The toughest part for Jamie Callahan was believing he belonged.
It wasn’t because he was only 17 when the Red Sox took him in the second round last year.
It was more about how he saw himself.
No matter how many batters he mowed down in high school or how much scouts marveled at his command of three pitches, or how mature he seemed, he never looked at himself in the same light as all the “can’t-miss” prospects that surrounded him once he became a professional.
In his mind, he was still the small-town kid from South Carolina who was at a Florence gas station when he got the call from the Sox last summer.
“I’m the type of guy that I give other people more credit and I kind of put myself down sometimes,” Callahan said. “I’ve never been the big, arrogant hothead or the guy that thinks I’m ‘It.’ I’ve always been the type of guy to respect the guys on the other side because they’re here for a reason too.”
When Callahan reported to the Gulf Coast League team last summer, he was surrounded by fish of the same size, in a pond bigger than the one he was used to.
“Obviously what my talent level was, I knew that, but I almost felt like I was average in the league, so to speak,” Callahan said. “It’s almost a little intimidating. You’re coming from a smaller town. You feel like you’re among a sea of guys. You feel like you’re just lost.”
Eventually, Callahan had to remind himself that none of it — not name recognition, not draft position, not track record — mattered. They were all there for a reason.
“It took one rough outing and I said, ‘All right, I’m going to go out and I’m going to do what I did in high school.’ Then, at that point, I realized that I had not been giving myself enough credit,” Callahan said. “At the end, it all comes down to, pretty much here in pro ball, everybody’s got talent whether you’re the last pick in the draft or the first pick in the draft. These guys are good. No doubt about it, everybody here’s good. It’s just a fact of putting the big-boy pants on and finding a way to get them out. Don’t hide from the truth, go after them and get them.”
Callahan pitched in five games last year, four starts, and logged a 5.19 ERA. Moving up to Single A Lowell this year, he’s 3-1 with a 3.95 ERA, with eight starts in nine appearances. He turns 19 Aug. 24.
“I think all those guys go through that,” said Spinners pitching coach Walter Miranda. “Because when they play high school back in their city or their town, those guys, they’re the best. Now when the come to the minor leagues, they’re facing the best. Now they feel like, ‘Oh, I’m not the only one here. I’ve got competition now.’ But they have the ability. They just don’t know what they’re capable of doing.
“When they have the ability and they start to develop that ability, they say, ‘OK, I can do it. I can compete.’ ”
It all came together for Callahan over two starts last month. He took a perfect game into the sixth inning against Connecticut July 26, striking out eight. Five days later, he threw six perfect innings against Auburn, striking out nine.
“I don’t care where you pitch, it can be Little League, big league, that’s hard,” Miranda said. “That consistency, we were very excited to see that.”
Callahan now finds himself at a point where every batter, regardless of age or draft status, is just another out to be made.
“When I’m on the mound, I don’t see your birth certificate. I don’t know how old you are,” he said. “When you step in the box, all I know is your name and all you know is my name, and my job is to get you out, whatever it takes. Out here, we’ll all equal.”
Three to watch
1. Xander Bogaerts, Pawtucket: Over his last 10 games, he’s hit .381 with two doubles, a homer, and eight RBIs. After striking out 23 times in his first 109 at-bats in Triple A, he has only six strikeouts in his last 42 at-bats.
2. Kevin Mager, Lowell: After hitting .330 with eight extra-base hits and 19 RBIs for Lowell in July, he earned a spot on the New York-Penn League All-Star team.
3. Deven Marrero, Portland: The Sox’ first-round pick last year was called up to Double A Portland this week and went 5 for 8 with three RBIs in his first two games.
Taking their time
Salem’s 3-2, 18-inning loss at Wilmington Tuesday went in the books as the longest game in team history — 4 hours, 41 minutes. It came barely two weeks after Salem went 16 innings against Frederick in a game that took 4:15. What made Tuesday’s marathon more grueling were the 21 strikeouts Salem racked up, including six by Keury De La Cruz in eight at-bats. He fell one punchout shy of the professional record held by former Pawtucket player Russ Laribee . . . Shoulder soreness kept Greenville lefthander Brian Johnson, a first-round pick a year ago, out of action for six weeks. Since returning to Greenville’s rotation July 21, he has a 1.08 ERA over five starts.