By Jerry Del Priore
When the Brooklyn Cyclones take on the Staten Island Yankees tonight on Staten Island in their New York Penn-League (NYPL) season opener tonight, starter Christian James will toe the rubber for the visiting team.
“I was just sitting at my locker, and [Cyclones pitching coach] Royce [Ring] came up to me. He said, ‘You’re the Opening Day starter, Congrats!’ I’m grateful for the honor and really excited,” James said on BrooklynCyclones.com. “I can’t wait to go out there Friday and pitch in front of all those people.”
But this won’t be the 20-year-old’s first action this season. On May 27, he climbed the bump at NYSEG Stadium for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies’ game against the Bowie Baysox (Orioles). It was James’ first start above the Rookie level in his three-year professional career.
The 14th round selection of the New York Mets in the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft dispersed three hits and a run over four innings while striking out four batters.
“I loved it. It was a great atmosphere,” James said. “I wasn’t really trying to think too much before I pitched because I didn’t want to get nervous, but my adrenaline was pumping all day long. By the time the game started, I was locked in and ready to go.”
He wasn’t done, however. On June 2, six days after his Double-A debut, James made his first Advanced-A start, for the St. Lucie Mets, allowing only a hit and a run while whiffing five over five frames against the Fort Myers Miracle.
Although James is pitching at a lower level Friday night, it will be exciting for him nonetheless. It will be his first Opening Day start as a professional baseball player.
It doesn’t hurt that his pitching coach, Ring, a former MLBer, has the utmost confidence in his starter’s ability to compete and record outs.
“He’s got a focus on the mound and a desire to be great every time out,” Ring said. “He doesn’t overthink things. He keeps everything simple, controls what he can control, and attacks the strike zone with all four of his pitches. When you do that, and you pound the zone, you can have success in this game, and that’s why he’s our Opening Day starter.”
The Tampa Florida, native is 2-5 with a respectable 3.00 ERA in 78.0 innings of work in 27 contests.