Local pitchers Staley, Ramirez get in on the summer baseball league fun

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 7/29/20

In his years on the mound, Caleb Staley has developed what he calls “a really bad habit.”

Before he rears back for a pitch, he’ll lick the fingers on his left hand. It started as a way to …

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Local pitchers Staley, Ramirez get in on the summer baseball league fun

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In his years on the mound, Caleb Staley has developed what he calls “a really bad habit.”

Before he rears back for a pitch, he’ll lick the fingers on his left hand. It started as a way to get some extra grip on the ball he was about to hurl — and pretty soon devolved into a routine for the former Chatham Central and current Queens University of Charlotte pitcher.

But this summer?

“I’ve refrained from doing that,” Staley said with a laugh.

All in all, it was a minuscule sacrifice to get back on a baseball field again during the coronavirus pandemic, which has put a slew of other sports on hold or in flux around the state.

In the eight-team Old North State League, Staley and Kevin Cano Ramirez, a former Jordan-Matthews pitcher, represented Chatham County on the Deep River Muddogs’ roster. (Former Northwood pitcher Tyler Johnson played for the Swepsonville Sweepers.)

The Muddogs played home games last season at Craven Stadium in Ramseur but moved to High Point’s ballpark, Truist Point, this summer. They went 10-16 during the regular season but have won two straight elimination playoff games; the Muddogs will play the Sweepers at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the league's semifinals.

 Regardless of final result, both Staley and Cano Ramirez — both left-handed pitchers — counted the last two months as a success for two main reasons.

“As far as me and Kevin are aware,” Staley said, “we’ve played this whole season, and we haven’t had any COVID-19 complications (in the league).”

“And,” Cano Ramirez added, “it’s just fun.”

Familiar with each other from high school, Staley and Cano Ramirez both ended up on the Muddogs for the same reason: extra reps. Their respective baseball seasons had been cut short.

In his freshman year at Queens, Staley appeared in five games and pitched just six innings, logging a 3.00 ERA. And Cano Ramirez, who opted for a post-graduate year at Combine Academy in Lincolnton, got to experience just around half of the spring season he’d hoped would boost his future college options.

Cano Ramirez was relieved when he showed up at an early practice and saw Staley, his old opponent now in his second summer with the Muddogs. Staley was a welcome face on an otherwise unknown roster.

That was the case for plenty of players — the Old North State League, by virtue of soldiering on while other leagues didn’t, drew a pretty unique clientele base this summer.

Along with its usuals, the league pulled in some seriously talented players whose previous summer plans — in the Coastal Plain League, the Cal Ripken League and beyond — had been altered by league-wide or team-specific cancellations. A stream of local players who’d usually spend their summers working jobs or internships decided to hop in on the fun, too.

“Everybody’s looking to get some at bats and kind of get a head start on the fall,” Staley said.

The end result: a few extra names to learn, four to five games a week and a lot of opportunities for tangible growth. For instance: alongside regular season games, the Muddogs played exhibitions against two teams from the Coastal Plain League.

“We got to measure how competitive we could be against them,” Cano Ramirez said of those games, all losses, against the High Point-Thomasville HiToms and Martinsville (Virginia) Mustangs. “We really tried hard — and we were toe to toe with them. And, you know, they’re really great athletes, high tier Division 1.”

And Staley, named a mid-season all star earlier this month, learned how important energy can be for on-field success. With fans not allowed in the Muddogs’ home stadium in High Point — and in other ballparks across the league — he said it can be “tough to get fired up.”

“You’ve got to count on your team to get something going,” he said, “especially when it’s 100 degrees in the back half of a double-header.”

Staley also left the team impressed with how well the season went, considering the COVID-19 pandemic. Players didn’t shake hands after games, and pitchers mostly stayed in the bullpens, which brought the numbers of players in the closely confined dugouts down to roughly half capacity.

“At the end of the day, it’s just being smart,” said Staley, who hopes the league can serve as a model for the NCHSAA as it evaluates how to move forward with sports in the fall. “Everybody’s just a little bit more cautious.”

Cano Ramirez, who will play baseball at Guilford Tech Community College next spring, appreciated the connections he made among teammates and coaches. He was proud of his progress, too: especially in a five-inning, seven-strikeout performance on July 2. And, most of all, he was just happy he got to play the sport he loved during an unpredictable summer.

“That’s something we all really, truly appreciated,” Cano Ramirez said. “We got to play summer ball.”

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.


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