This story originally appeared in the April 28 edition of the Newberry Observer. Photo credit Jenn (Schroeder) Gable while a student assistant at Newberry College.
Anyone who spent summers playing baseball entertained thoughts of playing for a Major League organization. Growing up, Haltiwanger admitted that he was one of those kids, however, his dream became a reality last season when the former Newberry College pitcher was selected in the 29th round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Cincinnati Reds. Haltiwanger became the first draft pick for the Newberry College baseball team since 1999, when Jonathan Berry was selected in the ninth round by the L.A. Dodgers.
In his final season with the Indians, the right-hander posted a 4-2 mark with a 3.29 ERA and one save. In 52 innings on the mound, he notched 59 strikeouts despite missing six weeks of the season with an elbow injury.
Former Newberry College baseball skipper Tim Medlin is not surprised that the pitcher got a chance. “I am glad for Russell and he has worked hard to get to where he is,” Medlin said.
Haltiwanger said he owes a lot of his success to the coaching staff he had at Newberry College. “I wouldn’t be here without the help of Tim Medlin and Bubba Dorman, both of whom really helped me out,” he stated.
After being drafted by the Reds, Haltiwanger was shipped off to Sarasota, Florida and Billings, Montana for short-season Single A baseball. According to the pitcher, that was an experience that helped out greatly.
“Last year, getting to play in the Gulf Coast League in Sarasota and in Montana, helped me out greatly. Montana was a great experience because we played in front of great crowds, and I became more knowledgeable,” said Haltiwanger.
This season, Haltiwanger has been making a name for himself as a reliever with the Dayton Dragons, a Single A affiliate of the Reds in the Midwest League.
“It is everything I thought it would be, and I am very fortunate to be here. I have worked hard and tried to prepare myself for this opportunity and it has worked out. I am enjoying it, and I am getting adjusted,” Haltiwanger said.
Haltiwanger is no stranger to big-time baseball -- he was a member of the Mill City All-Americans in the New England Collegiate Baseball League while in college. Also, his father’s cousin played baseball in the Chicago Cubs system. “I am not too familiar with what he went through when he played for the Cubs’ organization. We all get a shot, but it will come down to who performs better,” he said.
Asked what the biggest differences are between minor league baseball and college baseball, Haltiwanger said there were several. “The toughest part is being away from home, but that’s part of the game and something athletes have to deal with. In college, you could make a mistake and get away with it. Here, you can’t make a mistake, and everyone is knowledgeable,” he said.
Another big difference is the crowds. While with the Indians, Haltiwanger may have been lucky to pitch in front of 50 people. Since joining the Dragons, Haltiwanger has played in front of crowds as high as 7,000.
“Playing in front of crowds like that is just amazing. I have gotten used to it, and the fans we have are great,” Haltiwanger noted.
Perhaps, the biggest difference is talk of steroids and steroid testing, according to Haltiwanger. Earlier this week, pitcher Edward Rodriguez, of the Toronto Blue Jays organization, was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance. Rodriguez, the 10th player suspended this year as of press time, was pitching for the Single A Lansing Lugnuts. The penalty this year for an initial positive test was increased from 15 games to 50 for players with minor league contracts.
“In Spring Training, we had our share of meetings and sessions to discuss what was legal and what was banned. They have been strict with us, and you really have to be aware of what you put in your body. Like college, we have random drug tests,” Haltiwanger said.
While he is pleased to be pitching for Dayton, Haltiwanger still has a bigger dream -- pitching an hour down I-75 in the Great American Ballpark, home of the Cincinnati Reds.
“My goal is still to progress through the organization. My experience has been everything I could ask for,” he said.