Brady Muller wasn’t sure what his manager was up to.
Muller had just completed his seventh shutout inning Saturday night for the Windy City ThunderBolts of the independent Frontier League when skipper Ron Biga asked Muller if he was OK to go back out to the mound for the eighth inning to face one more batter, and one batter only.
“Sounds good to me,” Muller replied, still trying to figure out his manager’s angle.
So, Muller, a left-hander who went to high school at Billings West, toed the rubber in the eighth. The first River City batter of the inning reached base, and true to his word, out trudged Biga.
The ThunderBolts manager gathered the team’s infielders around the mound and told Muller that he had officially thrown his last pitch for the team. Then came the good news. Muller’s contract was being purchased by the Arizona Diamondbacks, and he was on his way home back to Billings, where he’d join the Missoula Osprey for Monday night’s Pioneer League opener against the Mustangs.
"Classy move," Muller said about the way his manager handled breaking the news. “I didn’t know what to think. I was pretty excited to be honest. But I was in the moment and didn’t know what to think. Everything kind of set in 10 minutes after that.”
Shortly after that, Muller was informed he was on a 7 a.m. flight out of Chicago’s O’Hare airport. He arrived in Billings about 1 p.m. on Sunday.
It marked the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Muller, a former Billings Scarlet and a former member of the Montana State Billings baseball program, will be back at Dehler Park after spending parts of three seasons in the Frontier League.
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And though he doesn’t expect to get any playing time in the opening series, which ends Thursday, Muller can’t help but think about a career arc that one day, if everything works out with the Osprey, could see him step on the Dehler Park mound later this season as an American Legion player, a college player, and an affiliated minor-league player.
“It’d be a pretty sweet feeling, to be honest with you,” said Muller, who is 24. “It’s kind of one of those things you don’t know what to expect until you’ve done it. I’m not trying to look that far ahead.”
People think affiliated minor-league ball is a grind? Think about independent baseball, where guys like Muller play for as little as hundreds of dollars a month with only shreds of their dream remaining. And for those who somehow keep the fire burning, there are nights like Muller had on Saturday.
“You’ve been playing the game since you were five years old,” Muller said, explaining every player’s independent-league experience. “You just don’t want to give up on it.”
Muller, who wasn't drafted out of MSUB, said he has yet to sign a contract with Missoula, nor does he know what the Osprey’s plans are for him, whether he’ll start or relieve. He said he’ll find all that out on Monday.
Until then, Muller can reflect on the trip baseball has taken him so far. After helping the Scarlets win three Class AA American Legion championships, after being a two-time all-GNAC first-teamer for the Yellowjackets, after unsuccessful tryouts with major-league organizations, after a short stint with the National Baseball Congress and his recent run with the ThunderBolts, Muller has renewed hope.
“It takes a toll on you,” said Muller, who was 5-1 with a 1.36 ERA in 46 1/3 innings with Windy City through Saturday. “But this has definitely given me more energy, just wanting to go farther. After being with (Windy City) so long you wonder, is it ever going to happen? There’s a lot of work to be done, but I’m looking forward to it.”