TAMPA, Fla. — He only had a few swings against guys who will be playing in the lower minor leagues.
But for Russ Canzler, the abbreviated action he saw Saturday in a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders scrimmage was more than enough to get him charged up for the Triple-A season.
Now he’s heading home.
“That’s one of the benefits of having to come back to Triple-A,” said Canzler, a Hazleton native. “I get to be able to spend extra time with friends, family and be able to see my children, too.”
Canzler and his RailRiders teammates finished up their final minor league workout of spring training with an intrasquad game that was cut to five innings Saturday morning when heavy thunderstorms hit the Tampa area. They’ll officially break camp today, head back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to start getting acclimated with the area, then open the season in Syracuse on Thursday.
Their home opener will be April 10 at 7:05 p.m. at PNC Field.
“This will be my 11th year doing this. It’s been an unbelievable journey for me,” said Canzler, who starred for Hazleton Area High School before being drafted by the Chicago Cubs organization in 2004. “I want to enjoy this year as much as I can.”
That ride has taken Canzler to an International League MVP season during his Triple-A debut playing for Durham in 2011. It’s led him to his first major league game at Boston’s Fenway Park and his first major league hit and RBI during a series at Yankee Stadium while he was playing for Tampa Bay.
It has sent him to play 29 major league games for Tampa Bay and Cleveland, and it just might get him into the New York Yankees lineup at some point this season.
But first, he’ll start the 2014 season suiting up for his hometown Triple-A team.
“It’s nice,” Canzler said. “I also have some family living in New York, Waverly. I’m sure they’ll come up when we play Syracuse and Rochester. There’s no better feeling than to have a chance to play this game in front of your loved ones.”
He wasn’t enamored with the idea of being shipped to Triple-A, after Canzler spent most of this spring in big league camp backing up Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira.
But the move gives Canzler a chance to get back in the groove.
Before Saturday’s workout was stopped short, Canzler drew a walk and scored from first base on a double in the second inning, and later grounded into a fielder’s choice. Both at-bats came against Yankees minor leaguers who are expected to open the season in Double-A Trenton.
But it was more work than he’d been getting with the Yankees in spring training lately.
Since joining the RailRiders on Thursday, Canzler has gotten plenty of swings in while hitting in the middle of their lineup as a first baseman and designated hitter.
“I think that’s what I needed,” said Canzler, who will turn 28 on April 11 — the second home game of the season for the RailRiders. “I felt myself struggling the last week of (Yankees) camp, not getting a lot of at-bats. Tex needed to start getting his at-bats, and I found myself coming into a game and not really getting to hit, just playing defense.”
He’ll have a chance to play with some quality teammates with the RailRiders.
Canzler has started to get acclimated with them during the past few days, and has developed a quick comraderie with infielder Scott Sizemore — who’s a year older than Canzler, also has spent some time in the big leagues and was one of a handful of players who came down to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre from Yankees camp along with Canzler.
Since then, the RailRiders opening day roster has become pretty much solidified after the Yankees sent infielder Eduardo Nunez to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre while giving their final bench spot to Yangervis Solarte. After two solid seasons in the Texas Rangers organization, Solarte hit .429 for the Yankees this spring and has the ability to play second base, shortstop and third base, as well as left field. He made a sliding catch and strong throw home from left field in an exhibition game against the Phillies this past week.
Nunez will join starting pitcher Shane Greene and fellow pitcher Cesar Cabral, who were sent to the RailRiders on Friday. That came after fellow pitchers Danny Burawa, Fred Lewis and Chris Leroux were shipped by the Yankees to the RailRiders on Thursday.
“I think my goals are, I want to bring a good attitude every day,” Canzler said. “I want to bring a positive energy for the ballclub, be a good example for most of my teammates.”