Tennessee standouts, from left, Caleb Longley, Blake Rowlett and Chris Caffrey are leading the Medicine Hat Mavericks into Western Major Baseball League playoffs. Longley and Caffrey were teammates at Walker Valley and Cleveland State before going to play for Eastern Tennessee State University and South East Missouri State respectively. Photo: Joe Cannon, Cleveland Banner.
Saturday, July 15, 2017
By Joe Cannon
Assistant Sports Editor
Cleveland Daily Banner
A pair of former Walker Valley and Cleveland State teammates reunited this summer 2,100 miles from home to play baseball north of the Canadian border.
After graduating from East Tennessee State this spring, Caleb Longley headed to Medicine Hat, Alberta, to play in the Western Major Baseball League, which is a collegiate summer league that can trace its roots back to 1931.
When the wooden-bat league team needed a little extra help, Longley called former Mustang and Cougar teammate Chris Caffrey, who promptly headed north to join the fun with the Mavericks.
“My roommate (Blake Rowlett) was going to play for Medicine Hat so the coach was keeping a close eye on his stats during the (ETSU) season. He noticed my stats and asked Blake about me. We got to talking and it sounded like it would be a good place to go play for the summer,” related Longley.
“A week before the season began, our third baseman blew out his ACL in a college game, so the coach was putting random people over there and it just wasn’t working.
“He asked me one day if I knew anybody who could play third. I thought about Chris (Caffrey) and called him. Luckily he already had a passport, which was a good thing. He thought about it over the weekend and was up here the following Monday,” Longley explained.
Caffrey had recently completed his collegiate career at Southeast Missouri State University and was looking for a way to continue his playing career.
“Our coaches have a lot of contact with Major League and ‘Indy’ (Independent League) teams, so that attracted him,” stated Longley.
“It’s been great. At one point me, Blake and Chris were all in the Top 4 in the league in batting average,” he said of the 12-team league’s hitting statistics.
With teams in the western Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the WMBL play a 50-game schedule from June 1-July 30 before going into the postseason playoffs.
“They’re having a blast. The people up there treat them like royalty,” commented Longley’s dad, Steve, who coached baseball for many years at Cleveland State.
“There are three boys (his son, Caffrey and Rowlett) from Tennessee up there and they stay with the same family, who provides for them.
“The man loves to cook and when the boys come in from a game late at night, he’ll have a big meal prepared for them.”
The elder Longley gets to watch the majority of the games on the internet.
“It’s funny. They only have one camera and its set up behind home plate, so anything that happens down either the right or left field lines, you can’t see. You have to wait for the announcer to tell you what’s happening.”
The younger Longley is in town this weekend and waiting to see about possibly going back to Canada in a few days.
“I hit myself in the foot with a foul ball and because another guy got hurt the next day I tried playing on it. I probably hurt it worse by doing that,” he explained. “I was hitting near .400 when I got hurt then went 0-for-9 afterward.”
The team trainer told him to take four or five days off to let the foot heal, so he made the trip home.
“The season is almost over, but we have clinched a spot in the playoffs, so I’m hoping to be able to go back up and finish off the summer,” he remarked.
While at one time leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs, Longley is currently ninth with a .361 BA.
He has eight doubles and five homers in his 39 hits, plus has scored 30 runs in only 29 games.
He has driven in 28 runs, but the stat he is proudest of, according to his dad, is being 9-for-10 in stolen bases.
One of the reasons he wanted to play in Canada this summer was to work on playing in the outfield.
“When I signed with ETSU they had an All-American first baseman they thought was going to get drafted (by a Major League team), but he didn’t so they said they’d play me in the outfield. I only got a handful of games out there and was the designated hitter most of the time.”
This past season for the Bucs, he provided plenty of offensive punch, starting 48 games, while playing in 53 of the team’s 59 contests.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder had a .269 batting average with a .364 on base percentage and a .491 slugging percentage.
Of his 47 hits, 21 went for extra bases with 11 doubles, eight homers and a pair of triples to help him drive in 43 runs.
He drew 22 walks and was plunked by a half dozen pitches, plus was 6-of-7 in stolen base attempts.
“I hit better when I play in the field as well,” Longley assessed. “It keeps you in the game more.”
Although he recently graduated, Longley still has a year of NCAA playing eligibility remaining.
With a recent change in head coaches, Longley feels confident in returning to Johnson City.
“I’ve talked to the new coach (former Stony Brook associate head coach Joe Pennucci) and he said I’d get more playing time in the field, so I feel good about it,” he commented.
“I’m going to take classes to get a second bachelor’s degree, this one in real estate finance.”
In the classroom, Longley compiled a 3.61 GPA to earn All-Academic honors from the Southern Conference.
Caffrey has also found success in the Great North and is 15th in the league in hitting with a .343 batting average, with 35 hits in just 25 games.
He has a trio of doubles and three home runs to help him drive in 26 runs, while scoring 19 times himself. He also has a half dozen stolen bases.
“Chris had one game where he hit three home runs and had eight RBIs,” related Longley, who once had four home runs in a doubleheader while at Cleveland State.
This spring at SEMO, Caffrey had a .370 on base percentage with a .312 BA in 42 games, 36 of which he started.
He laced 14 doubles and smacked four home runs to drive in 28 Redhawk runs. He touched home plate 22 times himself.
His first year in Cape Girardeau, Mo., Caffrey helped SEMO win the Ohio Valley Conference Championship and advance to the NCAA Regionals, where they played the host Mississippi State team and Louisiana Tech.
Once again he appeared in 42 games, starting 31 as a junior. He posted a .276 BA and finished the season with nine multi-hit games and a half dozen multi-RBI games.
Both Caffrey and Longley were key members of the only Walker Valley squad to qualify for the TSSAA State Tournament. The Mustangs had a Top 4 finish their senior year — 2012.
The pair hope to be able to continue their dream of playing professional ball.
“Of course that’s what we want to do,” declared Longley. “Chris was trying to get on with an ‘Indy’ team when I called him and that’s why I want to get better at playing outfield, so I can prove I can do more than just hit so I hopefully can get a chance to keep playing after next year.
“We’re going to chase the dream for as long as we can,” he concluded.
“Playing up there (Canada) has been a blast. Our team (Medicine Hat) averages about 1,300 fans a night, but the teams that play in old Minor League Stadiums are drawing 5-6,000 a game.”