch slower than 94 miles per hour in Dunedin went a long way toward holding his own during this second stint in New Hampshire.

Barring unforeseen circumstances again in Toronto or at Triple-A Syracuse, Alford is expected to remain in New Hampshire for the remainder of the season. The plan doesn’t appear to get under Alford’s skin.

“I don’t get caught up in pushing myself to try to get back to the big leagues,” Alford said. “I know it’s going to happen in due time. The focus right now is on myself and being as ready as I can be whenever my name gets called again.”

Allenson attested to his outfielder’s level-headed approach, saying Alford simply enjoys competing and being around the group the Fisher Cats have in the dugout.

“It’s really a matter of time. They already called him up once from here and they could do it in September too,” Allenson added. “He had himself on the map before anyways, but if you told the guys upstairs that he’d hit .300 this year after batting .230 last year, they probably would’ve chuckled at you. He’s having a good year.”

jduball@unionleader.com


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