Cleveland Native Mitch Longo Aims to Play at Home

Mitch Longo, the product of Mayfield, Ohio, walked in his first three plate appearances on a Wednesday night that ended the first week and the first homestand of the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats’ 2018 season. When on base, the 6’ 0″, 185 lb. Longo wears a glove that most closely resembles a penguin’s flipper. The black Velcro straps wind around and above the wrist, securing the cushioned glove in case he should dive back into first base, or slide headfirst when advancing.

Beginning his third season in the Cleveland farm system, Longo sports this contraption to protect the site where he had hand surgery early in 2017. His immediate goal for 2018 is to stay healthy and show the Indians what he can do.

“In short season rookie ball I rolled my ankle, and then last year I broke my hamate bone,” says Longo recalling past injuries. “I don’t want the stigma of not being a guy they can rely on.”

He has played 18 regular season games for the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats, 13 this year and five to finish out the 2017 season. An outfielder under normal conditions, he served as a designated hitter at the close of last season, helping lift the Lynchburg club to a share of the 2017 Carolina League Championship. The title was shared because Hurricane Irma swirled its way up the Atlantic coast, and the finals were canceled due to impending storms.

“It was definitely good to finish on a winning team,” Longo said about the tough start to last year, “to bring that championship taste to yourself so that you know moving forward you can pick out what we did well and carry that to future teams.”

With the September 7th victory over the Frederick Keys, the Hillcats won their first title as a Cleveland farm team. It is their first since 2012, and the eighth in franchise history. Longo made a significant contribution by batting .563 over the last five games of the regular season, with a .650 OBP, three runs batted in, and nine runs scored to push the Hillcats to clinching the second half of the Carolina League season and home field advantage in the Northern Division series.

In the playoff series, Longo would bat .462 and drive in two of the seven runs in the 7-1 victory over Frederick that clinched a share of the title.

“I think it brings nothing but confidence,” he said about the carryover from winning the league title the past season. “Especially for the guys who are returning.”

The Indians selected Longo in the 14th round of the 2016 draft from Ohio University, where he had played three years on the Bobcats squad. The middle of three brothers, Lee being older, and Jack being younger, all fell in love with baseball playing wiffle ball in their childhood backyard.

Lee went on to play four years at Eastern Michigan University in the Middle American Conference, the same conference as Ohio University, but the two brothers never got to face off against one another in college. Mitch had intended to go to Eastern Michigan, but fell in love with Ohio University and signed on there instead.

“When I decided to go to college, my older brother was real supportive,” Longo said. “Lee said, go to a school that I could really see myself being at if it wasn’t for baseball.”

Ohio University fit that bill. “When I stepped on campus, I felt it. It was the people there, the feeling the campus had. Indescribable.”

He never did get to play against Lee because Mitch blew out his ankle in his freshman season, leaving him unable to take the field when Ohio University played Eastern Michigan late in the season. Being a Bobcat made a significant impression on Longo, and he intends to complete his degree there, first by taking some online classes, but eventually returning to campus to finish in person.

“I don’t want to finish online,” he said. “As of right now I’m going to take it a chunk at a time. I’m not too worried about it, but it’s definitely something I’m going to end up doing.”

When he finishes, he will have earned his degree in marketing and communications.

The series of injuries that he has experienced have given him an opportunity to observe others on the field and to learn from the ways in which they play the game.

“I just try to pick up anything I can,” Longo said about watching what goes on during the game. “Watching pitchers, pick a flaw or any kind of pattern they have.”

He honed this skill playing in the wood bat Cape Cod League in 2015 as a member of the Falmouth team. One of the premiere summer leagues, Cape Cod is often a finishing school for players who end up being drafted and making a mark in the professional ranks.

“I had big expectations going in there, maybe too big,” he said about his summer with the Commodores. “I put a lot of pressure on myself and at the same time tried to learn a lot. I kind of got thrown out of whack, but I learned.”

That learning has begun to translate into on the field performance. With Low-A Lake County in 2017 he played 55 games, hitting .361 with a .431 OBP and a .961 OPS. In 2016, he turned in a .307 average, a .349 OBP, and a .758 OPS at Rookie-level Mahoning Valley. Overall, he has a .336 average and a .401 OBP as a professional, just a touch below the .355 average and .426 OBP he turned in during his three years in college.

As one of the veteran players on this year’s Hillcats, Longo is determined to lead the team to more victories. Their record stands at 8-7, though they have already had two inclement weather postponements. His batting average is only at .234, but has a .327 OBP, and led the team to a recent three-game sweep of the Frederick Keys.

“I’m a grinder, I work real hard. That’s something I pride myself on, even on the 1-for-3 or 1-for-4 days. I’m never really satisfied. I enjoy hitting. I love working at it.”

Continuing to refine his game beyond just hitting, he works hard to take better routes to batted balls while patrolling left or right field, and he has learned that there is always more to know about how to be effective stealing a base. That information might come from coaches like Kyle Hudson or Grant Fink, or from teammates, like Hillcats’ 2017 second baseman Sam Haggerty, a strong base stealer.

Every day, Longo gives a complete effort to put the Hillcats in the win column. With persistence, health, and a bit of luck, he might one day wear a Cleveland Indians jersey for a regular season game before a throng of family and hometown fans. Then, he might have more time to indulge his other passion, taking his kayak out to familiar spots around Mayfield to relax and enjoy fishing.

Photo: @LYNHillcats

David Freier was born in Brooklyn New York in 1966 less than a decade after the Dodgers had departed the very same borough. His first professional baseball game was at Yankee stadium and to this day he and his father still argue over who started for the Orioles that day (his father says Mike Cuellar, while he insists it was Jim Palmer). Being a lover of underdogs he naturally became a Mets fan. He grew up in Montclair New Jersey which had the advantage of being home to two baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, as well as having a local college which regularly held baseball card conventions that fed his baseball card hobby. While attending college at the University of Richmond he and some of his friends attended a Richmond Braves game in the then (1985) brand new Diamond stadium, and now home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. This began what has become a passion for the minor leagues of baseball. During his 10 years as a Richmond resident he and his future wife developed an affinity for the Braves, especially when Richmond fan favorite Francisco Cabrera scored the winning run to knock the Pirates from contention and vault the Braves into the World Series of 1991. During extensive travels he has rooted for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis Loons, St. Paul Saints, Iowa Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Erie Sea Wolves, Berkshire Bears and of course the Lynchburg Hillcats. To date he has visited over 110 different baseball parks in which he has seen a game. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2000 and has been a member ever since, where he participates on the Biographical and Minor Leagues committees when time permits. In his day job he is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at Lynchburg College in Virginia.

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