This article appears in The Haven Magazine Fall 2017 edition.
Going Pro: Three Bald Eagles Enter Professional Baseball Ranks
For the LHU baseball program, the summer of 2017 will go down as a special one as three former Bald Eagles reached the professional ranks.
The 2017 season proved a special one for the Lock Haven University baseball program.
|LHU pROS HISTORY|
Hornbaker, Belinda and Anthony, however, are not the first Bald Eagles to excel at the professional level.
Rube Bressler and John “Red” Murray were inducted in the LHU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015 and 2016, respectively and rightfully so after each enjoyed a tremendous career.
Bressler was a star on the Lock Haven Normal School baseball teams from 1911-13 before spending 18 seasons in the majors. Eleven of those 18 seasons came with the Cincinnati Reds. He finished his career with a .301 lifetime batting average and was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame in 1963.
Murray was a three-sport athlete at the Central State Normal School in the early 1900’s, but he excelled most notably on the baseball diamond. He went on to play 11 seasons in the majors and was the starting right fielder for the New York Giants in the World Series in 1911, 1912 and 1913. In 1909, Murray led the National League in home runs.
John "Red" Murray
The Bald Eagles historic run last spring ended with 32 wins, the most ever for a single season. LHU’s 16 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) East wins marked a school record and the team finished with the program’s first winning season in 15 years. The remarkable run ended at the PSAC Tournament, Lock Haven’s first playoff appearance since 2009.
Despite the playoff run being over, the highlights didn’t end with the Bald Eagles final game in early May, and, in fact the good times lasted well into the dog days of summer as three former players not only reached the professional ranks, but excelled.
For the Bald Eagle trio of Nick Hornbaker, Jacob Belinda, and Mike Anthony, the historic run of success for LHU baseball in 2017 ended with them all realizing their dream of playing in the pros. Even more special, all three are pitchers, and all three played a vital role in the rotation that led Lock Haven to unparalleled success on the field during the spring of 2017.
To have three players from the same team all head to the pros in such a short span is a big deal and an accomplishment that means a lot to LHU head coach Jim Chester.
“I could not be more proud of Nick, Jacob and Mike,” said Chester. “They all have a separate story and one that should motivate young players. They put the time in and are being rewarded for their efforts by reaching the ultimate goal. From a coaching standpoint, pitching coach Heath Stover deserves a ton of credit.”
In May, Hornbaker became the first of the three to reach the pro ranks after signing with the Santa Fe Fuego, an independent minor league team in the Pecos League.
In early June, Belinda made history after being selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 10th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball draft. Belinda became just the second player in school history to be drafted and the first ever in the top-10 rounds.
Prior to Belinda, only one other LHU player had been selected in the MLB draft. Tom Sepela was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 21st round of the 1986 draft. He spent several seasons in the minors in the New York-Penn League.
Last, but certainly not least, Anthony signed a pro contract with the Florence Freedom of the Frontier League in late July, becoming the third Bald Eagle to reach the pros.
Hornbaker, a 6-foot-2-inch left-hander quickly established himself and earned a spot in the Pecos League All-Star game. While in Santa Fe, Hornbaker recorded a 3.20 ERA, which was one of the top marks on the team.
Hornbaker quickly learned that the professional baseball landscape can quickly change. Following his all-star game appearance he was signed by the Lincoln Saltdogs of the American Association. After a short stint with Lincoln, Hornbaker moved on to the Windy City Thunderbolts of the Frontier League. His third and final stop was where he capped his first season of professional baseball.
“Professional baseball was an eye opening experience,” said Hornbaker. “It took some time for it all to set in that my dreams had come true as it all happened so quickly. I was in 25 different states this summer and now that I can look back, I’m so proud, but looking forward to improving.”
Belinda left little doubt that he was worth his 10th round draft pick by the Braves after turning in a sensational summer with the Danville Braves, an advanced rookie minor league team that calls the Appalachian League home. Belinda finished the season 6-0, the best record on the team, and the six wins marked the most on the team, and the second most among all pitchers in the entire Appalachian League.
Flashing back to draft day, it was a long, but special day for Belinda, who saw his childhood dreams come true. “It had been a dream of mine to play pro baseball since I was five years old,” said Belinda. “The second day of the draft was a long day as I watched it all live from my grandmother’s house with family, but when I was selected by the Braves, it was unlike any other feeling I had ever felt. It had been a long process leading up to the draft, but after getting the call from the Braves, my dream was realized.”
One word came to Belinda’s mind to describe his first summer in the pros: Tremendous. Tremendous it was. On August 9, 2017, Belinda made history as he was part of a trio of Danville pitchers that threw a combined no-hitter. It marked Danville's first no-hitter since 2009. Belinda entered in the third inning and was perfect over the next four as he retired 12 of 12 batters he faced. He was credited with the win.
Ironically enough – the starter that night, Bruce Zimmermann and closer, John Curtis – are also NCAA Division II products. Zimmerman played for Mount Olive and Curtis played at Lenoir-Rhyne.
Known as a strikeout pitcher with dominating command, Anthony took his skills to Florence and looked quite comfortable. He was a key part of a rotation that carried the Freedom all the way to the Frontier League championship series. He made 19 appearances with 19 strikeouts and just six walks in 19 total innings of relief work.
When asked about the feeling of signing with the Freedom, Anthony responded with four simple words – “A dream come true.” The whole experience this summer has given me a new perspective and appreciation for the game, added Anthony.
For Hornbaker, Belinda and Anthony, all their success this summer was rooted in Lock Haven as part of the 2017 LHU baseball team and its remarkable run last spring. “The 2017 LHU baseball team meant more to me than anyone could possibly understand,” said Hornbaker. “From the players to the coaches, it was a special group and I’m proud of what we accomplished.”
Belinda agreed with Hornbaker, saying that the team meant the world to him. “If it wasn’t for those teammates and coaches, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” added Belinda.
“The 2017 season was an exciting time and that run meant a lot to me,” said Anthony. “We made history and LHU baseball will forever be a part of my heart. I will always miss my days on the mound at Lock Haven.”