Whitley, a right-handed reliever in the New York Yankees organization, will pitch as close to home as he’s ever been as a pro this weekend when his nomadic Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees play the Gwinnett Braves in a four-game series in suburban Atlanta starting Friday night.
“Everybody I’ve talked to seems like are telling me they’re coming,” Whitley said by phone Monday from Rochester, N.Y., where his team calls home these days while it gets a new stadium. “I’m not sure how many there will be, but it seems like it should be a pretty good crowd.
“I’m excited about it. They follow me on the computer and all, but it’s always a lot more fun to pitch in front of familiar faces. I don’t get to do it very often. I’m definitely excited.”
The closest he’s gotten to pitch before was Louisville earlier this year.
“Last year for the first half I was in Tampa, so that league was close,” he said. “But Tampa, even though (Florida) borders Alabama, that’s a long way down there.”
Sue Whitley, Chase’s mother, said she expects more than two dozen family members to make the trip. One of the local churches had at least that many on a sign-up sheet for a trip it was putting together.
“I’m hearing a lot of people are planning to go one night,” Sue Whitley said. “We’re thinking there will several people there.
“Ranburne’s a pretty tight-knit community. When Chase was at Troy and they played Jax State, my gracious, there were probably 100 people from Ranburne to see that game. I feel there will be a good crowd there scattered over the weekend.”
When they get to see him pitch against the almost-Atlanta Braves depends on what happens early this week. Most of his outings this season are multi-inning stints, which means if he pitches a couple innings tonight or Wednesday against Charlotte he’s likely to get a couple days off before the weekend. He last pitched July 12, going 1 2-3 innings at Syracuse to pick up his career-high sixth victory.
“That’s kind of how it goes,” he said. “But it’s getting later in the season. There have been a couple times I came in to pitch one inning. If that’s the case, I’d pitch back-to-back days.”
For the season he is 6-4 with a 4.09 ERA in 50 2-3 innings (28 games). He went to spring training with Yankees and is now just one phone call away from returning to a big-league club that has had numerous injuries within its pitching staff this season.
“Getting to the higher level I’ve seen how it works a little more and I feel like (the call) can come at any time,” Whitley said. “But I feel like there’s still a lot of room for me to develop.
“The whole goal is to make it to the big leagues, but ultimately making it to the big leagues is not near as important as staying in the big leagues. That’s a lot easier said than done. I’d rather if they call it’d be you’re here to stay rather than a temporary thing and work 2, 3, 4 years to get back up there. I’d rather be developed so there’s more bouncing back and forth. That’s the ideal situation.”
Al Muskewitz is a sports writer for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.