June 8, 2012

EVOLVING EPPLEY: FORMER RAM GOES THROUGH QUITE A TRANSITION ON WAY TO YANKEE STADIUM

It appeared to be just another night in June at Yankee Stadium. A hoard of media huddled in front of the home dugout awaiting pregame interviews with the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Joe Girardi, while the subway rolled by in the distance and music blared over the PA system.

The masses waited on their prey as Cody Eppley quietly strolled out of the Yankee clubhouse, flashed a smile our way and gladly sat down to talk about his journey that had landed him at one of the meccas of Major League Baseball.

On the surface, Eppley is the same quiet, humble right-hander that was a vital part of the pitching staff during two CAA Championship runs at VCU. Eppley's appearance and personality may be the only things that haven't been through drastic makeovers since he was selected in the 43rd round of the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft by the Texas Rangers.

In his first pro season, the Dillsburg, Pa. native posted a non-descript stat line of 2-2 mark with 2.60 ERA in 21 appearances between the Arizona Fall league and Rookie ball.

It was in the final week of spring training in 2009 that Eppley's first transition period began. The Rangers organization was making its final cuts when Eppley was called in to talk with Darren Clark, the minor league pitching coordinator.

"I really didn't know what to expect. Meetings at that time during spring training don't usually end with great news, so I was definitely a little nervous heading into the meeting," Eppley said.

To Eppley's surprise, Clark asked the former Ram to consider dropping his arm slot from a high three-quarters angle to a side-winding delivery.

"It wasn't an easy transition to say the least. I had thrown the same way for nearly 20 years, but I also knew that I was willing to put in the time and try anything that might help move my career along," Eppley said.

His career didn't just move along, it jumped on the express rail.

He spent the entire 2009 season with Single-A Hickory, going 1-3 with six saves and a 2.93 ERA, all while working on his new delivery. His fastball velocity and movement were making strides, while the sinker was gaining depth and forcing more groundballs from his opponents.

"I spent a lot of time around veteran guys, particularly Darren O'Day, who throws at that angle. I was just trying to soak up as much knowledge as I could," Eppley said. "Darren kept saying how crazy it was that I picked up the new slot so quickly because it's not an easy adjustment to make. I just kept working at it and things progressed."

His breakout year came in 2010 when he was named the Rangers' Minor League Reliever of the Year after he pitched for each of the organization's top minor league affiliates, combining for a 5-2 record, 16 saves and a 2.08 ERA in 51 appearances.

Eppley's transition to side-winding right-hander reached the top of the mountain on April 22, 2011, when the former Ram got the call-up that every player dreams about. He was headed to the Show.

"I'll never forget that feeling. It's the moment that you dream about as a kid playing little league ball. All the hard work that you put in along the wait is worth it when you get that call," he said.

He would spend a month with the Rangers, before returning to Triple-A Round Rock, where he finished the season 4-2 with 10 saves and a 3.90 ERA.

This year's spring training started just like the previous two for Eppley, but another transition was on the horizon. Just like in 2009, he was called into a meeting late in spring training, but this time he was placed on waivers by the Rangers.

"It was really tough. I knew that I would have opportunities elsewhere, but this was the organization I had spent a lot of time and had a lot of good relationships, so it was really tough to leave, but I was excited for the challenges that lied ahead," he said.

The opportunity that awaited him was a chance to pitch in the most recognizable jersey in all of Major League Baseball. On April 5, Eppley was signed off waivers by the New York Yankees.

"To think about all the players that have played for the Yankees and all the championships, it was really humbling to get the opportunity to join such a prestigious organization," he added.

He quickly joined the Scranton Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees' Triple-A squad. After making seven scoreless appearances, Eppley was called up to join the majors once again. This time he was getting thrown into the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

"There's nothing close to the intensity in those games, so I was feeling some anxiety and nervousness, but I knew that if I kept trusting the stuff that got me there, I would be fine," he said.

The next two weeks would be a whirlwind for Eppley. He made three straight scoreless appearances before surrendering his first run in a career-long three-inning outing against the Tigers on April 29. He was then sent back to Scranton Wilkes-Barre, but was recalled by the Yankees after just five days.

"You don't want to say it was frustrating because  it's a privilege to get the opportunity to do this every day, but it was just tough not knowing when I was coming or going, packing and unpacking, it was just a crazy two weeks," Eppley said.

He's been with the Bronx Bombers ever since, making 13 relief appearances for the perennial World Series contender.

He comes from a town that boasted a population of less than 2,600 in the 2010 census. He now resides in the middle of the "city that never sleeps," just another transition phase in what has become the ever-changing world of Cody Eppley.

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