With a baby on the way, T-Bones utility player Nate Tenbrink was not going to pass up the opportunity to return home and play in front of family and friends this season.
Luckily for him, everything worked out and he will suit up in the T-Bones’ exhibition opener at 7:05 tonight against the Wichita Wingnuts at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, just two short months after signing with the team and having his son. The game will be the first of six exhibition games before the season starts on May 22.
“I am ecstatic to be here, to be able to watch him grow up here and definitely to play baseball,” Tenbrink said. “It’s the two greatest things put together and it’s an amazing feeling.”
Tenbrink, who played at Kansas State after graduating from Olathe Northwest, was originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round of the 2008 draft.
In seven years of professional ball Tenbrink, 28, has batted .272 with 532 hits, 103 doubles, 31 triples, 61 home runs, 279 RBI, 92 stolen bases and 343 runs. He spent most of the last two years with Seattle’s Class AAA affiliate in Tacoma.
“I haven’t had that chance to play in front of my family and friends my whole career since college,” Tenbrink said. “I’ve been gone for quite some time now and wanted to give my family a chance to watch me play.”
He is one of seven local players on the T-Bones’ 28-man preseason roster. It will be cut to 23 before the start of the season, but second-year manager John Massarelli said there are many benefits to keeping the local flair.
“You build your team slowly, and when someone becomes available that has some good numbers and is a Kansas City native, you attack,” Massarelli said. “Independent ball is tough for these guys to get into, and it’s hard enough in the minor leagues to travel around, so the opportunity to play professional baseball at home is something that the guys enjoy doing.”
The T-Bones will have a largely new look this season after only returning nine players. The team went 48-52 and finished third in the Central Division.
Their top returning player is left-hander Kris Regas, who was the club’s MVP in 2014. He set a franchise record with 22 saves and was third in the American Association. He led the T-Bones with a 2.70 ERA and tied for the most wins with seven. Rigas is 36-31 with 76 saves and a 3.68 ERA in 409 appearances in 13 professional seasons.
Shortstop Vladimir Frias, who was the 2014 defensive player of the year, was also re-signed. He batted .273 with 20 doubles, 23 stolen bases, 43 RBIs and 33 runs in 91 games.
A few of the new players will be familiar faces. Kansas City native and former Northern League MVP Jake Blackwood returns to the team. He played his last game with the T-Bones in 2010. Former Kansas basketball player C.J. Henry, who is an outfielder, was also picked up in the offseason.
The T-Bones, who are in their 13th season of play, will open their 100-game season on May 22 with a five-game series against Lincoln at home.