PENSACOLA, Fla. – Some athletic team names require clarification, even if only for people who live in or out of town on the team.
Jeff Lindgren holds the roster spot on such a club: the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.
“It’s some kind of big fish,” Lindgren said. “Something in the sea.”
Lindgren is the big fish of The News-Gazette coverage area when it comes to local minor league baseball players trying to make their way up to the MLB.
The 2015 Centennial graduate and former Illinois state athlete currently pitches for the Miami Marlins Class AA team.
Entering Friday, the 24-year-old right-hander holds a 2-4 record and averages 4.63 earned runs in eight this season for Pensacola after being taken by the Marlins in the 24th round of the 2019 MLB Draft.
“My hope is to go to the big leagues,” said Lindgren. “It’s my dream and what I work for every day.”
Lindgren’s dream took an interesting turn when the COVID-19 pandemic came knocking. He returned to Champagne and worked in the garage of local strength and conditioning coach Joe Yager, whom Lindgren credits for suggesting a significant adjustment to Lindgren’s pitching mechanics.
“I went from one side of the rubber to the other. … It hides all my pitches for me,” Lindgren said. “I’ve had a lot of success so far, and hope to continue.”
Once Lindgren realized he would not play baseball in 2020 when the minor leagues canceled his seasons, however, he opted to take a job at a Jeep dealership in Chicago. He also used the basement in girlfriend Megan’s Chicago home as a training ground, setting the clock at the dealership after he was thrown into a trap.
“It was kind of crazy. I was working a full-time job and I had to figure out how to make all my work for baseball,” Lindgren said. “It’s like coming back to college, I guess. I did a lot of exercise till late at night.”
When he eventually returned to Florida to resume training, Lindgren brought with him a renewed focus.
“I definitely missed (baseball) a lot more than you think,” Lindgren said. “It definitely puts you off quickly, being around all the people you know who are just as good at baseball as you are.”
Lindgren was initially assigned to the Wisconsin-based High-A Beloit Snappers before joining the Blue Wahoos on May 3.
Lindgren starts game days around 1:30 p.m., regardless of whether he is starting or not. He is part of a group that takes the last three buses to a road game, reaching the field approximately 31/2 hours before the first pitch.
Joining Lindgren on that bus are his fellow starting pitchers: Jake Eder, Max Meyer, Will Stewart and the recently added Edward Cabrera. A native of the Dominican Republic, Cabrera was called to Pensacola on June 15.
“The language barrier is kind of tough. He is learning English very fast,” Lindgren said of Cabrera. “It’s always a competition every day. You want to be better than everyone else because that’s the whole goal. But at the same time, you want everyone to succeed. It’s been so incredible for me to learn from all these people on staff. “
Lindgren called it “nerve-racking” to learn what his baseball future was as a sport and that the entire season was canceled in 2020. He described it as one of his biggest professional challenges till date.
Now that drama is on a resume for Lindgren, it’s easier for him to identify his favorite part of his job.
“Basically just living your dream,” Lindgren said. “Wake up every day and keep playing, knowing that not everyone gets this opportunity, and just running with all the opportunities you’ve been given.”
Colin Lickas covers Illinois football and high school sports in The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @clikasNG.