By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
Jon Link’s journey to the Wichita Wingnuts began with a phone call.
Same with Justin Loggins and his trek to the Kansas City T-Bones.
That’s about the only similarity between the two pitchers’ trips to their respective American Association squads.
Link is a 29-year-old who spent part of the 2010 season pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers and had a 2.78 ERA at Triple-A New Orleans a year ago.
“I’m just trying to get back into affiliated ball or overseas,” Link said after Sunday’s exhibition game between the two teams at Joe Becker Stadium. “I’m 29 years old. I understand that for me to make it back to the big leagues is kind of a long shot, but it’s not out of the question.”
Loggins is a 22-year-old reliever from Waynesville who was pitching in the for the Ozark Generals of the MINK League last summer.
“I just want to come in out of the pen and help our guys win, whatever I can do,” Loggins said. “I’m a rookie in the league. This is my first spring training.”
The contrast in the two pitchers paints perhaps a fairly accurate picture of the American Association, an independent league of teams stretching from Minnesota to western Texas.
On one hand are the players right out of college, eager to make their mark, catch the eye of a big league scout and find a spot in a major league team’s farm system.
On the other hand are the veterans — getting old by baseball standards and hoping for a few more years of health and the good fortune of being paid to play their childhood game.
“You get a little bit of everything here,” said Link, who signed with the Wingnuts last month when longtime teammate and neighbor Cole Anderson called him with a connection to the Kansas team. “You get some guys with big league time, you get some guys with a lot of Triple-A time and then you get the A-ball guys and guys right out of college.”
Loggins, one of those guys right out of college, took a shot last summer and sent his stats — including a MINK-leading ERA — to T-Bones manager Kenny Hook.
Hook then called Loggins and told him to meet the team in Wichita. Loggins, naturally, obliged and spent the last part of the season in the T-Bones bullpen, a nice warmup to his true rookie season.
“It’s obviously a big change from college,” said Loggins, who pitched for College of the Ozarks after graduation from Waynesville High School. “One through nine (in the order), you’ve got hitters who have played affiliated ball from Single-A all the way to the big leagues. You have to come in and make pitches.”
And while both Loggins and Link hope the pitches they make lead to more opportunities, Link said he is grounded in the reality that he may never again throw a major league pitch.
“It’s about supporting my family. If I make it back to the big leagues, great. If I have to spend the rest of my career in Triple-A, that’s OK,” he said. “If I get an opportunity to go over to Korea or Japan, I’m definitely going to jump on it.
“For me, it’s all about being able to play the game still and being able to support my family at the same time.”