TEXAS AND BACK: Irey rubbing shoulders with former major leaguers
Although not chosen in this year's Major League Baseball draft, former University of Jamestown catcher Quinn Irey still was able to get his professional career up and running.
Irey attracted the attention of the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, a member of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, earlier this summer. The RedHawks signed Irey on June 16, and the Bismarck native made his debut later that evening in the bottom of the eighth as a pinch-runner in F-M's 5-4 win over Kansas City, then stayed in the game for the final three outs as a defensive replacement at first base. The next day, Irey started at first, a position he had not played since his days at Bismarck High, and hit eighth in the lineup.
Irey's time with the RedHawks lasted until June 30, when the club released him following the return of catcher Charlie Valerio from the disabled list. Irey hit .182 in 11 at-bats with a stolen base over six games.
"They (the RedHawks) did not mention they would bring me back when I was released," said Irey, "but they did mention they would stay in touch and keep tabs on me to see if I would go anywhere else this summer."
However, Irey did not stay unemployed long. A rash of injuries left the Cleburne Railroaders without a healthy catcher, and on July 1 the Texas club, also of the American Association, signed Irey and immediately inserted him in the lineup as the everyday backstop.
One of Irey's new Railroader teammates was former major leaguer Rafael Palmeiro, who hit 569 home runs and collected 3020 hits over 20 big-league seasons. The 53-year-old Palmeiro, who last played in the majors in 2005 and professionally in 2015, came out of retirement this season to join his son Patrick in Cleburne. Even with career numbers worthy of Cooperstown, Palmeiro was big-league in everything except attitude, according to Irey.
"(Palmeiro) was very approachable," Irey said. "He actually introduced himself to me when I got to Cleburne, and did his best to get to know the other guys on the team. He was a guy I could go to at-bat to at-bat and talk about in-game adjustments and my swing. He has such a wealth of knowledge about the game and was willing to share what he was thinking, especially about hitting."
Irey caught all 14 innings of Cleburne's 4-3 win over Chicago on July 15, and after the game, found out he was heading back to the RedHawks in a trade for a player to be named. The Railroaders handed him his flight itinerary and he left for Dallas-Fort Worth airport the next morning.
Back in Fargo, Irey continues to learn the ins and outs of the catching position from assistant coach Chris Coste, whose 12 years of professional baseball included a World Series championship with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.
"He has taught me a lot about catching and hitting at this level," said Irey of Coste. "Not only has he taught me important pieces about calling a game and controlling the running game, he has showed me as well as a lot of guys on the team about perseverance. He started out at this level of professional baseball and ended up winning a World Series.
"He's a great example of showing what having a positive outlook and never giving up can get you."
So far, Irey has managed a .150 average in 40 at bats between F-M and Cleburne, but he continues to put in his work while seeing firsthand the difference between college and professional baseball.
"The biggest difference has been the speed of the game, " Irey said. "Pitchers at this level can bring some serious velocity on the mound, and some base runners can steal bases with a three-step lead. There aren't as many weak or lower-level hitters in lineups compared to some of the college teams we played against. A lot of hitters can put the ball out of the park at any time. I've been doing my best to slow the game down when things speed up. Being able to relax and keep my composure in high pressure situations has helped a ton.
"It's been fun. If teams want to sign me, I'll keep playing."