How far would you go to live out your dream?
All around America? How about Canada? Or Australia and Japan?
Would you sleep on a yoga mat in small town Ohio to play 9AM games in Pennsylvania then work all evening?
That is what Yinzer League Assistant Director of Day to Day Operations and LHP pitcher Ken Williams has done.
Ken, a Seattle native, took quite a path in his baseball career. Born to an American father and Japanese mother, Ken speaks fluent English and Japanese. He credits his mother and his Saturday Japanese school classmates with his love for baseball at an early age. His mother’s brother was a baseball coach in Japan. She was always around the sport and passed on her love for the game to her son. Ken would always play catch and practice with her, and then grab some balls and a bat and play on Saturday afternoons while attending a Japanese school throughout his youth and early teen years.
After trying a little of everything between various sports and activities, nothing stuck with Ken quite like baseball. He played all through high school and, although he wasn’t scouted or a college prospect, he just couldn’t give up on the sport when graduation rolled around.
After sending out countless emails, Oklahoma City University offered him an academic scholarship and the opportunity to walk-on to the baseball team. He played four years of club ball while having a handful of collegiate level appearances.
When his years at Oklahoma City were over, Ken learned that he had a year of college eligibility left to play. Still not ready to give up on the game that he loved, he played a season of summer ball and then went to the University of Arkansas for one last year of collegiate baseball.
With his college eligibility finally running out, Ken still wasn’t satisfied and looked to continue his dream. Next stop… Canada.
He played in the WMBL (now known as the WCBL) for the Weyburn Beavers in Saskatchewan, Canada. He went 5-0 with a 2.95 ERA in 50 innings helping the Beavers to a Division Championship.
But why stop just in North America? Ken put his name out on Baseball Jobs Overseas and landed a spot on a club team in Perth, Australia. There, he played once a week for over six months where he pitched another 50 innings.
As his Australian contract was winding down, Ken was still ready to continue playing. He learned that he could get a flight to Japan, stay a few weeks, play with yet another team, and then fly back to the United States to meet up with the Black Sox.
So after two and a half weeks traveling across Japan and playing some club ball (with a scrimmage game against a Corporation team as well), Ken headed back “home” for the first time in 9 months.
While in Florida, he hooked up with Joe Torre and the Black Sox for the first time. During his three weeks there (dodging his Airbnb host since he was out of money), Ken was offered a spot on the Black Sox tour in Cleburne, TX.
After road tripping from Texas to California for a tryout. He ended up signing to the Pecos League… which is an adventure all by itself.
He caught bullpens and then eventually played with the Monterey Amberjacks for a month, had three games with the California City Whiptails then slept in the locker room at Adelanto Stadium and joined the Wasco Reserve for a month when they showed up to play at the stadium the next day.
After three Pecos teams in two months, Ken then ended the season in the Pacific Association with the Salina Stockade… but even that wasn’t easy.
After throwing a bullpen for Napa, Salina’s manager said that he would pick him up. Ken traveled to the second game of their double header and caught bullpens. However, a few guys were sent to Salina, and he was unable to be activated.
While living in a rental car in Planet Fitness parking lots eating off a hot plate, Ken still traveled with the team and was finally rewarded for his struggles by being added to the roster and pitching in the last two games of the season.
If you’re counting… that was over 16 straight months of baseball.
Now enter 2020 and the craziness of last summer.
During the pandemic, the Yinzer Confederacy League was born out of a need and desire to continue playing baseball in Washington, PA. The Washington WildThings had an empty stadium and two teams full of players ready to play, and the Black Sox were looking for somewhere to call home with teams of their own.
As you may have guessed it, Ken wasn’t one to sit home during a pandemic and NOT continue playing baseball. So off he went to Pennsylvania for the summer.
That leads us to this year… back with the Yinzer League, Ken is an absolute workhorse. He is a lefty that can start and go deep or come out of the pen and do whatever it takes to finish the game. He can’t rely on his velocity alone, so he learned to specialize in keeping hitters off-balance – changing the tempo, mixing up the speed on his fastballs, and using a change and breaking ball.
When he isn’t playing, he also does broadcasting duties on their YouTube live streams of games, is the PA announcer, and handles day-to-day operations such as handing out charting and foul ball duties during games.
After their games are finished, it’s time for the home team – the Washington WildThings – to come in and host Frontier League baseball. During homestands, you can find Ken working the concession stands and waiting on guests in the suites.
When I told his Baseball Brilliance Sox manager, Mark Demko, that I was writing this article to be posted on Ken’s 26th birthday (Happy Birthday my dude!) he gave me the perfect title for this article…
“Ohhh that article will be a good one,” Demko said. “He’s a natural born hustler. A real grinder right there.” – As Ken just struck out a Wolfpac player in the first game of a double header. (He went on to get the victory in a complete 7 inning game).
Honestly, I couldn’t say it better myself. A hustler. A true indy ball grinder.
So what’s the end goal? Why go through all these struggles to keep playing baseball?
Ken’s ultimate goal is to play baseball for Team Japan. He loves the Japanese style of play and their respect for the game. A respect that he carries with him on and off the field here back in the states.
To make those dreams come true, he knows the struggle and grind can never be over here. The Yinzer needs to be a stepping stone, not a final destination. To play in Japan, he’s going to need to put up decent numbers in respected leagues here before he will ever get a shot to play on his dream team… or just go in as a translator and try to be available if they ever need a lefty who is ready to throw. And honestly, knowing Ken’s track record of hustling and making it onto teams on his own accord, I have no doubt in my mind if anyone could make that happen it would be him.
As for after baseball, he sees himself potentially in a front office role. He has the drive and dedication as well as the professionalism to make it happen. But hopefully that doesn’t happen for a long time.
Because as long as you’re still playing. As long as there is a jersey on your back and a desire to keep playing… that childhood dream that was formed when playing catch with mom in the backyard is still always alive.