On your Marc: 12/19

Second chances

Pitcher Mark Armstrong stays in the game

By Marc Katz


Who doesn’t want to play major league baseball, stand on a mound, throw 95 mph fastballs, and have thousands cheer from the stands?

Who doesn’t believe that can happen as high school ends and the graduate walks off the stage with two pieces of paper, a diploma, and a bonus check for nearly $500,000 to start his pro baseball career?

Who doesn’t want that?

And who wants, barely four years later, to walk away, a right arm spent through three surgeries and only a glimmer of a hope it can be rehabbed? Is there a life to be dreaming about after this, another path to take after the favored path is eliminated?

Well, if Mark Armstrong never pitches again, he has already started on a remarkable after-baseball-life.

In short order, because he was pitching in Dayton, he met and married his wife, Sarah, a Springfield native attending Wright State. They have a nearly two-year-old son, Andrew, and a week after he told the Reds he was retiring (with a return caveat if he heals), his second dream job, designing and selling homes, became available.

Not only that, but he’s also working as a part investor, part instructor at Troy’s Sports Academy, where Dragons manager Luis Bolivar, also an investor, is the most well-known instructor.

Armstrong is here because he was part of a well-regarded 2015 Dragons pitching staff that included Tyler Mahle, so far, the only non-injured starter from that group—including Tejay Antone, Wyatt Strahan, and Seth Varner—to make it to the majors.

Armstrong had a fastball and control, and knew the game even more through his years of catching at his high school in a Buffalo, N.Y. suburb.

He was 18 and chosen in the third round of the 2013 draft, pitched in a couple of games at rookie Arizona that summer, and spent the next summer there as well.

His numbers the next year in Dayton suggested he was on his way (3-3 record, 3.20 ERA).

He knew something was wrong, though, on that cold day in May, facing Fort Wayne. Designated as an elbow strain at first, Armstrong continued to pitch until he heard the distinctive “pop” a couple months later, and Tommy John surgery became the rehab path.

His comeback kept getting sidelined by bone spurs and bone chips as his velocity dipped into the 60s. One day after being put on the disabled list, Armstrong’s replacement showed up at Fifth Third Field. The roster had to be filled. Major league teams draft 40 new players every June, signing about 30 of them. Replacements are talented and plentiful.

Armstrong could have returned home, lived with his parents, playing out a life on Facebook and YouTube for friends. You may never have heard of him again. Yet, Armstrong’s options were coming at him like fastballs down the middle, and he hit every one of them out of the park.

Being sent to Dayton didn’t so much advance Armstrong’s pitching career as his life. He married, became a father, and found a job he liked. He was invited by Bolivar to help with the new Troy Sports Academy.

At the Academy, Armstrong looks around as grade-schoolers begin to drift in, looking for a way to improve their swing, pitching motion, or just for a workout regimen.

Armstrong’s 23, and last summer was told by doctors his chance of arm recovery by rehabilitation and rest probably won’t be enough. He decided to move on.

“I’ve definitely adjusted,” Armstrong says. “I’ve tried to fill in my baseball life. Being here at the academy helps.”

Bolivar, who played 9 years of minor league ball and was a hitting coach before becoming a manager, invited Armstrong to the Academy.

“I wanted to get back to kids because that’s how I achieved my success,” Armstrong says, “because of my coaches and family and all that.”

He told the Reds if he did heal, he would give them first shot at his services.

“I would have loved to see how it went, but I didn’t want to put things (such as a regular life) off,” said Armstrong, whose father was an engineer who built houses.

Armstrong also met Tony Scott of Keystone Homes, locally. It was Scott who backed the Sports Academy. When Armstrong’s arm went dead, Scott offered a job.

“I followed him for a week,” Armstrong says. “It turned out to be exactly what I wanted to do. I got unbelievably lucky.”

Lucky? At the beginning of this season, Armstrong pitched a little in Daytona, a rung up from Dayton.

“Having my son and wife made separating from baseball easier,” Armstrong says. “When they came to Dayton and my son saw me pitching in front of fans, he thought it was the greatest thing ever; so did my wife, and so did I. But me being home everyday was a lot better.

“It has not been an easy transition from playing baseball. At the same time, it helps because I’m here at the Academy. Every time I play catch with (kids), I see how my arm feels.”

He also tells the kids to stay healthy and not to throw too much. He hasn’t really separated from baseball at all, and he has a life.

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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