PORT CHARLOTTE, FLA. – Pitchers Nick Anderson and Trevor Richards were traded from Miami to Tampa Bay for pitcher Ryan Stanek and outfielder Jesus Sanchez at the last July 31 trading deadline.
That had to be exciting for Anderson, as a 29-year-old rookie from Brainerd, to go from the Marlins, a team with the worst record in the NL, to the Rays, in a tussle with Cleveland and Oakland for the AL’s two wild-card positions?
“I didn’t know that when I got here,” Anderson said. “I didn’t know the Rays were in contention until I heard the conversations in the clubhouse. I thought, ‘This is pretty cool.’ ”
Really, Nick … you didn’t know? Anderson showed what was immediately perceived to be a world-class wry smile and said: “I hadn’t been paying much attention to the standings in Miami.”
Anderson’s initial lack of Rays awareness was mentioned to Ethan Imdieke and drew a laugh. “That sounds exactly like Nick,” Imdieke said. “It’s the hitter and him. He doesn’t worry about the rest of it.”
Ethan and his father, Tom, have been running the Tri-City Shark, a Class A amateur team in the St. Paul suburbs, since 2009. Tom also was the operator of Line Drive Sports, a now-closed baseball and softball training center in Lino Lakes.
Anderson had pitched the summers of 2012 and ’13 for Rockford, Ill., in the independent Frontier League. He had woeful ERAs of 7.71 and 6.42. He also was on probation for an assault charge from an alcohol-fueled brawl.
Two pro seasons with inflated ERAs. Both a drunken driving charge and later the assault rap, presumably the reason the Brewers didn’t sign Anderson after drafting him in the 32nd round in 2012 out of Mayville (N.D.) State.
A friend in the Twin Cities hired Nick to help remodel homes, and in the winter of 2013-14, it looked as if that might be his occupational future.
“Nick started training at my dad’s place,” Ethan Imdieke said. “He hadn’t given up on baseball. He hadn’t given up on himself. He had nothing lined up for that season, so we said, ‘Pitch for us until something else comes up. Nothing did.’ ”
Anderson pitched for the Tri-City Shark for the entire 2014 schedule. Ethan and Matt Tetrick were the catchers.
“Excellent fastball and a hard curveball, 12 to 6, drops straight down, quickly,” Imdieke said. “He had 16 strikeouts in seven innings in one game.”
In August, Anderson was back in Mayville for a golf tournament, a fundraiser for the baseball program. He drove back from North Dakota and then pitched for the Shark against Red Rooster in a playoff game.
“I don’t think Nick had a full night’s sleep,” Ethan Imdieke said. “He pitched his worst game for us and we got beat. Walked eight, which might have been more than he had walked all season.”
Those were substantially more walks than Anderson permitted after the trade to the Rays. He pitched in 27 games for Tampa Bay — including four in the postseason — with 49 strikeouts and two walks in 27 innings.
The Rays went 34-18 after the trade, claimed the second wild card, and then Anderson’s profile was raised substantially in the one-game showdown at Oakland. He was used as the opener, faced five batters, struck out four, gave up one hit, and started the Rays to a 5-1 victory.
Speculation is Anderson will be the Tampa Bay closer to start 2020. Kevin Cash was asked if he planned to use Nick “late, setup or middle” and the Rays manager said:
“When it matters. How about that?”
Anderson’s resiliency led him from the Shark to the Greys, a Frontier League traveling team in 2015, where Twins scout Billy Milos watched him four times and successfully pleaded with his bosses to sign him.
When Nick broke through with a tremendous minor league season at Class AAA Rochester in 2018, the Twins’ new brain trust mysteriously traded him to Miami for nonprospect infielder Brian Schales in November, and Anderson became a rookie strikeout phenom with two Florida teams.
What happened the past three years? Shrug, wry smile and Anderson said: “Just started throwing harder. I was always tall and skinny. I grew into my body, I guess.”
Ethan Imdieke was in Orlando this week and talked with Anderson on the phone. He had pitched only twice this spring, and Anderson had overheard Cash saying the plan was to “save his bullets” for the regular season.
“Nick said, ‘I don’t want to save bullets; I want to pitch,’ ” Imdieke said. “That’s Nick. After what he went through to get here, he just wants to pitch.”
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