Sherrill adjusts out west
By Bret Strelow
HELENA, Mont. ó A pair of adolescent boys poked their heads through a fence opening near the left-field foul pole as the Helena Brewers conducted batting practice two hours before their season opener.
A.L. Brown alum Garrett Sherrill, with Mount Helena in full view behind his left shoulder, shagged flyballs in the outfield. A decade ago, he had lofty aspirations the nearby youngsters now possess.
Sherrill didn’t pitch Tuesday in a 9-0 home loss to the Great Falls Voyagers, but opening night in the Pioneer League marked the long-awaited and long-distanced beginning of his professional career.
The Milwaukee Brewers selected Sherrill, who recently completed his junior season at Appalachian State, in the 12th round of the draft. He signed 10 days ago, flew to Arizona for a week’s worth of workouts, arrived in Montana’s capital Saturday and moved in with his host family Monday.
“The farthest I had ever really been was Minnesota, and that was about eight or nine years ago playing travel ball,” Sherrill said. “I’ve never really been this far west, and I don’t have a car out here, so I really have no life besides baseball. I guess that’s a good thing if I want to get the best out of my baseball career.”
The Helena Brewers are one of eight Advanced Rookie teams in the short-season Pioneer League, which has two divisions. Helena, Great Falls, Billings and Missoula ó all located in Montana ó comprise the Northern Division. Clubs from Utah, Idaho and Wyoming make up the Southern Division.
A crowd of 1,042 fans turned out Tuesday at Kindrick Field, which was built in 1939, and Great Falls supporters shook cowbells each time a member of the White Sox affiliate delivered a hit.
Kindrick’s covered grandstand is painted green, and orange seats obtained from the Oakland Athletics replaced outdated bleachers. The back of each armrest has an Athletics logo.
The wall of fame hanging on the facade of the stadium’s grandstand features pictures of notable players such as Gary Sheffield, Ryne Sandberg, Greg Vaughn and Ryan Braun. They wore a Helena uniform before reaching the big leagues.
“This is not that much different from college, but it’s more of a job now and we’re getting paid to do a job,” Sherrill said. “You have to be a little more serious. In college ball, you had to juggle school work and other stuff. Here, you just get to practice and play ball. It’s a dream come true, and I’m having a blast out here.”
Helena and Great Falls squared off 113 miles from Missoula, where one of Sherrill’s former A.L. Brown teammates is in his second pro season. Duke graduate Brett Bartles had a single and two RBIs for the Billings Mustangs in their 6-5 win against Missoula. Billings is 240 miles from Helena, which sits in southwestern Montana.
The snow melts slowly and the Subaru Outbacks move quickly in the spacious state two time zones away from Kannapolis.
Signs of wintry weather in Lewis and Clark County are visible only from atop Mount Helena, but snow fell in Helena last week as temperatures approached triple digits in North Carolina. Buffalo burgers are popular and 75-mph speed limits prevalent in a region that showcases ranches and rodeo grounds as much as baseball diamonds.
Most of the scenery isn’t unfamiliar to Sherrill, who spent three years in Boone.
“I’m used to seeing mountains behind the field, used to seeing mountains driving around town,” Sherrill said. “The elevation is a little higher here, though.
“I heard it snowed a couple of inches last week, and out in Arizona it was about 110. When I arrived here, I think it was 74, and it was an unbelievable difference. It was a good difference, though.”
Sherrill served as Appalachian State’s closer and said he expects to share the role in Helena with Mark Willinsky, a 15th-round pick from Santa Clara.
Sherrill’s teammates include starting pitcher Evan Frederickson (the 35th overall selection in the 2008 draft) and outfielder Cutter Dykstra. A second-round pick out of high school, he is the son of Lenny Dykstra. Rene Gonzales, who played 13 seasons in the major leagues, manages Helena.
Oney Guillen ó a son of Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen ó and Kenny Williams ó a son of Chicago’s general manager ó played for Great Falls on Tuesday. Eduardo Escobar, a 19-year-old shortstop, hit one of his team’s two home runs.
Sherrill pitched against wooden bats last summer and excelled for the Hyannis Mets of the Cape Cod Baseball League.
“When I went to the Cape, I faced some of the best talent in the country,” Sherrill said. “Here, you’ve got first- and second-rounders on every team. I’ll be facing guys that are probably going to play in the big leagues.
“I’m not going to bring much of a different approach than I had at the Cape, and I had a successful summer there. I’ll try to keep the ball down, throw strikes and hopefully get outs.”
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or email@example.com.
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