Baseball like worship for Power's Black
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest and worship for Christians, who typically attend church services in the morning and evening.
But that can be difficult for Victor Black and other minor league baseball players, who usually are traveling, practicing or playing on the Lord's Day.
"I look at it like this: God has given me baseball as a blessing," said Black, a 22-year-old pitching prospect who spent three years at Dallas Baptist University before the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him last summer.
"This is how He made me. This is who He made me to be. In a sense, if I can't make it to church, this is my way of worshipping Him on another stage that I have."
Black made his South Atlantic League debut Sunday afternoon, allowing three runs on two hits in four innings to help the West Virginia Power open its four-game home stand with an 8-4 win over the Delmarva (Md.) Shorebirds.
A larger-than-normal Appalachian Power Park crowd of 3,589 watched the 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander strike out seven batters, walk two and hit one.
"It was a blast," said Black, who is from Amarillo, Texas. "The fans ... it blew me away. I wasn't ready for it. There were quite a few of them. They seemed right at home with me.
"I was walking off the field after the start and four or five people called me by my name and told me good job. It was awesome. It definitely made me feel at home."
Black allowed only two hits, but one of them was a three-run homer by Tyler Kolodny that gave the Shorebirds (17-19) a short-lived 3-2 lead in the top of the fourth inning.
Aaron Baker delivered a two-run single in the home half of the same frame to keep Black from losing his inaugural performance with the Pirates' low Class A affiliate.
Rogelio Noris followed with a three-run homer, which capped a five-run inning for the Power (16-20).
Black made the mistake of throwing a changeup - his third-best pitch - to Kolodny.
"It isn't my best pitch, and I shouldn't have done it," said Black, whose fastball ranges between 92 and 96 mph and whose slider ranges between 82 and 84 mph. "Other than that, it was good. The run support was awesome, especially in the five-run inning."
Black didn't figure in the decision.
"We got the win," he said. "That's all that matters."
Power pitching coach Jeff Johnson was impressed by Black, who started the season with the Bradenton (Fla.) Pirates while rehabilitating a left oblique injury.
"I thought he did well," Johnson said of Black, who drove his car to West Virginia on Tuesday and took the team bus to Hagerstown on Wednesday.
"The guy has a big arm. The first start of the year can be pretty exciting with the crowd and that kind of thing, but he pitched well and stayed under control."
Black was the 49th overall pick in last year's Major League First-Year Player Draft, when Pittsburgh acquired him with a supplemental pick in the first round.
The Pirates used the compensation selection they received for not signing Tanner Scheppers two years ago.
Black immediately signed for $717,000, which was only $600 more than the bonus money slotted for that spot. He made his professional debut on June 30, 2009.
Black had a 1-2 record and 3.45 earned run average in 13 appearances - seven of them starts - with the State College (Pa.) Spikes last year.
He was limited to a strict pitch count and wasn't permitted to throw more than three innings per outing last season, finishing with 33 strikeouts and 15 walks in 311/3 innings.
"Just out of the draft and just out of college, (the Pirates) wanted to keep him healthy," Johnson said of Black, who didn't begin pitching until his senior year of high school. "They wanted to get him acclimated and protect him a little bit."
The Pirates' restrictions on Black's arm didn't keep Baseball America from naming him the sixth-best prospect in the New York-Penn League last season.
Pittsburgh officials look at Black primarily as a reliever or closer prospect. However, Johnson said he will continue to serve as a starter for the Power.
"Right now, with that kind of arm, he's definitely going to start for a while," Johnson said. "He's going to learn how to pitch. Down the road, we'll figure out where he's going to be. If he can throw the ball over the plate, he has a good enough arm to start.
"The power arms and the big arms, you generally want them to start to get them more innings. The more innings they throw, the more they learn about themselves. Their roles can change later. It's no big deal."