It didn’t take long for Ryan Scoles to get used to being a professional baseball player. Winning his first two starts for the Wingnuts, including an impromptu outing earlier this month, helped. So did Scoles’ surroundings.
Scoles, a 25-year-old product of Andover Central and Hutchinson Community College, almost had no choice in getting accustomed to his new status as a pro, because being around veteran teammates with far more experience essentially forced it.
Scoles recognized his good fortune immediately, taking advantage of the baseball knowledge around him and leaning on helpful teammates willing to walk him through his first weeks on the job.
“I definitely feel like I’ve settled in a lot,” Scoles said. “I got in the mix of everything and I understand a lot more. I’m kind of picking the brains of all the other players because they have a lot more experience than I do. I just kind of pick their brains every once in a while when they have free time, and I just work on stuff that I need to know.”
Scoles was pitching for the Kansas Cannons of the Walter Johnson League when the Wingnuts called league representatives to see who could be best suited to jump to the pros.
They were given Scoles’ name and Scoles hurried to Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on July 11 to replace Ryan Hinson, who had been sold to the Atlanta Braves organization that afternoon.
The expectations beyond that start were unclear, but Scoles earned another chance by pitching five scoreless innings in his debut. Five days later, he picked up his second win with another five strong innings.
He’s scheduled to make start number three on Monday.
“I didn’t know,” Scoles said. “I really didn’t know, honestly. When they told me I was going to go on the bus trip with them, I was overly excited.”
If Scoles didn’t know what to think when he joined the Wingnuts, he got an unrealistic view of professional baseball when they won the first seven games after his acquisition as part of a 13-game winning streak.
Being part of a team that has a comfortable lead in the American Association Central takes pressure off of Scoles, just like an early unfamiliarity of his opponents. Without knowing hitters’ strengths and weaknesses, Scoles found it easier to relax and work to his own strengths.
“That definitely did help, not knowing everyone,” Scoles said. “When you have a sheet that says this person does this and that, it’s kind of easier not to know what they do. The first time out, yes, but knowing the background of all the players is definitely helpful.”
Most often, Smith and Burns have been teammates — with two major-league organizations and almost with the Wingnuts this season. Roster rules prevented Burns from making the opening day roster, so he served as bullpen coach until Lincoln called to satisfy his desire to pitch.
Smith, of course, wants to beat his friend. But it’s just as important to strongly represent his team.
“I hope we beat the crap out of them,” Smith said. “I hope it’s 0-0 after eight, then we let the bullpen take care of it and we light it up (offensively).… He wants to not only beat me, but he wants to beat the Wingnuts. I want to beat him and I want to beat the Saltdogs. It just sucks that it’s a good friend you’re pitching against.”
Smith is the only one of the three former MLB pitchers Wichita planned to have in its season-opening rotation. Jon Link was sold to the Tigers organization after dominating as the Wingnuts’ ace, and Burns left for Lincoln to restart his career after missing 2012.
Smith said he’s happy for Burns to get a chance to pitch again, but, of course, he still wants to beat him.
“He left here probably a little upset,” Smith said. “Then he got to go there and take the ball every fifth day, and he’s been fine. It’s nice to see him be able to throw, because he still had a lot left.”
Wichita is taking the “stay aggressive” approach, even with a 6½-game lead over Gary in the Central through Friday with 40 to play.
“We weren’t going to win out, we all knew that,” Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. “… We can’t be satisfied with where we’re at.”