Jim Negrych found a home with the Washington Nationals organization, flourishing so much after his signing shortly into this season that he went from Double-A to Triple-A and just last week was selected to play in the all-star game in Buffalo. (Photo by Jeff Barnes/Metro Source)
Fans who attended the 25th annual Triple-A All-Star Game last Wednesday (July 11) night will surely hold on to some lasting memories for years to come.
The short list will include seeing an outstanding young player from the Kansas City Royals organization, Wil Myers, who seems destined to have a fine major league career. Folks are also sure to remember the two-inning pitching performance by the Buffalo Bisons’ Matt Harvey, another player who looks ready to shortly make an impact in the big leagues.
But for most natives of Western New York who were among the 18,025 in attendance watching as the Pacific Coast League defeated the International League, 3-0, at Coca-Cola Field, their longest-lasting memory might prove to be cheering for local product Jim Negrych.
Negrych, a 27-year old graduate of St. Francis High School who currently plays infield for the Syracuse Chiefs, entered the game for the International League in the sixth inning and singled in his first all-star at bat. He later reached on a fielder’s choice. He also handled two consecutive ground balls cleanly in the field.
Through the entire experience, it was obvious that Negrych was one of the happiest players to be there. He smiled during workouts and batting practice. He smiled while being fitted for a microphone for a “Wired” segment on the national MLB Network telecast. He smiled during player introductions and then during the game. And he smiled throughout his five-minute press conference following the game. He probably smiled in his sleep afterwards.
And why not? Until the day before the all-star festivities began with Monday’s Home Run Derby, he was planning to spend the break in the Buffalo area merely kicking back and relaxing. That all changed when he became the last participant named to the International League roster.
“I was coming back here anyways,” said the affable Negrych while preparing for the game. “To be able to participate is just icing on the cake. I even got paid to travel back here.”
Negrych admitted that the phrase “last but not least” fit perfectly. Brought up to Triple-A after notching three hits in his first five at bats with AA Harrisburg, he was named to the team because of his .284 batting average with 30 runs batted in and not because he was a good hometown story.
“It would have been different if my numbers weren’t near the other guys, but they were,” said Negrych, who was picked up by the Washington Nationals, his third organization in a seven-year minor league career, after being released by the Miami Marlins late in spring training.
“I have about 150 less at bats than anybody else and my numbers were very comparable,” he added. “(IL manager Mike) Sarbaugh actually asked me if I was from here. He had no idea. It’s nice when the guy managing the game, who picks you, doesn’t know you’re from here.”
Negrych chuckled when it was pointed out that the remaining 1,000 unsold tickets were snapped up after he was named to the game.
“I’m not going to take personal responsibility, but I’m sure it helped a little bit,” he said. “I know a lot of people who are behind me and follow my career, and it’s nice to get that type of support back at home.”
That foundation is far-ranging, but is especially noticeable at his high school alma mater. At the All-Star Luncheon earlier Wednesday, Franciscan Father Joe Bayne, who resides on the school campus, even singled out Negrych during the benediction.
“St. Francis was a big part of my life,” stated Negrych, who also serves as an assistant coach with the basketball program at St. Francis during his offseason. “They open their doors whenever I come home. I love being around those guys and it’s always nice when I go back. There’s a nice camaraderie.”
From the overwhelming local support to even being called a “hometown hero” by the MLB Network announcers, it all added up to an unforgettable time for Negrych, leading him to comment after the event.
“The way I was treated was head and shoulders better than anything I could have possibly imagined,” he noted.