“The very next day, I got my shot,” Stone said. “They kind of threw me in the heat of the fire to see what I was made of. Thankfully, it turned out pretty well.”
Stone earned his first professional win that day—an 11-4 victory over the St. Paul Saints. He was called into the game in the sixth inning, with the Wingnuts holding a 4-3 lead.
But the Saints threatened with runners on first and third and no outs.
Stone struck out the first batter, but the second one hit a sacrifice fly that scored an inherited runner to tie the game. The third batter grounded out.
“I minimized the inning as best I could,” he said.
With the game tied at 4-4, the Wingnuts offense answered the call in the bottom of the sixth.
“Our offense came out and put up a seven-run inning, and then I went out one more inning and didn’t give up anything,” Stone said. “So I ended up sneaking away with the win.”
Two other relief pitchers threw the final two innings, but Stone was awarded the win after giving up one hit and no runs over two innings with one walk and one strikeout.
“I was pretty nervous because most of the guys on the team have Double-A or Triple-A—and even some have big league—experience, and here I am, the rookie coming straight out of college,” Stone said. “I was thankful to be there and really, really nervous not knowing what to expect of the level of talent. So it was just a lot of nerves at the time, coming in, trying to do my best.”
The Fort Worth, Texas, native came to Tabor last fall, transferring from Abilene Christian University. The right-hander had eight wins and three losses last season.
He started 13 games and pitched four complete games, three of which were shutouts. He recorded an earned run average of 2.15 and had 81 strikeouts in 792⁄3 innings pitched.
As a team, Tabor finished 24-4 in the KCAC to share the conference title with Sterling. Tabor later lost to Sterling in the championship game of the conference tournament.
Even so, the Bluejays received an at-large bid to participate in the 2013 NAIA Baseball Championship Opening Round in Santa Clarita, Calif., where they went 2-2 to end the season with a record of 40-16.
Stone said he was thankful for his opportunity to pitch at Tabor; the innings he was given helped continue his success.
A sports management major, Stone has one year of education left, but not baseball. Stone said he hopes to keep advancing in baseball, but if that doesn’t work out, he would like to work with the Special Olympics.
New ball game
At the end of the school year, Stone tried out with the Wingnuts, members of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball Leagues.
“Right after finals, I came to Lawrence-Dumont (Stadium) and threw for them—just like a little tryout—and they told me there was a couple things I needed to work on,” he said. “So I took two or three weeks and went and threw for the summer team in Wellington.”
After two appearances, Stone got a call from Wingnuts coach Kevin Hooper.
“He told me they wanted to give me the opportunity to come throw for them out of the bullpen. I took it as soon as I could.”
Stone has discovered differences pitching at the professional level.
“The intensity level and the talent level (is) definitely up there,” he said. “Being here only like almost a week now, I’ve learned a pretty good bit about pitching situations.”
Also different for Stone is the switch from being a starter to being a reliever.
As a starter at Tabor, he knew he would be pitching once every seven days and developed his routine accordingly.
“Throwing for the Wingnuts, I’ve got a completely different role to where I’m out of the bullpen, to where it could be any day at any time,” he said. “(It) just kind of depends on how the starters are doing and what situations we get put in.”
Stone said he has to stay prepared every day.
“(You’ve) got to stay on your toes and stay in the game mentally at all times because it could happen at any split second if the starter gets in trouble,” he said. “That way, you can get ready as soon as possible, if need be.”