November 8, 2012 - Midwest League (MWL) - Dayton Dragons
The list of 57 Dragons players who played in the Major Leagues includes many big names that are familiar to every fan. Players like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Adam Dunn are on the list. But every player among the 57 does not strike a chord in the memory banks of even the biggest Dragons fans. The ninth Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues spent only a brief time in Dayton, but his journey from here is a tale of perseverance and determination. This is the story of left-handed pitcher Bobby Madritsch.
If you saw Madritsch pitch in Dayton, then you were at Fifth Third Field on August 28, 2000. On that date, Madritsch fired six scoreless innings against Burlington. A few days later, he tossed four innings at Lansing. Those 10 innings encompassed his Dragons career. His rise to the Major Leagues took many turns and his interesting route made him a national media story.
Madritsch, from the south Chicago suburb of Burbank, Illinois, was drafted by the Reds in the sixth round in 1998. He opened his professional career that summer with a very promising first season with Billings, going 7-3 with a 2.80 earned run average as a starting pitcher, but injured his shoulder and underwent rotator cuff surgery that caused him to miss the entire 1999 season. He came back with the Dragons in 2000, made the two starts, gave up just one run in 10 innings, and was released by the Reds the next spring. Without much of a résumé, his chances of being picked up by another team were slim.
Madritsch went to independent professional baseball and pitched for three teams in 2001. According to one story, Madritsch became so upset with the lack of professionalism from his team in the Texas-Louisiana League that he quit the team in the middle of the game, got in his car still in full uniform, and drove from Texas to Pennsylvania for a try-out with another team.
The next season, 2002, found Madritsch playing in Canada with the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the independent Northern League. With Winnipeg, his arm now fully recovered from surgery, Madritsch set the league strikeout record and was so dominant that he began to draw the attention of scouts from Major League teams. Following the season, he was signed by the Seattle Mariners and was back in affiliated baseball.
Madritsch spent the 2003 season with the Mariners Double-A club in San Antonio. By now, he was old by Double-A standards at age 27, but he pitched well, going 13-7, averaging about a strikeout an inning, and earned a chance to move up to Triple-A in 2004.
Madritsch spent the first half of the 2004 season at Tacoma and went 5-2 in 12 starts. In late July, his persistence paid off in a big way. Seattle promoted Madritsch to the big leagues.
"Bobby Madritsch was the first Dragons player to get to the Majors after being let go by the Reds," remembers Marc Katz of the Dayton Daily News. Madritsch had not only been let go by the Reds, he had passed through three independent leagues to become a 28-year-old Major League rookie.
His story led to feature articles in USA Today and ESPN.com. Part of the story of Madritsch focused on his relentless drive and unwillingness to give up. The Mariners General Manager at the time, Bill Bavasi, now serves as Reds Vice President of Scouting and Player Development. Seattle's pitching coach, Bryan Price, is now the Reds pitching coach. Both spoke to writer Jim Caple that summer for a story on ESPN.com.
"He has relentless tenacity," said Price. "I've never seen him back down. Or quit. It's a very, very good combination." Bavasi compared Madritsch to former Reds and Yankees outfielder Paul O'Neill, saying he was fueled by an inner rage.
Additionally, Madritsch gained attention for his devotion to his Native American heritage. His mother grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and reunited with Bobby during that 2004 season for the first time since Bobby's infancy. He had never even seen her picture prior to their meeting that season, but Madritsch had proudly embraced the Indian culture long before they met.
On the field, Madritsch pitched like an all-star. His best game was September 9th, with eight shutout innings in a win against the Red Sox. There were other great starts as well. One run in eight innings against Tampa Bay. A complete game three-hitter against Oakland. One run in seven innings against Kansas City. At the end of the 2004 season, his record was 6-3 with a solid ERA of 3.27.
That season earned Madritsch a spot in the Seattle starting rotation for 2005. But his very first start that year would be the last of his Major League career. Against Minnesota on April 6, Madritsch again injured his shoulder. He underwent a second surgery and never pitched again in affiliated baseball. In 2007, Madritsch signed again with the independent Winnipeg Goldeyes, the same team that he had pitched for in 2002, hoping to get back on the comeback trail. But injuries prevented him from ever appearing in a game with Winnipeg. The next season, he returned for one inning in the independent Atlantic League, marking the end of his career at age 32.
Bobby Madritsch threw only 10 innings for the Dayton Dragons, but in 2004, he became the ninth former Dragon to play in the Major Leagues. Like every other player on the list, his photo hangs in the main lobby at Fifth Third Field.