Former Liberty High School baseball player Hunter Mense was having such a good week in his fantasy league recently that he had the luxury of picking up any starting pitcher he wanted.
Thing is, the starter he chose wasn’t just anyone.
It was Chicago White Sox pitcher Scott Carroll, his former teammate at Liberty High School who made his major-league debut on April 27. Carroll got the win as Chicago beat the Rays 9-2.
“He ended up getting me like 25 points,” Mense said. “I texted him, ‘Hey, you’re on my fantasy team, so don’t blow it.’ It was really cool.”
Mense and other family and friends had a chance to see Carroll pitch Monday night. He started against the Royals at Kaffman Stadium, but didn’t get a decision in Chicago’s 7-6 win.
“I wish it could have been a little bit better,” Carroll said, “but at the end of the day it was still a great opportunity.”
Carroll was roughed up early, allowing five runs in the first inning, but he kept Chicago in the game by allowing just one run in three more innings.
Mense, who said he’s been best friends with Carroll since they were in the sixth grade, planned to be at the game with his brother, sister and parents.
“I was talking to a friend ... and he said he was taking his whole family, and he talked to other people he played high school baseball with and they’re all going,” Mense said before the game.
Carroll’s cheering section included at least one quasi-celebrity: his mom. When Carroll won in his debut, cameras caught Linda Carroll crying tears of joy in the stands at U.S. Cellular Field.
“He was kind of teasing me afterward. Mom, ‘you’re a bigger celebrity than me,’ ” Linda Carroll said. “All of our close friends and family were there who could be there. ... We were all taking it all in at the game, and it was a beautiful day and watching him pitch. ...
“Once he came off the mound and tipped his cap and waved to the crowd. The emotion all came pouring out. I have just never felt like that before. ... It was a glorious day, it truly was.”
Mom was happy with far more than her son’s victory. She knew just how long of a road it was for Carroll to reach the majors, particularly for someone who was good at every sport he played at Liberty High.
Carroll helped Liberty advance to the state basketball tournament and drew baseball and football scouts before graduating in 2003. A quarterback, he earned a scholarship at Purdue. But his love of baseball still burned strong, so Carroll later transferred to Missouri State where he played baseball and football.
He was drafted in the 16th round by the Angels in 2006 but instead went back to Springfield. A year later he was chosen in the third round by the Reds. His eight-year trek to the majors included two major surgeries and being released by Cincinnati.
All of that was swirling through Linda’s head as she and her husband Steve watched their 29-year-old son make his major-league debut in Chicago.
“The dads are talking to them about the recovery, but the moms are the ones doing the cooking and going up and down the stairs with the laundry,” Linda said. “We both just helped him in any way we could because we were there with him for both surgeries. ... The pain he was in and the struggle he had to be in to get where he is today. It wasn’t easy, but he found a way to get it done. He had a lot of hurdles in front of him, but he achieved it.”
Carroll, a groundball specialist, hit a rough patch in his last couple of starts. He has a 1-3 record and a 6.49 ERA after Monday’s game.
Linda expected no fewer than 100 people, most of them Royals fans, to be cheering for Scott on Monday night at Kauffman Stadium.
The last time Carroll was on the field at Kauffman Stadium, he was playing for Liberty High School against rival Oak Park. Mense was there, too, and he even hit a home run.
“Being back home in Kansas City was kind of a surreal feeling,” Carroll said. “I last pitched on this field when I was a senior in high school. So it’s been some time but it was just awesome to be back here and pitch in front of my family and friends.”
They were star-struck 18-year-olds at the time, with the kind of big, world-is-your-oyster dreams that only teenagers have. Mense went to the University of Missouri and was drafted by the Marlins, advancing to Class AAA.
Now he’s a graduate assistant and radio commentator at Mizzou.
Carroll is in the big leagues and he started Monday roughly 20 minutes from the house where he grew up. Although Carroll has played for two other major-league franchises, the kid who counted David Cone as his favorite player hasn’t completely lost that love of his hometown team.
“When I see him in the off-season, he still knows the players, knows who’s on the team, who’s doing well,” Mense said. “So it will be kind of cool for him on Monday.”