Relief pitcher, Springdale grad Mike Devine key part of title-winning St. Paul Saints
Mike Devine played in the previous three American Association finals only to see his team lose in a deciding Game 5 twice and once in four games, so celebrating a championship on the field with the St. Paul Saints in September was a special moment.
The fourth time was the charm for Devine, a Springdale grad.The Saints won the American Association title with a 3-0 sweep of Sioux City Explorers.
It was the first title for the 29-year old veteran of independent baseball circuits, and it capped a year in which he also played in Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
Devine, a relief pitcher, was warming up in the bullpen when the final out was recorded.
“I don’t know what the plan was for me to come in, but when the third out was made, I just ran in and started celebrating,” Devine said. “We had a close-knit group of guys that really played for each other.”
Prior to celebrating a championship, Devine played a big role in the decisive against Fargo-Moorhead in the divisional round.
With the Saints trailing 5-0 in Game 5, Devine entered in the third inning. He pitched 3 1/3 innings, allowing one hit with four strikeouts in his longest outing the season, and the Saints rallied to win, 9-7.
“I knew that they were going to come to me fairly soon if we got into any trouble,” Devine said. “It was a little earlier than when I normally go into games, but I was ready for it. I just had to go at it one out at a time. We kept getting a little bit more momentum, and we took some good swings when it was our turn to bat and scored some runs. You could see everybody kind of knew it was our last chance and that we had to pull something off. It was such a great group of guys, and it was great to be a part of it.”
In his second season with the Saints, Devine posted a 2.00 ERA in 54 innings with 50 strikeouts and 20 walks, allowing only 41 hits. He missed a month because of an oblique injury and carried a 1.08 ERA prior to being sidelined.
In four years in the American Association, he has a 2.43 ERA over 200 innings and 178 strikeouts.
Prior to returning to St. Paul, Devine got an opportunity to play for Mexicali in the Mexican Pacific League, Mexico’s winter league. He posted solid numbers there with a 2.18 ERA over 30 innings.
“It’s their big leagues,” Devine said. “There’s 15- to 25-thousand people there every game. It’s basically the same atmosphere as a Mexican soccer league game, but we’re playing baseball. There’s noise going on the entire time. It was a blast.”
There, Devine played against guys with MLB service time such as Yuniesky Betancourt, Chris Roberson, Raudel Lazo and Daniel Castro.
“There are five or six big leaguers on every team,” Devine said. “It’s really good competition. Everyone who’s playing in the United States in the summer is out of season, so there’s an opportunity for them to play there.”
When the season was finished in Mexico, Devine pitched for Licey in the Dominican Winter League playoffs. Like in Mexico, he got to pitch against MLB talent and posted a 2.00 ERA in 4 1/3 innings.
“When I went to the Dominican, the first teammate I met when I walked into the locker room was Hanley Ramirez,” Devine said. “I also played with Emilio Bonifacio. I faced Hunter Pence and Miguel Sano. It is a pretty good league for the winter, and I had a lot of fun playing there.”
Devine is hopeful to return to the Mexican Pacific League this winter. From there, his goal is to play affiliated baseball in the United States or get into the Mexican Summer League (LMB).
There have been stories of independent league pitchers making it to major. Parker Markel, who pitched in the American Association in 2018, spent time with the Pittsburgh Pirates this season. Tanner Roark, who pitched in the Frontier League, is with the Oakland A’s and has pitched for the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds.
Whether Devine becomes one of those stories remains to be seen, but he isn’t giving up.
“I’m just trying to make the most of my opportunities, and, at this point in my career, if I don’t play affiliated ball, the best opportunity for me would to be to play in Mexico,” Devine said. “Starting there could lead to opportunities in Asia, whether it be Japan, Taiwan or South Korea. It’d be a good way to get my name out since I’ve never played affiliated baseball or Major League Baseball.”