Tigers’ pitcher, Duane Below, honored
By MICKEY ALVARADO
Duane Below isn't animated when pitching on the mound for the Detroit Tiger's minor league teams and he never verbally displays his emotions after throwing a good game. He lets his pitches do the talking for him. But without a baseball in his hand, the Tigers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year was left speechless on Friday, Jan. 9, when being honored by his former high school and said only “Thank you.”
Britton retired the 2004 graduate’s No. 32 uniform in front of a packed house between the JV and varsity boys basketball games.
“It's definitely an honor having your high school recognize you in something you've achieved in your career,” said Below. “It just makes me want to go out and keep doing what I do.”
What he does is something no other Britton-Macon player has done before: pitch for the Tigers' organization for three seasons on minor league teams. In 2007, Below helped the Class A Michigan Whitecaps to a Midwest League championship. While pitching for the team, Below struck out a league high 150 batters and posted a league high 13 wins. He was twice named pitcher of the month and was selected to be a member of the All-star team. His incredible efforts garnered Below the coveted Tiger's Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors. In 2008, Below pitched for the Lakeland Flying Tigers, wearing the number 15, where he struck-out a Florida State League high 126 strikeouts while gathering eight victories.
At the level the lefty is currently at he's had teammates including superstar Gary Sheffield and pitchers Dontrelle Willis and Joel Zumaya.
“They're all great guys behind closed doors,” said Below. “It's nice to have them there. They respect you.”
Below was able to talk with the pros and get some valuable advice. Willis gave him pointers between starts and he said that while a lot of people don't like Sheffield he is a great guy to have on your team. He'd even serve food up to the other players.
“They'd take the time talk to you,” said Below. “Dontrelle even gave me one of his gloves after the season.”
When there was a bench clearing in a game against Daytona, Zumaya was right out there on the field with the rest of the guys.
“He was right out there with us,” said Below. “He didn't just think of himself as just a big leaguer. It was pretty cool to experience. I'm getting chills right now just thinking about it.”
Britton has only retired two other uniforms, that of basketball standout Kristy Maska and All-state basketball player Phil Benedict.
Below was not only an outstanding baseball player; he was an All-league, All-county, All-district football and basketball player during his junior and senior seasons. During his final high school season he crunched the ball for a .531 percentage, hitting 11 homeruns and recording 37 RBIs. Below finished 10-3 on the hill with 164 strikeouts in 93 innings of work and was named to the All-state baseball team.
“Obviously being a small town like Britton and being able to boast that someone from here has made it and been as accomplished as he has been, that's pretty special,” said Britton-Deerfield baseball coach Andy Clark.
Clark took over the baseball program during Below's senior season so he's been able to compare what the pitcher had then to what he has now. He went to three of the games Below pitched for the Whitecaps.
“It was just so impressive,” said Clark. “The thing that stuck out in my mind was how much control he had as far as his posture, his command and the pace which he was doing things.”
After graduating, Below was under the radar, so to speak, and it was only by chance that he was discovered by the Minor League scouts. Below was thinking about being a walk-on at Saginaw Valley University and was looking into paying for housing when he was approached while playing summer ball for Blissfield's Legion team. The coach for Lake Michigan College saw Below pitching and invited him out to the campus. They offered him a scholarship and Below was off and running. While there Below was noticed by the pro scouts during his first year and in his second season he was the first pick of the second day of the draft for the Detroit Tigers. He got the call when in Chicago to see a Tiger's versus Whitesox game.
“That's how I ended up getting found,” said Below. “So far, it's going well and I'm enjoying every minute of it.”
Later this month Below will return to Florida for spring training and he feels like his hard work could pay off real soon. At this point he's uncertain where he'll wind up for the regular season.
“I feel like if I go to Erie, or wherever I go, this year, if I have a pretty good year I could be in the big leagues within a year, year and a half,” said Below. “If there's an injury, I could be there before I know it.”