As Chris Winder walked to home plate at Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill, N.Y., this season, he went to bat in front of 5,000 to 7,000 fans a night.
For the 2008 Moffat County High School graduate, the Dutchess Stadium crowd is a far cry from the crowds that watched Winder when he played for the Bulldogs in Craig.
However, a deep breath and good at bat later, and Winder is right back to feeling at home as a member of the Hudson Valley Renegades baseball team.
“I do get nervous in front of all the fans, but if you are nervous you want to do good, right?” he said. “I just have to calm myself and play good baseball. If you have a successful at bat, the nerves usually go away.
“Being from Craig, it is crazy to see all the people in New York.”
Winder wrapped up his second season in September as part of the Short-Season Single-A minor league Renegades, an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.
After being drafted in the 27th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball first-year player draft, Winder competed in 55 games for the Renegades in his first year.
In 2011, however, Winder played in 72 of his team’s 76 games as an outfielder.
“Every day is a grind, but you have to show up,” he said of the demanding schedule. “You are going to be tired and sore, but you have to show up. But, if you have a bad game, you can make up for it the next day instead of waiting a week. And, if you have a good game, you can keep it going without getting rusty from waiting.”
Winder improved in almost every batting statistic in his second year — 61 hits, 21 RBI and three homeruns.
Winder’s batting average, .225, was the same as his first year, but the second-year player tallied 16 stolen bases, good for second best on his team.
“When stealing bases, you have to try and pick your spot,” he said. “I look for pitchers with high leg kicks and if it is an off-beat count, I usually have a better shot. Speed plays into it a lot as well.”
When it comes to batting in the minor leagues, Winder said the pitchers are hard to hit.
“(The pitchers) have more pitches, more control and command, and higher velocity,” he said. “Everything is better, but I have to make sure I go through a lot of drills in batting practice to make sure I am ready.”
At MCHS, Winder excelled at the shortstop position.
When he went off to Odessa College in Texas, he had to make the transition to outfield, a position that stuck when he was drafted.
“I had to make sure I was making good jumps on the balls instead of looking for ground balls,” Winder said of the transition. “In the outfield, it is all about the repetitions you get, and I felt I did a lot better this season. I led the whole league in outfield assist.”
Another adjustment Winder had to make was the different practice schedule.
While previously he may have played two or three games a week with practice on the off days, the Renegades would play a whole week of games without a day off.
“We have practice pretty much everyday before games,” he said. “We work on team fundamentals and batting practice, but they are short practices because we have to allow the other team to get time in as well.”
The improvement from the first to second year was evident, Winder said, but he isn’t done growing as a player.
“I think I improved a lot because I knew what to expect,” he said. “I wasn’t as scared or nervous because I knew the level of competition we were going to be facing.”
The Renegades finished third in the New York-Penn League with a 37-39 record.
Winder will return to the team in March for spring training in Florida.
And, while he has enjoyed his time on the Renegades, Winder said he is ready for the next step.
“There are four steps until the major leagues and the next would be the Bowling Green Hot Rods (in Class A),” he said. “My goal is to get to the top, and I think I am ready to move on to the next step.
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