Archer has tasted big leagues, hopes to return

Chris Archer pitches during practice before a game on Wednesday, July 4, 2012 at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Chris Archer pitches during practice before a game on Wednesday, July 4, 2012 at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Filet mignon steaks, five-star hotels, and plenty of emotion. That’s the best Chris Archer could do when trying to describe his first road trip as a Tampa Bay Ray. After pitching against the likes of Stephen Strasburg and Bruce Chen in his first big-league starts, the Clayton High School native had a taste of what it feels like to be in the major leagues, but remains humble and focused about an opportunity that most minor-leaguers can only dream of.

The action began immediately for Archer, who was asked to be the Rays’ starting pitcher one day after being called up from the Durham Bulls.

His opponent? None other than the Washington National’s Stephen Strasburg.

“I got emotional,” Archer confessed. “But not because of me. It was because of my parents and close friends that were there in the crowd.”

Archer credits his success to four people in particular: his parents, his mentor, and his best friend from Clayton High School, all four of whom made the nearly five-hour drive from Clayton to Washington D.C. to see his major league debut. Although his phone was vibrating the entire evening with well-wishers and congratulatory messages from other friends, he emphasized the four people who had been a part of his life for the entire ride – for the ups and downs.

Archer’s emotion was evident in his first inning of work, as the home team Washington Nationals pounced on the 23 year-old for three runs. Instead of panicking, Archer shut down the Nationals for the next five innings and finished with seven strikeouts.

The off-the-field perks weren’t too bad either. During his six days between starts, Archer got to know Rays players on a more personal level, and connected especially with fellow starters Matt Moore and David Price.

“Moore and I have always been tight, but Pricey really took me under his wing,” he laughed.

Along with traveling first-class in their private jet, the Rays also get $100 meal money to spend each day – a nice bonus when compared with the $25 per day that Archer is used to getting with Durham. The hotel accommodations include five-star resorts and dinners of filet mignon and the like.

Archer’s road trip concluded with another solid performance – seven strikeouts in 52/3 innings last Tuesday in Kansas City. He surrendered four runs, though, and the Rays fell short, leaving his major league record at 0-2 and hunger to return to the majors at an all-time high.

“My motivation isn’t to go up to make two big-league starts, it’s to maximize my potential, and I know I haven’t done that yet,” he said.

But for now, it’s back to lower daily allowances and economy-class travel with the Bulls, who either travel by bus to their away games, or fly publicly with Delta and U.S. Airways.

Durham pitching coach Neil Allen makes it clear where he expects Archer to be in the future: eating steak and salmon on the Rays’ private jet, according to Archer. Allen insists that the training program hasn’t changed, and that the Bulls organization is going to continue to prepare Archer for the majors by improving on his fastball’s consistency.

“He had enough time to see what the majors are all about, and he knows he wants to be there,” said Allen. “It was just a numbers game that sent him down anyway. He’s come back with a great attitude – and hopefully for his sake and everybody’s sake we won’t have to see him much longer.”

Archer admits that despite the glitz and glamour of being a big-league player, his ultimate goal is to maximize his baseball potential – whether that means being an occasional starter, a 10-year veteran, or a hall of famer.

“It’s all worth it, but (the money) is not why I’m doing it. I want baseball to help me impact someone else’s life the way that my family, mentor, and best friend have impacted mine.”