Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Terry Doyle (79) works out prior to a Feb. 28 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Salem's Doyle looking for his chance with Red Sox
Midway through his fifth season pitching in the minor leagues, Doyle got a phone call with an invitation to pitch for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Japan's Pacific League. The Salem (N.H.) High School graduate had spent four months in Japan, making three starts for Fukuoka and nine more starts for Fukuoka's minor-league team.
The money was good - really good, in fact. It was so good that Doyle this winter could focus 100 percent of his energy on baseball rather than working as a substitute teacher in the Warwick, R.I., school district as he did the previous offseason.
But before Doyle could think much about the possibility of a return to Japan, his phone rang. It was the Boston Red Sox.
"When the Red Sox called, they wanted an answer pretty quickly," he said. "I told my agent, 'Give me a day. I'll let you know tomorrow morning.' And I hung up the phone and I looked at my dad, and I was like, 'What am I talking about? This is what I want. This is the Red Sox.'"
Doyle now finds himself as one of nearly 59 players taking part in spring training with the Red Sox, 27 of them pitchers. His chances of sticking on the roster for Opening Day appear slim. He probably will start the season pitching at McCoy Stadium for Triple-A Pawtucket. He'll have to wait for an injury or a trade for a spot to open up - if he's not traded himself.
But such is his lot in his baseball life. It's a lot he has embraced.
"Going to Pawtucket, I'll have an opportunity to prove myself," he said. "Every year, there's always injuries, there's always going to be someone going down. The opportunity will come. It's just a matter of when .
"And as much as I'd love to play for the Red Sox, if they end up trading me to make the team better and I go somewhere else, that may be where my opportunity comes."
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THE JOURNEY of the 27-year-old Doyle - whose family moved to Warwick after he graduated from high school in New Hampshire - is not uncommon among minor-league players. He was a 37th-round draft pick out of Boston College five years ago. He has pitched for six minor-league teams in four states.
Pitching in Japan was a particularly eye-opening experience - and not just in regard to culture, food or language. Everything about pitching on the other side of the Pacific was different from what he'd done his whole life on this side.
Rather than try to throw a first-pitch strike with a fastball and then a curveball out of the strike zone to try to elicit a chase, Doyle said his Japanese team asked him to start with his curveball and changeup - to work backward from the way he always had pitched.
American pitchers tend to throw their fastball on at least half of their pitches, but there were times in Japan that Doyle was asked to throw his curveball over and over and over.
"I'd fall behind with the first one, fall behind again 2-0, and then they kept calling curveball," he said. "I was going, 'Why are we calling three curveballs in a row?' If the guy wants to swing, let him swing - let him hit a fastball and ground out, hopefully."
The biggest upside for Doyle in Japan was the paycheck.
"Minor-league baseball generally pays about $10,000 a year, so most guys have to spend some time in the offseason working just trying to survive," he said. "But going to Japan, I made a little bit more money, and I didn't have to worry about getting by."
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DOYLE HAS pitched with consistent effectiveness throughout his professional career. He has a 2.94 ERA in more than 500 professional innings pitched, and he has struck out almost four times as many hitters as he has walked. His numbers are terrific across the board.
But Doyle has never been a top prospect - and, at 27, he's never going to be.
Doyle also has never pitched in the major leagues and thus does not have the advantage of experience in that environment. He's in the awkward no man's land at the top level of the minor leagues.
"(Jon) Lester, (John) Lackey, (Clay) Buchholz - all those guys that have been in the big leagues for a long time, they got an opportunity when they were young, and they ran with it," he said. "They got better and better and better every time out. We've got guys like (Chris) Hernandez and (Drake) Britton and (Allen) Webster and (Rubby) De La Rosa now. Those are the next wave of young guys coming up. I'm in limbo in the middle."
Still, Doyle passed up a chance to go back to Japan so he could take a shot with the Red Sox. Whether an opportunity will arise, no one knows. All a 27-year-old without a 95-mph fastball can do is put himself in position to take advantage of opportunities as they come.
"I'm never going to be that prospect that throws 95 or 97," he said. "But I can get people out my own way. I've had some success in the minors doing it, and it's just a matter of translating that success in the minors up into the major leagues and getting the opportunity to do it. This game, as much as it is about talent, it's about luck as well because you've got to be in the right spot at the right time."