COMSTOCK PARK, MI. – It was another comeback in a list of comebacks that West Michigan Whitecaps’ Jason King hopes is over.
The third baseman, the Tigers’ fourth-round pick in 2011, made his season debut Wednesday in the Whitecaps’ 8-4 win against Fort Wayne after a nearly year-long recovery from a torn ACL and meniscus that cut short his first professional season in Connecticut.
King made the most of it, going 1-for-4 batting cleanup. He doubled to lead off the fourth that started a five-run inning to put the Whitecaps ahead to stay. He also walked and scored twice.
It was nice to be back on the field.
“You always have a little bit of that feeling of nervousness and what have you, but I’ve been playing for the last two weeks (in extended spring training in Lakeland, Fla.) getting ready,” King said. “It’s a different place up here, but it’s the same game.”
King has been on the comeback trail before. He missed the 2010 season at Kansas State with Tommy John surgery but came back for his senior season to hit .326 with 10 home runs to set up his place in the draft, only to be injured after 53 games with Connecticut.
“I was there when it happened,” said Whitecaps catcher Patrick Leyland, a teammate last season. “It was sad to see someone who works so hard and so talented to have something like that happen, so it’s great to see him back.”
The 22-year-old King, who hit .251 with six home runs and 31 RBIs last season in short-season Class A, now has to remain healthy. He won’t change his style of play to prove it, though.
“I’m not really trying to prove anything, I’m just trying to get the most out of my ability and try and maximize my opportunities,” said King, who is on some lists of top 15 Tigers’ prospects. “But when you start trying to prove people wrong, that’s when you start to struggle.
“I can’t control that I got hurt. So I can’t try and prove to people I’m not injury prone or whatever. I just have to play as hard as I can.”
Manager Ernie Young said King will get his opportunities.
“Our lineup will be a little different now,” Young said. “We’ll be able to slot guys in some spots where probably they’ll be a little more productive. He’ll get his chances. Everybody gets their chances and opportunities.”
The Whitecaps, back from a five-game road streak, collected eight hits against Fort Wayne with Danry Vasquez delivering the key hit, a two-run single with the bases loaded to score two in the fourth inning. Eugenio Suarez also had an RBI double in the inning.
Leyland had two hits and three RBIs – on a double in the second, a ground out in the fourth and a single in the fifth.
“It was nice to be able to come home and get the first one, especially after what was a pretty tough road trip,” said Leyland. “We needed a game like this.”
Starter Wilsen Palacios got the win, pitching six complete on four earned runs. Melvin Mercedes pitched the final three innings for his first save.