No matter what happens from here on out in his baseball career, Aeros reserve infielder Justin Toole will always have one of baseball’s oddball feats to brag about.
In an effort to motivate Toole last season toward the end of the season at high Class-A Carolina, Mudcats manager Edwin Rodriguez dusted off an old ploy he’d originally concocted some 10 years previous for future major leaguer Jonny Gomes.
“We were with Tampa in the Appalachian League and I had [Gomes] play somewhere different in each inning in the same game,” said Rodriguez, now in his first season as manager of the Aeros. “When I mentioned it to Tooley, you should have seen how big his eyes got. I said, ‘You want to do it?’ He said, ‘Of course.’ ”
They agreed on Aug. 25 and went about preparing the 5-foot-11, 184-pound Toole to get ready to give it his best shot.
“So, I gave him two weeks to get ready,” Rodriguez said. “He was throwing bullpens and catching bullpens and everything. Not only did he end up playing nine innings, he got the save, as we won 3-2. But when he got in it was 3-1. The first hitter hit a home run. When that happened, I was like, ‘oh no.’ ”
But Toole rebounded to get the next batter out and even struck out the final batter on a called third strike.
“It looked like a change-up, but it was a fastball,” Rodriguez said with a laugh. “But honestly, it couldn’t have worked out any better. Everyone was involved and the fans were pulling for him.”
With the Mudcats’ front office fully behind the gimmick, the scoreboard featured a Tooley Track graphic throughout the game to indicate the positions he’d played. The event was promoted enough to turn Toole into somewhat of a mini celebrity as news of the feat made it around the minor-league baseball circuit.
“Sometimes at the end of the year you’re trying to get those guys motivated and remain involved so you can see some energy,” Rodriguez said. “By the time we were ready to do it, everybody was looking for it.”
Rodriguez made it clear, however, that not just any player can manage the feat. Asked if any of the Aeros might be able to pull it off this year, Rodriguez thought for a couple seconds.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Who knows, it might be Tooley again.”
Despite being a Carolina League All-Star in 2011, Toole, a non-drafted free agent who signed with the Indians in 2009 out of Iowa, has started four consecutive seasons at the high Class-A level.
When Toole was called up from the Mudcats on May 6 to join the Aeros, he was batting just .205 in 23 games as a reserve. But getting everyday playing time in Akron with starting second baseman Jose Ramirez (hip flexor) on the disabled list, Toole promptly went on a seven-game hitting streak and is batting .393 in nine games.
But with Ramirez back in the lineup, Toole is back on the bench.
“I’m not a big prospect who’s going to play every day all the time,” Toole said. “I’m a utility guy who does a lot of the dirty work behind the scenes and doesn’t get a lot of attention. So that was definitely one of the highlights of my career, something I’ll never forget.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.