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Dennis navigates minor league life in 2020

Bradley alum Matt Dennis pitches in a game in 2018 for Single-A Lancaster. Photo courtesy of Lancaster JetHawks.

Bradley baseball alumnus and Colorado Rockies minor league pitcher Matt Dennis spent Independence Day at home this year for the first time since he was 17.

His story is a common one this year; with COVID-19 forcing the cancelation of the MiLB season, players like Dennis spent most of the summer at home, prepping for a season that didn’t happen. 

“Even until September, it was very much like, ‘Hey, stay ready…we’re trying to get a season going,’” Dennis said. “It was basically just … doing your in-season workouts, trying to simulate at bats and innings to keep your arm in shape. It was nothing I’ve really dealt with.”

Prior to a summer filled with throwing bullpen sessions into walls and nets rather than to catchers, the 2016 Rockies draftee spent 2019 ascending the minor league ladder. 

After spending the entirety of the 2018 season and half of 2019 with Single-A Advanced Lancaster, the right-hander got the call up to Double-A Hartford following the all-star break.

“I had gotten a little stagnant in Lancaster,” Dennis said. “I had some struggles, went from starting to the bullpen and back to starting; it was a little volatile.”

The promotion certainly helped, as Dennis’ ERA dropped from 5.60 in 53 innings in Lancaster to a 3.29 mark in 80 innings against stiffer competition for the Yard Goats.

“I was back with the group of a lot of guys that I was drafted with in 2016, so there was a comfort level there playing with those guys again,” Dennis said. “I got to finish well there, executing pitches and just getting outs and having fun again.” 

Dennis’ season was capped off by back-to-back strong starts, in which he surrendered just one earned run and struck out 12 in 14 total innings pitched. 

Following the strong finish, the 25-year-old reported to spring training early and served as a backup in the Rockies big-league exhibition games before minor league scrimmages were set to commence. Before they could, the baseball world was put on pause. 

“When everything went down, I was scheduled to back up a game that day, so I was excited about that,” Dennis said. “It was actually raining, too, so it was kind of the perfect storm … then we went into the clubhouse and saw the NBA had gotten canceled and it all just kind of went with the wayside.” 

During the suspension and eventual cancellation of the season, it was a stressful time to be involved with minor league baseball. 

While MLB organizations scrambled to organize a season, negativity surrounded MiLB. Not only were teams facing the threat of contraction (which will now become a reality), but organizations were forced to cut players. For the players that did remain, there was uncertainty as to whether teams would pay their players’ $400 weekly stipends. 

Fortunately for Dennis and his teammates, Colorado paid its players all the way through what would be the conclusion of the season in mid-September. 

“Every bit helps,” Dennis said. “They did their part and did everything right, in my eyes, on that.” 

While playing the waiting game, Dennis is enjoying time with his wife at their newly purchased home in Springfield, Illinois. 

“You’ve been playing for so long and you don’t get to compete and that takes a toll on you,” Dennis said. “But as long as you can stay busy and be around family, it’s never a bad thing.” 

After leaving off on a high note, Dennis will have to wait in order to resume his journey through the Rockies organization. 

“It’s easy to be pessimistic about a lot of stuff, but in all reality, there’s a lot of people who have a lot worse situations than I’m in,” Dennis said. “I still get to play baseball, I still get to train for that … I’m trying to go about it just as business as usual, getting ready for the next season in mid-February. If it happens, I’m ready for it.” 

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