The opening game of spring training doesn’t carry the same pomp and circumstance as the Opening Day of Major League Baseball, but for many diehards who sit idly all winter waiting for that first crack of the bat, spring training openers bring out the same level of excitement.
Cole Irvin was certainly on pins and needles.
Irvin, a 2012 graduate of Servite High School, was the starting pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies in their spring training opener on Feb. 22.
“First game of the spring, that’s what’s really cool about it,” Irvin told reporters before the start. “I love baseball season. I think we all do, and to be the guy starting the Phillies baseball season, whether that’s spring training, it doesn’t matter to me. This is the first game of the year for us and it’s going to be fun.”
Irvin pitched 2 1/3 innings in his spring training debut against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla. He allowed one hit and struck out three through the first two innings before departing with runners on second and third and one out in the third.
Irvin likely improved his chances of making the Opening Day roster for the Phillies, but the 25-year-old left-hander still has a number of players he needs to leapfrog on the depth chart.
“Hopefully, I can show a team that is probably going to win a lot of games this year that I can help out in any way,” Irvin said.
Irvin rocketed up the organizational depth chart last season at the Triple-A level, the last stop before the majors, earning Pitcher of the Year honors in the 14-team International League. Irvin went 14-4 with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs with a league-leading 2.57 ERA in 26 appearances, including 25 starts.
It’s been a long road to reach this stage of his career.
Irvin was a four-year starter at Servite, but didn’t overly impress major-league scouts as a teenager. One of the experiences that fueled Irvin’s desire to be a major-league pitcher was the two years he spent as a groundskeeper at Angel Stadium while attending Servite.
“You got to be in the front of the fans and feel the excitement,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer last summer. “You would hear a roar and be like ‘Wow, this is a different level.’”
Irvin was selected in the 29th round of the Major League Draft following his senior year at Servite, but opted to keep his scholarship and attend Oregon, leaving him ineligible for the draft until 2015.
Irvin faced a major hurdle when he underwent surgery on his pitching elbow and missed the entire 2014 season. Irvin fell to the 32nd round in the 2015 Draft, so he opted to return for his senior year at Oregon.
As the team’s No. 1 starter, Irvin went 6-4 with a 3.17 ERA during his senior season with the Ducks, striking out 93 batters in 105 1/3 innings and walking just 16. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Phillies.
“I’m a guy that gets outs,” he said. “I don’t care how hard I throw. I don’t care about my spin rate. I care about the guy’s swing coming through the zone. … I’m a guy that pitches in the strike zone and gets outs.”