All-Star Landis loves bullpen role
DOWNTOWN AKRON — The Double-A Eastern League All-Star Game was played July 11 in Reading, Pa., with the East beating the West 5-4. The day before, an event was held at Reading’s ballpark that did more than just whet the fans’ appetites.
It gave them a whole buffet.
“The home run derby was pretty unique,” said reliever Kyle Landis, one of four Akron Aeros all-stars. “They had a setup in the infield with food where people could walk around while the derby was going on. I had never seen that before.”
Twelve-foot nets kept the snacking fans from being target practice for the sluggers.
“Reading does a great job with the regular games,” he said. “I knew they were going to do a great job with the All-Star Game. Everything was top-notch.”
The Aeros accompanying Landis to Reading were knuckleball specialist Steven Wright and outfielder Thomas Neal. (First baseman Chun Chen was also selected, but a hand injury suffered July 8 against Bowie kept him out of the game.) A private jet transported the players from Bowie to Reading and later back to Akron.
“It was pretty cool that they flew us,” said Landis.
Landis is a native of Hazelton, Pa., about 90 minutes north of Reading.
“A lot of family and friends were waiting for me outside the locker room door when I got out of there, and that was really cool to see,” said Landis, who pitched a scoreless inning in the game.
Going into this week, Landis, 26, has a 4-3 record and a 3.77 earned run average. He struck out 41 batters in 45.1 innings pitched.
Landis, who grew up an Atlanta Braves fan, knew early on what position he wanted.
“I always loved pitching, ever since I was little,” he said. “I think that was the first thing I wanted to do, my very first game. I wanted to be on the pitcher’s mound.”
In high school, Landis was a starter. He hoped to be one in college, too, but the University of Pittsburgh coaching staff was impressed with how the right-hander took to the bullpen.
“When my coach said to me, ‘We really like you in this role. We think you’re the only guy who can handle this kind of pressure,’ then I began to take it more of an honor and say, ‘I’m suited for this. They want me here. I’m going to accept it and embrace it.’”
It’s hard to argue with results.
“I actually love it now,” said Landis. “You get a chance to pitch every day in the bullpen. You put the uniform on for a reason. Hey, I could be in there today.”
Neither Landis, nor any other Aeros reliever, was needed July 15 when left-hander Giovanni Soto threw a no-hitter against Altoona. It was the first nine-inning no-hitter ever thrown by an Aeros pitcher at Canal Park. In the 2-1 victory, Soto pitched to one batter over the minimum.
The Aeros travel to Richmond — by bus, most likely — to take on the Flying Squirrels July 19-22. They’ll then return to Akron for a week’s worth of games, hosting Erie and then Bowie.
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