Cartersville contingent cheers as Seigler makes return

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When Anthony Seigler visited his family in early June, the former Cartersville High baseball star and 2018 first-round draft pick by the New York Yankees mentioned he would be assigned to a minor league team imminently.

Neither he nor his family knew at the time that he would be returning home so soon.

After heading back to extended spring training in Tampa, Florida, Seigler spent just a handful of days in the Sunshine State before finding out Saturday he had been called up to join the Class-A Charleston RiverDogs. Even better, following Sunday’s series finale at home against Asheville, Charleston would be hitting the road to face the Rome Braves for a three-game set Monday through Wednesday.

To avoid unnecessary travel, the Yankees organization had Seigler head straight to Georgia. With Rome’s State Mutual Stadium virtually in his own backyard, Seigler got to spend some quality time with his family.

He worked out with his younger brother, Isaac, almost as soon as he got home. Sunday night, Seigler slept in his old bed. When he woke up the next morning, the 6-foot, 200-pound catcher ate the same breakfast he had nearly every day throughout high school. He even got to eat lunch with his family before joining the RiverDogs Monday afternoon.

“I got to have my baby for a night,” his mother, Alysia Seigler, said.

News of Anthony Seigler’s call-up spread quickly through the Cartersville community long before the RiverDogs officially announced the move at 3:30 p.m. Monday. Throngs of vehicles with Bartow County license plates made the roughly half-hour trip to see Seigler make his season debut, hitting second in the order and playing catcher.

“It’s awesome getting to play in front of this crowd,” Seigler said following Tuesday's game. “My family was here and even some of Cartersville was here. … Having them here was an honor.”

Those in Monday's announced crowd of 3,941 saw Seigler finish 0-for-3, but the switch-hitter had nothing to hang his head about considering those three plate appearances all came against Dallas Keuchel. A recent signee of the Atlanta Braves, Keuchel, who won the 2015 American League Cy Young Award with the Houston Astros, pitched for Rome in a tuneup game after spending the first few months of the season as a free agent.

“It was pretty cool; it was pretty neat,” Seigler said of facing the veteran left-hander. “Being able to hit off him was a neat experience. He had great stuff, good command of everything. He put up a battle.”

Well, Seigler didn’t exactly go down easily either. In fact, his second at-bat produced one of the better swings the RiverDogs managed against Keuchel, who allowed just one hit with nine strikeouts in a 1-0 win.

Standing in the same batter’s box where he homered in his final high school plate appearance, Seigler drove an offering from Keuchel to the warning track in left-center field. The ball landed in the glove of the Rome outfielder, just a few feet shy of the scoreboard, while falling a little further in and to the right of his seventh-inning blast in Game 3 of the 2018 Class 4A state championship series against Jefferson.

“He did a good job of staying in a good position and trying to put a good swing on it,” said Todd Seigler, always providing fatherly analysis. “We were definitely trying to pray it down on the ground or over the fence. It’s OK, he put a good swing on it.”

“I thought it was gone,” Jane Seigler, aka "Mema," chimed in. “I had already started jumping up and down and hollering.”

While Anthony Seigler wasn’t able to notch a hit against Keuchel, he managed to reach base twice in Tuesday’s game as Charleston’s designated hitter. Following a first-inning groundout, Seigler coaxed a key walk in his second at-bat. He came around to score on Mickey Gasper’s three-run homer, which provided all of the offense the RiverDogs would need in a 3-2 victory.

Leading off the fifth inning, Seigler, who will turn 20 years old on June 20, picked up his first RiverDogs hit with an opposite-field single to left field, as he wound up 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.

“It was relieving,” Seigler said of getting his first hit. “Yesterday, I felt like I squared some balls up, and it didn’t go my way. Today is a new day, so everything felt good. Just ready for tomorrow.”

Seigler’s hit came in his first plate appearance of the series from the left side of the plate, but the biggest factor that time up surely came from his sister Sydney introducing him over the P.A. system as, “No. 22, my brother, Anthony Seigler.” Sydney, the youngest of the four Seigler siblings, also got to announce each of the Rome batters during the bottom of the fourth inning.

It was just one of several meaningful gestures made my the Braves towards the Seigler family during the series. Perhaps the utmost sign of respect came in the form of a simple “Welcome home” message posted on the video board prior to Seigler’s at-bats.

“How classy is that?” Alysia Seigler said of the gesture. “… That was really touching. Thank you to the Braves affiliate — our home team. That really tugged at my heartstrings.

“I was like, ‘Don’t cry, Alysia. Don’t cry.’ I had a lot of ‘Don’t cry’ moments.”

Having battled through injuries during his first professional season last year, during which he played a dozen games each in the Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League, Seigler had really been looking forward to a fresh start in 2019. However, a quadriceps injury suffered in March proved to be another health-related setback.

And it just might wind up being one of the best things to happen to Seigler during this journey.

With the Yankees’ 40-man roster decimated by injuries this year, Seigler got to meet several current big leaguers going through their own rehab assignments in Tampa. Getting to learn from their experiences could prove vital as he attempts to live up to the billing that comes with being a first-round selection.

Regardless of whether it happened with Charleston or with the Class-A short-season Staten Island Yankees, Seigler’s first game back would have been special. His family admittedly was hoping it would be with the RiverDogs, and getting to see him make his triumphant return just down the road from his family’s home made for a truly momentous occasion.

“That’s all God right there. We couldn’t have done this,” Alysia Seigler said of the way things worked out. “For him going from having that injury to meeting those big leaguers, who are also down there rehabbing, and getting words of wisdom. … It was pretty neat to see that growth as a ballplayer.”

Todd Seigler has also noticed his son’s professional development, saying it had been hard seeing his firstborn child struggle at times but knowing he needed to learn some lessons in order to mature.

“You’re 18, you’re taken in the first round and you’re given a financial blessing. It can be easy to get intoxicated by that,” Todd Seigler said from the family’s suite ahead of Tuesday’s tilt. “I think the biggest thing was that he got back in his routines. He saw what he’s been doing his whole life, the position it put him in. Getting back to doing those little things, whether it’s stretching daily, eating right, taking care of your body, supplements, getting a little workout in and just getting back in his routine. …

“Just really proud of the man he’s become in the process. That’s what I’m most grateful for, because at the end of the day, it’s not Anthony the baseball player or Anthony the athlete. It’s Anthony my son, and he’s going to be that the rest of his life. So you just want him to mature and every day in this process become a better man.”

While a concussion and hamstring injury plagued his rookie year, Seigler did manage to hit .266 with a .379 on-base percentage last season. He finished with three doubles, one home run and nine RBIs across his 24 games. Most remarkably, he finished with 14 walks against 12 strikeouts.

It’s somewhat hard to believe given the whirlwind nature of the past 13 months, but Seigler, who actually lived in Rome briefly as a kid after leaving Arizona ahead of a permanent move to Cartersville, is just barely a year removed from finishing as a state runner-up for the Canes.

For him to already be at this stage of the minor leagues came as a surprise to at least one member of the Cartersville contingent who made the short drive to watch him play this week.

Mike Ward, a 65-year-old retiree, said he read in Tuesday’s edition of the Daily Tribune News that Seigler had been called up. A former neighbor of Canes baseball legend Russ Mitchell, who was the first Cartersville High graduate to reach the majors, Ward has been impressed with Seigler’s progress, thus far.

“I’m shocked,” said Ward, who’s lived in Cartersville for nearly two decades. “I didn’t expect him to get up here this early. … I thought maybe he’d be up here when [the RiverDogs] come back here in about a month or less. I was surprised for him to get the opportunity this quick, so I said, ‘I had better get on over there.’”

In actuality, Charleston will return to Rome in less than two weeks for another South Atlantic League matchup. The teams will play another Monday-Wednesday set June 24-26 with the same start times as this past series — 7 p.m. the first two days and a 1 p.m. first pitch in the finale.

Seigler, who didn’t feature in this Wednesday’s matinee, is expected to be with Charleston for that trip, but of course, things can change quickly in the world of minor league baseball. Bartow County residents (and the Braves’ accountants) will certainly hope he’s still on the team, when that subsequent series takes place.

Speaking before Tuesday night’s game, Alysia Seigler mentioned how great it was to see her son’s former coaches, former teammates and other members of the community attend his season debut.

“He was amazed at how many people came to support him,” she said. “After the game, he stayed and talked to everybody. I’m thankful for everybody that came out here.”

While Tuesday’s crowd of 2,241 wasn’t nearly as large as Monday’s, mostly due to a lack of Keuchel, there was still a smattering of Canes gear throughout the stands. And there was a noticeable roar as he slapped his base hit into the outfield grass.

Several of those purple-clad fans were Cartersville coaches from across several different sports, including assistant baseball coach Brian Adams.

“It’s right where he’s supposed to be,” Adams said of Seigler playing pro ball. “He’s worked his whole life to get here. To watch him climb the ladder is going to be really special. As far as he can go, he’s going to give everything he’s got to get there. Nobody deserves it more.”

Following the conclusion of Tuesday’s contest, Seigler autographed baseballs for kids and gave out hugs to friends and family. Adams received one of the final embraces. Moments later, an usher told Seigler he needed to wrap things up, because workers would soon be locking the stadium gates.

On this night, the local hero had closed the place down.