A few — OK, way more than a few — chuckled and scoffed at the wild idea that a three-team, independent baseball league in little old Utica could make it at the box office, let alone churn out talented ballplayers.
And, yet, here is the United Shore Professional Baseball League, three years later, and now a four-team league — wildly successful at the gate, and in sending players on to bigger and better things.
On Wednesday, right-handed pitcher Cody Brown of the Utica Unicorns became the third USPBL player this year to sign a professional contract with a Major League Baseball organization, this one the Seattle Mariners. Brown joins fellow right-handers Tyler Palm (Minnesota Twins) and Logan Gillaspie (Milwaukee Brewers), bringing the three-year total to 23. At least two more are expected to sign with teams in the coming weeks.
"Cody has been one of the most consistent and productive pitchers to throw in the USPBL," said Justin Orenduff, director of baseball operations for the USPBL. "During his time in the league, he improved his sinking fastball from 91 to 93 miles per hour, developed late action on his slider and change-up and emerged himself as one of the best starting pitching prospects in 2018.
"Cody utilized his time and resources in the USPBL and elevated his numbers to propel him into the Seattle Mariners organization."
Brown, a 24-year-old from Fulshear, Texas, led the USPBL this season with 65 strikeouts in 56 innings, and posted a 2.25 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. He threw the league's only complete-game shutout at Jimmy John's Field this season.
He came to the USPBL after pitching one season at Sam Houston State, following two years at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas, where he went 17-1 and helped the team win back-to-back national championships.