Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Tanner Roark stormed onto the scene in 2013 for the Nationals as a rookie. He finished the year with a 7-1 record and a 1.51 ERA in 53.2 innings pitched. Roark is said to be in the conversation for the fifth starters spot or a bullpen arm at worst. A big time opportunity for a kid that is from a small town in Illinois.
Wilmington, Illinois is known for the Green Giant at the Launching Pad restaurant on historic Route 66. This town of just over 5,700 was the place where Tanner Roark was born. I live in Gardner, IL, which is another small town about 15 minutes away and there are people cheering for him at all times. Roark attended Wilmington High School and got accepted to pitch at the University of Illinois.
When he was done at U of I, he was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 25th round of the 2008 MLB Draft and signed four days later. Roark made it up to AA Frisco before the trade deadline in 2010. The Nationals acquired two minor league arms in exchange for shortstop Christian Guzman from the Rangers. One of those arms was Tanner. He pitched average in the Nationals farm system in AA Harrisburg and AAA Syracuse from 2010-2013, but late in the year, he got the big call.
Roark got called up in early August and made his debut against the Braves on August 7th. He gave up one hit over two innings of relief for the Nationals and was used as a starter when the calender flipped to September. The most memorable game for me of Tanner’s was the game he pitched against the Cubs at Wrigley. The town of Wilmington setup buses to go up to the game to see Roark pitch. When he got in the game, he got a rousing ovation from the Wilmington faithful. He pitched 1.2 innings that night, gave up four hits and two runs, but got the win in relief.
Roark might just be another bullpen arm to the Nationals fans that live in the area, but to the small towns around Wilmington, he is much more than that. Seeing a guy pitch on the biggest stage who grew up 15 minutes away from you is a big thrill to me. I know fans of other teams always keep an eye on the Nationals’ score when Tanner is scheduled to pitch. Roark didn’t just make it to the big leagues from a small town, but he gave hope to the small town players that have aspirations of making it to the show. Tanner is much more than just a pitcher, he’s a hero to a community.