Etheridge saving games and souls

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:56 PM ET

ATLANTA - Wes Etheridge gets calls and calls.

Its Dunedin manager Clayton McCullough on the bullpen phone asking him to get ready for another save situation.

Etheridge had a previous calling.

After pitching two years in the Milwaukee Brewers system, Etheridge quit to become a pastor.

He enrolled at Liberty University on-line from his home in Huntington Beach, Calif., in August of 2008 and when he found he missed the class room experience (there wasnt anyone to ask questions) switched to Calvary Bible College, near his home, in January of 2009.

I was running my youth group, but it was not going where I wanted, so I began praying real hard, Etheridge said Wednesday from Dunedin.

Then, he received a phone call from out of the blue from his friend, Dan Millwee.

We had a long conversation and then Dan said, I was washing my car and God told me he doesnt need you any more, Etheridge recalled.

Etheridge spoke to his mom Wendy, who used to say she wanted to write a book entitled Baseball Ruined My Life.

The missed dinners. The travel. The time away from family.

I told mom about Dans call, asked her what she thought and she said, Ive been praying you would go back to baseball, Etheridge said.

What would make momma change her mind? You know I was so shocked by her answer I never ever asked.

So, he called the Milwaukee Brewers, who had him on their restricted list, went to spring training in 2010 and was cut on the last day.

Steve Springer, now a Jays scout, sent him to pitch for ex-Cleveland Indians teammate Cory Snyder, managing Maui in the independent Golden League.

I told him hes 84-88 m.p.h., dont put a gun on him, let him pitch, Springer said from Anaheim. Cory phones back and says hes only 84-88. I told him to forget readings, let him pitch. Everyone gets caught up in velocity.

I phoned later to ask about him and Cory says Oh, he could pitch at double-A right now.

Etheridge went 10-0 with a 1.76 ERA in 15 starts walking 18 and striking out 86.

I wanted to sign him a year ago as a starter, said Springer, who talked Jays assistant GM Tony La Cava into signing Etheridge.

Now hes a perfect 24-for-24 closing games for Dunedin.

Etheridge, 26, still reads the Bible every day.

When you lose both your parents within six months and youre a teen ager ... well Ive never been much of a Bible guy. However, I always took the whatever-gets-you-through-the-night approach.

Etheridges favourite verse is from Ecclesiastes 9:10: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

You could say Etheridge has been pitching with all his might: a 1.04 ERA in 34 2/3 innings, walking five and striking out 30. Springer points out Etheridge pitched 12 scoreless innings this spring.

Hate to say it, but I looked more like a pastor when I was in Bible college, Id catch myself even thinking something, Etheridge said.

Springer had Kirk Saarloos in his former life, a five-year span as a player agent. He won 20 games in three years with Oakland and didnt throw any harder. Wes will pitch in the big leagues some day.

Its a scouts job to judge with an impartial eye and were sure Springer has that even though both played for the Marina High Vikings, decades apart, in Irvine, Calif.

He pitched the championship game at Anaheim Stadium, he won a championship with Cypress College (Chargers) and went 12-4 for the University of California-Irvine (Anteaters), Springer said. His record before he was drafted was roughly 40-7. Hes a winner. He knows how to get a ground ball out.

He didnt like the lifestyle the first time around.

Right now its Florida State League hitters who arent liking ninth innings with Etheridge on the mound.


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