ALTOONA, Pa. — It's been a wild ride for Altoona Curve infielder Mitchell Tolman to get back to Altoona and play for the organization he helped catapult to an Eastern League Championship in 2017.
Tolman, a late-season call-up in 2017, propelled Altoona into the postseason with a walk off three-run home run on the final day of the regular season as the Curve embarked on a historic championship run in which they went undefeated throughout the playoffs.
Following that dose of Double-A, Tolman found himself suspended for 50 games due to testing positive for a drug of abuse. That suspension limited Tolman, 24, to 68 games with High-A Bradenton in 2018 where he hit .250 with 16 doubles and 17 RBIs.
Altoona manager Michael Ryan has been around for both stints Tolman has had with Altoona and knows how hard the Oregon product has had to work to get back to where he's at now.
"It's in the past with him, it's in the past with the organization. It was a bump in the road, it was a mistake," Ryan said. "He admits to it and it's what can we do to move forward. It's up to the individual, you've got to put the work in, you've gotta play hard and continue to do the right things."
Much has changed for Tolman over the course of nearly two years on both a personal and professional level as the former seventh-round pick in the 2015 draft has battled back to play for the Curve.
"The first time I was here, it was brief. It was more of just getting my feet wet. I hadn't played with a lot of the guys yet, I was just getting to know people and trying to blend in honestly," Tolman said. "This year, I see more of a role I play both on the field and in the clubhouse. I don't think that comes with results, it's just trying to be the guy who's there for other guys. Being a great teammate is the biggest thing this year. It's big for me when I have guys come pick me up after I have a tough game."
The 2017 championship team was laced players who've donned a Pirates jersey this year. Guys like Cole Tucker, Mitch Keller, Kevin Kramer and Pablo Reyes were integral parts of the infield and helped lead the way for Tolman as he got his feet wet in Double-A baseball.
"From that team, it was just going out and trusting our stuff. I know before games when I was up here a couple years ago, it wasn't a joking mentality, it was loose," Tolman said. "We didn't feel like we had to go out and win that game. It was more of just let's go do it and play hard."
The time Tolman spent with that squad helped him gain a vast knowledge of how to approach the game and do so at a higher level.
"It's not like guys at this level -- their stuff, their pitches -- it's not like it's tremendously tougher that High-A or anything like that. They just learn to play the game better," Tolman said. That's one thing I took away, guys understand how to play the game. It's mostly just learning how to play the game at a high level."
Now an elder statesmen on the team and comfortable around the team, Tolman has been up and down this season from a hitting standpoint, but his defense has been where he's most improved.
"What he does defensively, he works hard and that's probably where I've seen him improve the most, defensively and he's working on some things at the plate," Ryan said. "If you watch him play the game, he knows how to play it and he's always in the right position."
The consistency at the plate or lack thereof is what has led to Tolman slashing .233/.309/ OBP with 15 RBIs and two triples at this juncture of the season.
"Just the consistency part of it. On the offensive side, I feel like I'll run into some hot streaks and I'll be hot for a few games and then I'll be down for a little bit then I'll pick it back up," Tolman said. "I just feel like the consistency part of it and more of a mature hitter where you're disciplined to what you want to hit and not just up there swinging to swing."
The past is in the past for Ryan when it comes to Tolman but he's still curious to see how the Irvine, Ca. native grows in Double-A.
"I think that's a wait and see for me to be honest with you," Ryan said. "You take what happened with him and for him to come back, it's pretty big. I think that he missed some time because of some things and we're over that, I'm anxious to see what he becomes, he's a really good player."
CURVE'S TOP HITTERS
Logan Hill, 1B -- Hill hit .323/.404/.458 for the month of May as he knocked in 16 RBIs while scoring nine 19 runs of his own. Hill, 26, also recorded 31 hits with seven of those being doubles and two of them home runs.
Hunter Owen, 3B -- Owen hit a frozen rope into the left field bleachers Saturday night to win the game in walk-off fashion for the Curve. Owen leads the team with 12 home runs on the seasons.
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) June 2, 2019
CURVE'S TOP PITCHERS
Top starting performance: Sean Brady vs. New Hampshire on June 1: 6.1 innings pitched, two runs on five hits, two strikeouts and three walks. Brady is 2-4 with a 6.04 ERA.
Top reliever: Blake Weiman. Weiman threw two innings May 31 and did not give up a run or a hit for that matter as he struck out three and walked one. Weiman boasts a 2.20 ERA in 12 games for Altoona this year
THE ROSTER MOVES/INJURY UPDATE
Here are the roster moves over the past week:
5/28: LHP Domingo Robles promoted to Altoona. INF Alfredo Reyes promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis.
5/30: INF Adrian Valerio assigned to A-Advanced Bradenton. INF Alfredo Reyes assigned to Altoona.
5/31: RHP Ryan Valdes assigned to A-Advanced Bradenton.
6/1: RHP Pedro Vasquez assigned to Altoona.
Mother Nature was once again undefeated this week as the Curve had three games impacted because of inclement weather.
Altoona fell 6-5 to Trenton before their game Wednesday was rained out and the doubleheader Thursday involved a suspended game and another rainout.
The Curve fell to New Hampshire in the first game of their three-game series Friday night before Owen's walk-off blast won the game Saturday. It was the Fisher Cats who topped Altoona on Sunday taking down the Curve by a score of 4-1.
ALTOONA FUN THING
Saturday was Altoona's annual A Game of Hope, a night dedicated to those who are battling, have battled or have lost their battle to cancer. I'll let the video of the survivor walk speak for itself.
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) June 1, 2019
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