BRIAN RICHESSON Scrappers pitcher says minor league is place to learn
Victor Kleine has grown accustomed to the Mahoning Valley. Go ahead and call him a Scrappers veteran.
Kleine, a 6-foot-4 left-handed starting pitcher from Florence, Ky., has spent the last three seasons with the Scrappers.
His professional career began in 2000, when the Cleveland Indians selected him from John Logan Junior College in the seventh round of the amateur draft.
"It's been awesome, especially the first year coming in," said Kleine, 22. "It's your first year in a professional minor league system. Coming here is great. It makes it a lot easier to play."
Kleine spent most of his first year with the Scrappers simply watching and learning. He had a shoulder ailment that limited him to four innings.
"It was more of just a precautionary thing," Kleine said. "I probably could have thrown and maybe it could have gotten worse, maybe not.
"You don't want to rush into something, and your career is over," he said. "It was a good time for me to see what goes on."
So Kleine took in all that he could.
The Scrappers of 2000 were managed by Ted Kubiak, respected in the Indians minor league system as one of the best coaches in the game. Kleine listened and learned.
The Scrappers of 2000 included a long list of talent, including standout pitchers Kyle Evans, Simon Young and Brandon Matheny. Kleine listened and learned.
"How the team works. How a professional atmosphere works," Kleine said. "At the time the team we had was unreal, which helped a lot, seeing those guys play. It definitely helped out a young guy of my age at the time."
On the plus side
Kleine returned to Mahoning Valley in 2001 and got his first opportunity to pitch. Although he didn't put up impressive numbers (1-8, 5.25 ERA), Kleine viewed that season as a positive.
"You really can't rate it on your record and ERA," he said. "From a learning standpoint, which is what we're here for right now -- to learn and get better -- it was great."
Kleine finished the 2001 season at Class A Columbus, where, in his only start, he allowed three earned runs on five hits in seven innings for a no-decision.
He would have started this season there if not for an abdominal injury he suffered early in spring training. So he returned to Mahoning Valley -- again.
"They accept you here," Kleine said. "Some other places they kind of bad-mouth you, walking down the side of the dugout.
"The fans accept you and are with you through it all," he said. "The town itself is a nice place to be around. It's just a good atmosphere."
Kleine had a strong start to this season (2-1, 2.08 ERA) before being roughed up last Monday against Batavia. That dropped his numbers to 2-2, with a 3.58 ERA heading into this weekend.
"The start's a good thing. It gets you on a roll," said Kleine, who throws a fastball and changeup and is developing a curveball.
"Things haven't been bad," he added. "It's just a matter of getting on a roll again and getting it going."
Pitching more often has helped Kleine. His mechanics are better and his confidence has risen.
"You have your same approach and things happen," he said.
Kleine is unaware of his road ahead, saying, "All you can do is go out and play."
If he maintains his overall consistency and stays healthy, Kleine will move up the minor league ladder and say his goodbyes to the Mahoning Valley.
If someday he returns, however, that's OK, too. He certainly knows his way around a town that welcomes his stay.