Alum Mike Wallace is Bristol Pirates MVP
“Baseball has countless comparisons to life in general. One of the most frustrating parts of baseball, as in life, is that oftentimes results don’t reflect the quality of work you put in.”
That is a quote from someone who has experienced some of the highs and lows of the rigorous grind of minor league baseball. But, it is also a quote from someone who has worked his way out of it. After struggling through his first season as a professional with a 7.23 ERA, former Fairfield pitcher Mike Wallace dug deep within and reflected.
“My approach to the game has always been something I have been most proud of, but after experiencing a less-than-stellar start to pro ball, I had some re-evaluating to do,” Wallace remembered. “This year I learned to be my best critic. I knew when my quality of work was good and when it was poor. It no longer mattered to me what my line said. I started playing for my own self-approval rather than the approval of others, and that made a remarkable difference. Ironically, the results followed.”
Those results that followed were a true transformation as Wallace finished among the top in the Appalachian League with a .198 opponent’s batting average and a 3.10 ERA and was named the Bristol Pirates’ team MVP for the 2016 season. The right-handed pitcher has been noticed from others outside the Virginia area, earning the call-up to the West Virginia Black Bears, the Class A Short Season affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“[The team MVP award] ties in all aspects of who he is,” Bristol Pirates manager Kory DeHaan said. “We’ve seen him grow not only as a pitcher but also as a leader in the clubhouse. He’s the guy you can go to for honesty and respect for what you’re going to get out of him. He’s been busting his tail and things have been paying off.”
The fans and teammates who saw Wallace toe the pitching rubber for three years at Alumni Diamond shouldn’t be surprised about that work ethic. A former collegiate walk-on, Wallace not only worked his way into the Fairfield starting rotation, but quickly became their ace. During his junior season, Wallace celebrated a breakout campaign, earning First Team All-MAAC honors with a 2.64 ERA and was fifth in the country with five complete games.
Wallace found himself in the same situation in his second year as a professional. Wallace was drafted in the 30th round of the MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and had to use that determined personality to find his success.
“Everything gets harder when you’re not getting the results you’d like,” Wallace admitted. “It becomes difficult to find the motivation to attack your lifts and conditioning. All of that is part of the process though and needs to be done with diligence. You dig deep to find the extra motivation, remind yourself of why you’re doing this and trust the process.”
“That’s what guys have to do and that’s what we promote with the Pirates is that work ethic,” DeHaan said. “When you get to the minors you are all at that same level, but what is going to set you apart? It’s the little things, showing that passion, showing that dedication and yet, some guys still don’t do it. Mike is that example of coming in every day and having the right mentality. He’s always looking to get better and that is what sets him apart.”
After struggling in his first appearance in 2016, Wallace found that rhythm. He earned a 2.41 ERA over his next six appearances where he allowed just three hits in 11.2 innings. And then came the biggest moment of his pro career. The Pirates needed an emergency starter and the Fairfield University product got the nod against the Elizabethton Twins on July 28. Wallace got the win allowing two runs over five innings.
“I didn’t really have much time to be nervous since I got the nod only 10 minutes prior to game time,” Wallace said. “I’ve always enjoyed starting and that’s where my true colors show and where my gamesmanship takes over.”
“It shows he’s adaptable,” DeHaan said. “He’s there to take a challenge that he might not be ready for at the moment, but he takes the opportunity and makes the most of it. He just did a wonderful job as a starter; we saw him thrive in it and wanted that to continue.”
Just like he did at Fairfield, Wallace earned a spot in the starting rotation and recorded a 2.79 ERA during his six starts. All of that hard work culminated in a complete game, two hit shutout against the Elizabethton Twins on August 23. In that outing, Wallace allowed an infield hit to the Twins’ fifth overall prospect Alex Kirilloff in the third and a two-out single in the seventh for the only hits of the contest. That outing also extended his scoreless streak to 13-straight innings (after throwing six shutout innings against the Pulaski Yankees) and gave him a then league-leading 2.45 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP.
Wallace is now set for the next trip in his minor league journey as he is traveling to Morgantown, W. Va. to join the West Virginia Black Bears.
“At the end of the day, whenever I step on the mound I’ll be ready to compete,” Wallace said.
With the way he has competed so far, no one should be surprised if he finds even more success.