Backup catcher. Part-time pitcher. Multimedia workhorse. Tampa Yankees prospect Wes Wilson is a minor league baseball Renaissance man.
The 25-year-old Bryan Station graduate made Internet headlines after hitting his first professional home run, a 17th-inning blast in Class A Advanced Tampa's 5-4 win over Bradenton on Thursday. But it wasn't the solo shot that had blogs talking; it was the ransom note left by the Yankees bullpen asking for a list of small favors — dinners, golf balls, clothing — prior to handing over the ball.
"Gonna be a tall task to get that home run ball back," Wilson tweeted alongside a photo of the note after the game.
Wilson, who made the Herald-Leader's All-City baseball and football teams as a junior (2006) and senior (2007) at Bryan Station, didn't just secure the victory for his team at the plate. He pitched perfectly through the final two innings to earn the win.
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"It was a wild one," Wilson said of the late finish. "It was the last game before our All-Star break. So of course, it goes 17 innings. I happened to be out there catching for the first 15, and come the end of the 15th our manager was looking for guys on the bench who could throw. We were out of pitchers, and he said, 'Hey Wes, you ready to go?' and I was like, 'Hell yeah, let's do it!'"
Thursday's appearance on the mound was Wilson's first this season but not his first in the minors. He pitched four scoreless innings for Tampa in an 18-inning win over Palm Beach last season.
"Last year it was a similar situation," Wilson said. "... We had gotten in the night before from a road trip at like 3 or 4 in the morning. Of course those are always the days, either the day before an off day or the day you get in late, those are the games that seem to last the longest."
He boasts a career 2-1 record; not bad for someone who hadn't pitched since occasionally relieving the Defenders' pitching staff his final two years in Lexington.
"I was hardly anything to write home about though," he said, chuckling.
While he was at Class A Charleston in 2013, Wilson joked around with the radio guy that he could bring in some listeners. After he called Wilson's bluff, Wes's Womb was born. The segment became a perfect vehicle for the Lexingtonian's off-script persona. He said he hates the clichéd responses and political correctness that often accompany professional sports.
The odd name was intentional.
"Everybody loves alliteration," he said. "It's not exactly a name for a show that's very conventional. It catches the ear and catches the attention. I wanted to show that we weren't going to play by the rules."
Wilson made the transition to video — "WesCam" — upon moving up to Tampa after one season with the Riverdogs.
"It's all kind of a fun thing to distract from the monotony that minor-league baseball can be sometimes," he said.
'I know my role'
Wilson, who went undrafted out of Indiana in 2011, is a career .212 hitter in his fifth minor-league season. The ex-Hoosier is listed on the Tampa depth chart behind Kyle Higashioka and has played in just 17 games this season after an extended stay in spring training.
He admitted he's "getting up there in age" — he's 2.4 years older than the average player in the Florida State League according to Baseball-Reference.com — but Wilson values every day he gets to put on a uniform and get paid to play.
"I know my role," he said. "I know that I'm the backup and it's gonna take something extraordinary to get me out of that role. But you play this game until they take the jersey off your back."
Of the things he's learned during his professional career, Wilson said getting out on the field and worrying only "about controlling what you can control" has been the biggest.
"I'm having fun, I'm enjoying every bit of it," he said. "When you're not playing you get lost in the process of going to the field and getting better every day. On days you're not playing that becomes your game. ... I've got no plans on giving it up until they tell me to."
As for his home run ball? Wilson couldn't make ransom — he joked that Apple should intervene as it did with the Cleveland Indians this month — but said the pitchers eventually caved.
"They knew I couldn't pay all those demands," he said. "I'll have to find a way to do something nice for the pitching staff."