BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS COURTESY OF HOUSTON ASTROS
The coffee was a little less bitter.
The air was just a little more clearer.
That old spring in the step had somehow returned.
Life was just a little better.
Lebanon County had its hero. The one who we’d been waiting for for what only seemed liked forever, had arrived.
We all need heroes, and it’s OK to live vicariously through someone, as long as we are connected with him.
Derek Fisher’s recent stint in major league baseball – preview as it were – stirred the collective imagination of local residents, tugged at our collective heartstrings and gave us something to wonder about, together. Quite unintentionally, Fisher had drawn us all just a little closer as a community.
Fisher’s call-up to the majors last week was his first, and the first by a Lebanon County resident in 70 years, and just the sixth overall by one of our own in the century-long history of Major League Baseball.
“Why wouldn’t you be pulling for Derek?,” said Lyle Krall, Lebanon County’s Mr. Baseball. “He’s the first player from Lebanon County to reach the major leagues in 70 years. I think it’s great. It’s the way it should be. It’s a good thing. It’s good for Goosetown. It’s good for Cedar Crest High School. It’s good for the University of Virginia. It’s good for all of Lebanon County. I’m one of his many supporters.
“You can see his maturity,” added Krall. “It’s all blossoming. It’s not an easy thing to do. He hit the weights the last couple of years, and it’s paying off. It’s tough.”
“I see a bunch of people re-tweeting things about Derek Fisher on twitter,” said Annville native Mitch Long, the local resident who’s currently playing the best baseball inside of Lebanon County. “A lot of people want to see him do well. A lot of people are watching him. It’s not that long ago that he was playing in Lebanon County, and playing against Lebanon County people.
“I think he should’ve been given more of a chance to prove himself,” Long added. “He was only up for a week. That’s not long enough to prove himself. But I think he’ll be back up again.”
On Wednesday, June 14, 2017, Cedar Crest graduate Derek Fisher was summoned from the Class AAA Fresno Grizllies by the Houston Astros to take the roster spot of veteran Josh Reddick, who had been placed on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion. It had been almost three years to the date that Fisher had been selected by the Astros with the 37th overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft out of the University of Virginia.
There are no typical climbs through minor league systems to the majors. But through an unwavering work ethic, focus and absolute raw talent, Fisher had been on the fast track by hitting at a .300 clip or higher at every level he had encountered.
Fisher, a left-handed hitting outfielder started and batted eighth during the five Houston games which he was up for. He homered in his first game against Texas, and he also went deep in his last game, against Oakland on Monday, when Reddick was cleared to return.
In between, DFish appeared in a nationally televised game on ESPN against Boston. In those five games, he sported a .278 batting average with three RBIs, 11 total bases, five strikeouts, .an on-base-percentage of 381 and a slugging percentage of .611.
Houston went 3-2 in those outings to improve its MLB-best record to 47-24.
“I certainly felt pride,” said Krall, who played five years in the minors in the St. Louis organization in the 1950s. “I felt good about it. I knew it was going to happen. It was a matter of time. I’m sure he knew he’d be the first one called up if an injury occurred. And I’m pretty sure Derek knew he was going back down.
“I thought he did well,” continued Krall. “He hit a home run in the first game he played and he hit a home run in the last game he played. I watched the Sunday Night game on ESPN. The last three years, I saw Derek in spring training games. And this year, he looked so much more mature, more confident. It’s so much about experience at that level. He has it now. It’s a long road. It’s amazing for him.”
“For sure, I’m proud,” said Long. “It means a lot that he came from Lebanon County. He’s making a lot of people from Lebanon County proud. If you’re into baseball around here, you know who he is. I’ve been following him a long time. It means a lot that he was called up to the major leagues.
“I honestly thought he was going to be called up sooner,” Long continued. “I saw his numbers, and with those, you can only stay in (Class) AAA so long. I wasn’t too surprised when I heard about it.”
Fisher had come as close as a player can come to making the Astros’ opening-day roster out of spring training. This time nothing was different. At no time, did he look overwhelmed or out of place. Everything suggested Fisher belonged.
“I check every at-bat on the internet, and how he’s doing,” said Krall. “I did the same thing with (Lancaster County native) Chris Heisey. I know them personally and I want them to do well. We have a lot in common, except he’ll (Fisher) do it, and I didn’t.
“I was sort of waiting for it (Fisher being sent back down to Fresno),” Krall continued. “When that’s (Reddick’s DL stint) up, they have not room for him (Fisher). This is his only (first waiver) option. It wasn’t a shock to Derek. I’m positive they told him before he came up.”
“Obviously it’s his first time in the major leagues,,” said Long. “I’m sure his nerves were through the roof. But the Astros had faith in him. He has a lot of confidence. He did good for his first time.
“I was kind of disappointed he was sent back down,” continued Long. “He was sent down to make room for a veteran. But I did not think he was going to be sent down that quickly. I thought if he played well, he wouldn’t be sent back down.”
So there was a degree of shock, of disappointment, when our neighbor was sent back down. And while his return appears imminent – and his distant future bright – our lives are just a little more drab.
Our plans for the signs – Lebanon: Home of Major Leaguer Derek Fisher – have been placed on hold, but only temporarily.
“I think it’s going to happen,” said Krall. “Players are being called up almost daily. Houston is in first place and I don’t think they want to mess with their chemistry. You have to sit back and wait. It’s tough. In the mean time you’ve got to keep your proper mental attitude. He’s not the first one to go through this.
“I think it’s (Fisher’s long-term prognosis) good,” added Krall. “On a scale of one to ten, you’ve got to expect him to go up to almost ten. What he did in the preview, he brought himself to another level. He’ll do fine. Hopefully it’s with the Astros. There’s a lot of options for Derek. He can do a lot of things, and he’s a left-handed hitter.”
“It’s definitely just a matter of time,” said Long. “The Astros have a great team. He could probably play on fifty percent of major league teams right now.
“If he doesn’t get a lot of playing time this year, he will next year,” Long added. “I think he’ll go to spring training and be on a major league roster next year. If you look at what he’s done, it wouldn’t surprise me over the next five years if he became a major league all-star. Since he was drafted he has improved his game a lot.”
Here’s what Astros’ General Manager Jeff Lunhow told The Houston Chronicle about Derek Fisher’s recent stint with the big club:
“We’re not really looking at him as playing for anybody except the Houston Astros right now. We’re developing him with the idea that he’s going to be in our outfield for years to come. And I think that’s probably the best way to think about it. Any of our players could potentially be part of a deal. But at this point, the more value they have to our major league team in 2017, the less likely they are to be dealt. So he’s definitely improved his stock in that area.
“I will say that Fisher performed well. I knew he would. He’s been performing well at Triple A. I felt like he was ready, and I think he demonstrated to us that he can compete at this level and is ready to contribute to this team. He’ll be back. He’ll be back this summer at some point. I’m sure of it. And he’ll be playing with this team in September, and he’s got a good chance to make a playoff roster for us.”
Here’s what Astros’ Manager A.J. Finch told The Houston Chronicle about Derek Fisher’s recent stint with the big club:
“He’s a part of this. It’s not an easy send down, because he’s done nothing wrong. But the way our roster’s configured, where we’re comfortable right now, we’ve got to make the move.”
Derek Fisher’s Major League Stats
|2014 [-]||2 teams||-||Minors||42||155||31||48||65||5||3||2||18||17||1||35||17||4||.310||.386||.419||.806||1.27|
|2015 [-]||2 teams||-||Minors||123||495||106||136||239||21||8||22||87||66||1||132||31||7||.275||.364||.483||.847||1.03|
|2016 [-]||2 teams||-||Minors||129||478||71||122||214||21||4||21||76||83||7||154||28||7||.255||.367||.448||.815||2.00|
|Minors Career [+]||6 teams||Minors||354||1373||250||388||667||66||15||61||226||191||10||374||89||28||.283||.374||.486||.860||1.49|