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Awaiting 'the call'

Nuts pitcher Connor Graham is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in three starts with Modesto this season.  (Bart Ah You / The Modesto Bee)
Nuts pitcher Connor Graham is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in three starts with Modesto this season. (Bart Ah You / The Modesto Bee)

Connor Graham admits to keeping a getaway bag packed and ready to go, just in case he gets the call.

But unlike every other minor league baseball player hoping for the ring tone that sends him to the next level of the game, Graham is waiting for a different kind of call.

His wife Nicole is pregnant with their first child, and since the due date is Thursday it means Graham has his cell phone at his side at all times he's not pitching. He's due to pitch tonight for the Modesto Nuts against Visalia at John Thurman Field.

With that in mind, what should happen if Graham gets "the call," say around 3:30 this afternoon?

"I'd have to talk to her at that point and see if she'd let me pitch," Graham said. "Hopefully it doesn't happen like that."

Wrong answer, big guy. If you get that call, you're gone, and it comes with the complete blessing of the Colorado Rockies' organization.

"And his next call better be to me to tell me he can't pitch," said Nuts' pitching coach Doug Linton, who would have to scramble to find an emergency starter.

The timing could be better, but learning to deal with off-field issues — including those big moments back home — is yet another step minor league players must make in their journeys to the majors.

"You have to be able to separate your personal life from your professional life, and that's something I've struggled with," Graham said. "Last year, things would happen outside of baseball that I'd bring to the mound with me. I talked to guys last year about how they handled those kinds of things, and their advice helped me through it."

For help with this particular issue, Graham need only consult his pitching coach.

Linton and his wife were expecting their first child late in the 1992 season while he was a Triple-A pitcher in Syracuse, N.Y. He was promoted to the Toronto Blue Jays, and was with the major league club when his first son was born.

"It was a September baby, so I was in the big leagues and he was born in Syracuse," Linton said. "It affects you and it is on your mind, but once you cross the lines you have to put everything else aside and concentrate on what your job is. It's definitely not easy to do."

Graham, an imposing begoggled figure on the mound at 6 feet, 7 inches and 250 pounds, is one of the top pitching prospects in the Rockies' organization. He was a fifth-round pick out of Miami (Ohio) University in 2007, and last season went 12-6 with a 2.26 ERA in 26 starts with Asheville.

This season, he's 2-0, 2.45 in three starts with Modesto, with 11 strikeouts against nine walks in 14º innings of work. With a fastball in the upper-90s, he's wild enough to keep opposing hitters from digging in.

"The whole thing with Connor is command because he has all the ability to pitch wherever he's at," Linton said. "It's not the guys hitting that beat him, it's the walks, and once he figures that out, look out because he'll be ready to go."

Well, with the getaway bag packed, Graham is ready to go right now. He'll bolt to San Francisco and catch the first available chain of flights to take him to Dayton, Ohio.

"The hospital she'll be at is about 10 minutes from the Dayton Airport," Graham said, "but I think a one-stop flight from San Francisco is as good as it's going to get."

Not to let the news out of the bag, but they're expecting a girl, and her name will be Lily Patricia.

"The guys on the team are asking me every day about this, but I don't think it should be a problem to put all your personal stuff behind you when you're pitching every fifth day," Graham said. "I've been able to handle this so far."

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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