Aug. 17, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Some day, Buck Farmer is going to be asked by his grandchildren, “What was it like to pitch in the big leagues the first time?”
As he sits down to tell them his story, he won’t have to embellish — a common and not necessarily unfounded accusation of first-person recollections. The story as it happened will do just fine.
“To sum it up in one word it’s been crazy,” said Farmer, who had just arrived at Fifth Third Field, home of the Toledo Mud Hens, the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate, of the past week. “Three weeks ago I was in Low-A. Then I got sent to Double-A and made two starts there then got to make my Major League debut. Now I’m in Triple-A. So it’s been quite the journey over the last week or so.”
The improbable journey started innocently enough, on Monday night, Aug. 11. Farmer was in his hotel room in Erie, Pa., unwinding during a rare off-day for the Double-A Erie SeaWolves.
At about 10:30, with the ring of his cell phone, he went from watching movies to being in one.
On the other end of his phone was Erie Manager, long-time Major Leaguer Lance Parrish, who informed him he’d be starting for the Detroit Tigers at a day to be determined later that week.
“After I hung up the phone, I was kind of speechless,” Farmer said. “My first reaction was to call my parents and let them know the call I had just gotten. I was not really emotional. I just didn’t know what to think.”
A good night’s sleep might have helped but Farmer wouldn’t get one that night, nor the night after, when he’d get confirmation that he was going to start on Wednesday at Comerica Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He might have slept on the plane ride from Erie to Detroit, but where would the fun have been in that for his story?
“My flight ended up getting cancelled so I had to drive from Erie to Detroit,” Farmer said.
So he made the 270-mile, four-and-a-half-hour drive.
Upon arrival in the Motor City, and Comerica Park, what he was about to do became real.
“I guess it didn’t really hit me until the day of,” he said. “Just walking into the clubhouse and knowing that I was playing with Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, David Price, Victor Martinez and all them, it was just unbelievable. I had the ability to take it all in and soak it all up, but it was just mind-blowing, definitely something I’ll never forget.”
Farmer, who had been Georgia Tech’s Friday night starter his final two seasons, was a fifth-round pick of the Tigers in the 2013 June Amateur Draft, his third time being selected. The Atlanta Braves had selected him in the 46th round straight out of high school in 2009, then the Milwaukee Brewers chose him in the 15th round in 2012, but each time Farmer chose Georgia Tech, so as to raise his draft stock, a daring move that paid off handsomely.
His pro career started in 2013, with the Connecticut Tigers in the New York-Penn League, where he was 0-3, with a 3.09 ERA in 12 games (11 starts), at the Short-Season A level.
Year two would fare even better. Beginning in Low-A, with the West Michigan Whitecaps, Farmer dominated, going 10-5 with a 2.60 ERA in 18 starts, striking out 116 in 103 innings, with a near 5:1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio (116:24).
On Aug. 1 things got dizzying. Farmer was promoted to Double-A Erie, where he made two starts, then, 10 days later, found himself in Detroit making a spot start, when regular starter Anibal Sanchez was unable to go.
Even more dizzying was going into the Tigers’ clubhouse for the first time, as their starter.
“Walking into the clubhouse and knowing that I was playing with Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, David Price, Victor Martinez and all them, it was just unbelievable,” he said. “I had the ability to take it all in and soak it all up, but it was just mind-blowing, definitely something I’ll never forget.”
He did have to put his awe on the back-burner, however, when he took the mound at Comerica to face the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had beaten the Tigers the last two nights.
With his parents and a large family contingent in attendance, Farmer, who not only had never been to Comerica, but had never pitched in a Major League stadium — he never faced Georgia at Turner Field while with the Jackets — came out firing.
His first four pitches were strikes as were nine of his 11 first-inning offerings. He retired the Bucs in order, catching three-time All-Star catcher Russell Martin on a called third strike to end the frame.
“I didn’t think my first inning was going to go as well as it did,” Farmer said. “When it did, I was able to take a deep breath and just say, ‘Alright, I have this. This is what I’ve been working for. Now it’s here.’ Pitching in front of a sellout crowd, 40-plus thousand people was absolutely mind-boggling. I got to live my dream and am still getting to live my dream now.”
His dream did have some rough patches, as the Pirates got to him for a run in the third and three in the fourth but Farmer didn’t fold.
He would complete five innings and finished strong, retiring five of the final six hitters he faced. He’d leave down 4-1, but would be taken off the hook, as Detroit rallied for three runs in its half of the fifth. He’d get no decision in Detroit’s 8-4 win. Farmer allowed four runs, all earned (a 7.20 ERA), on six hits, striking out four and walking one. He threw 83 pitches, 57 for strikes.
“Even though I gave up four runs over five innings, given that I was in Low-A three weeks ago, I was pretty happy with the way it went,” he said. ”Obviously, every pitcher would like to go out there and throw six or seven shutout innings but the way everybody responded, I felt good about how it turned out.”
Farmer was assigned to Triple-A Toledo after the game and will make his first start as a Mud Hen on Monday, at Columbus. It’s back to business.
“You have to have short-term memory as a pitcher,” he said. “That outing is done it’s time to look forward to the next one.”
He’s hoping there will be a next one in Detroit soon — possibly as soon as September, when Major League rosters expand from 25 players to 40. Regardless, he’s pleased with the road he’s travelled this season.
“To be honest with you, I thought maybe I was going to get to end the year in Double-A,” he said. “I did not at all expect to get sent straight to Double-A and have my Major League debut this year. It was definitely something unexpected but I loved every minute of it. I’m grateful for the opportunity and hope that I get another one.”