For Keegan Long, it was a dream come true.
When Arizona selected the St. Joseph’s College pitcher after his junior year in the 29th round of the 2015 draft, it became a day that will always stay with him.
“I’ll never forget that day, it was a crazy day all around,” Long said. “I was up in my room watching the draft and I ended up getting the call from the Diamondbacks about two minutes after I saw my name scroll across the bottom of the screen. It was pretty unreal, it’s really the stuff you dream about as a kid.”
Soon after he signed, Long was sent west for rookie ball, all the way to Montana. He spent his 2015 season pitching for the Missoula Osprey of the Pioneer League, sporting a 0.68 ERA over 26 2/3 innings.
“My first year as a pro was a good experience,” he said. “I loved it out there. Being successful was a lot of fun too, of course.”
A native of Edon, Ohio, Long returned to the Midwest for his second stint as a pro. He now suits up for Kane County of the Midwest League, Arizona’s Class A affiliate.
“I’m having a lot of fun here, it’s nice being closer to home, too,” he said. “It’s still hard for me to believe that I get to do this every day. It’s something you’ve always dreamed about playing catch in the backyard. To be able to talk to people and tell them I’m a pro is pretty surreal. It may not hit me that I got to play professional baseball until after I’m done.”
Soon to be 23, Long continues to excel in his bullpen role, one he had to adjust to after seeing most of his time as a starter in high school and college. He’s responded with a 2.11 ERA while holding hitters to a .197 average over 59 2/3 innings (40 appearances) for the Cougars.
“As a starter, you pace yourself because you know you’re going to go five, six innings,” he said. “As a reliever, it’s a different adrenaline rush. You’re sitting through the whole game and then you get your name called and you have to be ready within a minute or so.
“I did a little relieving in summer ball and college, so I knew a little bit about it. Now that I’ve adjusted to it, I love it.”
The 6-foot-2 righty also has six saves, working with a three-pitch arsenal. “It’s the best thing in baseball,” Long said of the closer role. “It’s the greatest feeling knowing you’re the one in there to close down the win and it’s a great feeling once it happens. It’s another level of adrenaline.”
He hasn’t allowed a run in his last 10 1/3 innings and has a 1.15 ERA in his last 10 appearances (15 2/3 innings) with 16 strikeouts.
Despite the impressive numbers, Long knows it’s not in his hands whether he gets promoted or not, so he’ll control only what he can over the 142-game grind.
“You’re going to have days when it goes well and days when it doesn’t, so there’s always tomorrow. That’s the game of baseball for you right there.”