Steve Ames spent five years riding buses, sleeping in sketchy hotels and cashing tiny paychecks in the minor leagues.
Finally, the Hudson’s Bay High School graduate fulfilled his childhood dream by making it to the major leagues last week as a relief pitcher with the Miami Marlins. Even learning about his promotion did not come easy for Ames, whose only scholarship offer out of high school was a partial junior college ride after he rarely pitched at Hudson’s Bay.
Ames was playing in Albuquerque, N.M., with Miami’s top farm club, the New Orleans Zephyrs of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, when he was told — after a heart-stopping delay — that he was going up to the bigs.
“Our manager, Ron Hassey, he first said, ‘We have a lot of pitching; we’re going to send you down to Double-A,’ ” Ames recalled in a phone interview from the Miami clubhouse prior to the Marlins’ 2-0 loss to Cleveland on Sunday afternoon at Marlins Park.
“I don’t know if he’s joking or what, so I go, ‘OK,’ and I kind of turned and walked away. He grabbed my arm and said, ‘Hey. No, no. I’m just kidding. You’re going to the big leagues.'”
Hassey, who spent 14 years catching in the majors, can be excused for having some fun at Ames’ expense. Hassey was quick to note that Ames has learned to roll with the inevitable ups and downs that come with pitching out of the bullpen.
Ames also reacted calmly early last month when he was traded to Miami with two other Los Angeles Dodgers farmhands in exchange for Marlins pitcher Ricky Nolasco and cash.
“Any time you’re traded, it’s a good thing,” Ames reasons. “It makes you feel like the Marlins wanted you.”
Ames was drafted for the first time in 2009, going to the Dodgers in the 17th round — the 517th player selected — after his junior year at Gonzaga. Ames said he received a $40,000 bonus plus money to finish his schooling when he was signed by longtime Vancouver-area scout Hank Jones.
“I’ve known him since I was 10 years old,” Ames said. “I’d do hitting camps with him, and clinics.”
The 25-year-old Ames, whose younger brother Jeff is a top pitching prospect in the Tampa Bay farm system, climbed steadily through the minors. In 175 minor league games — counting five with New Orleans — Ames compiled an 8-10 record, 2.14 earned run average, 63 saves in 75 chances and a whopping 270 strikeouts in 214 innings.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-hander throws a nasty slider and a fastball that reaches the mid-90s. Ames retired New York Mets star David Wright on two pitches in a brief Marlins debut last Tuesday, then struck out two in a 1-2-3 inning Friday against Cleveland.
Ames lavished praise on his former minor league pitching coach, Chuck Crim (now the Dodgers’ bullpen coach), for helping him develop. Ames had similar kind words for Scott Rogers and Jeremy Beard. Those two were the head coach and pitching coach, respectively, at Pasco’s Columbia Basin College when Ames pitched for the Hawks for two years after playing mostly left field in high school.
“If I hadn’t gone to Columbia Basin and had Scott Rogers and Jeremy Beard, none of this would have happened,” Ames said.
Ames gushes about “playing catch in a big league stadium and going out to the bullpen.” He truly seems to be relishing each and every day in The Show.
“It just feels so good,” he said. “You feel like all your hard work paid off.
“I mean, I haven’t done anything yet, really, but it’s just so nice to say, ‘I made it.’ All the years you played and all the time to do your craft pays off in the end.”