Pair Of Former Milwaukee Pitchers Back Together Again
Aug. 13, 2012
MILWAUKEE - It feels like the good old days for Chad Pierce and Eric Semmelhack, both currently members of the starting rotation for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the Milwaukee Brewers Class `A' minor league affiliate located in Appleton, Wis.
Just two seasons ago, the former University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee baseball players were weekend starters for the Panthers, with Pierce earning Horizon League Pitcher of the Year and First-Team All-Horizon League honors while making 15 starts. Semmelhack, just a sophomore that season, took his turn right after Pierce each week and made 14 starts of his own.
Pierce went on to be drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers after the season was over, selected in the 38th round and then spending the summer with the Helena Brewers, the team's rookie affiliate in Montana. This season, he moved up to the roster of the Timber Rattlers following Spring Training.
"Being in a starting rotation in professional baseball alone is something that is a great feat," Pierce said. "The organization thinks enough of you that they allow you to be able to go out there and cover most of the innings in a game. They feel that you are capable of putting your team in a shot to win every game, and that's something that I feel is a great honor."
Now on to Semmelhack, who was drafted by the Brewers in the 12th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft after finishing first in the Horizon League in strikeouts and strikeouts looking, second in starts, fifth in opponent average and sixth in ERA during his junior campaign.
His professional career also started at Helena this summer, where he made just six starts before being called up to the Timber Rattlers roster.
"My experience in Montana was very interesting," Semmelhack said. "It was definitely a new life experience and a new test of character for me. A favorite memory would be my first home start in Helena."
The odds of two college teammates drafted in different years ending up in the same rotation are slim considering the hundreds of minor league teams across the country, something certainly not lost on either of the former Panthers.
"Now throw in the fact that I'm in a starting rotation with a college teammate, it's just very unique and surreal," Pierce said. "UWM hasn't had many professional baseball players throughout the years but with this year and last, we've added four to the professional ranks. I would have never thought I'd be throwing in the same rotation as another guy from my school, with how many organizations there are. I think this is something that is pretty cool and something that not only Eric and I should be proud about, but the whole university as a whole."
"It is just like the old days," Semmelhack said. "We are both trying to go out and have quality starts and help the team win each week. It is very similar to our time at UWM, but just at a whole different level."
Pierce has found quite a bit of success on the field this season, especially after moving into his spot in the starting rotation in the middle of the campaign. He is 5-4 overall in 2012, posting a 3.67 ERA in 23 games, striking out 94 batters in 100.2 innings of work. He moved into the starting rotation full-time at the end of June and then proceeded to go 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA in six July starts, striking out 33 and walking just 10 in 41.0 innings, allowing just 30 hits.
Semmelhack joined the Rattlers in late July, making his first appearance July 23 and then his first start against the Clinton LumberKings. He gave up just four hits in 5.0 shutout innings that day, but ended up not figuring in the decision. The new guy came up big his next start, however, earning his first victory with 5.0 innings of work, allowing one run on three hits in a win over the Burlington Bees.
"Everyone has been the `new person' at least once, and you want to make them as comfortable as possible when they walk into a new environment," Pierce said. "A good thing for Eric was that he played with a couple of the guys already in Helena, so he knew not only me, but other players as well. He's a very hard worker and a good teammate and he has worked his butt off to get to where he is today. It doesn't happen often that you have college teammates on the same professional team, but we are one of the few."
It was a long road to Montana for Semmelhack to start his professional career, so being back in Appleton is a welcome move for the Oak Creek native.
"It feels great being so much closer to home," Semmelhack said. "It's great being able to see family and friends more often when they come to games and it puts you in a comfort zone just knowing you're playing in the state you grew up in."
With the addition of Paul Hoenecke and Jordan Guth also being drafted in 2012, it brings the total to four the amount of UWM players currently in MLB's minor leagues. Hoenecke, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, is tearing up the Arizona Rookie League. He is currently batting close to .400 in 25 games, scoring 18 runs and driving in 28 more on the strength of 21 extra-base hits. Guth, after being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the ninth round, currently plays for Williamsport Crosscutters and is 1-2 in seven games, striking out 12 and walking just two in 28.0 innings on the mound. It's an incredible feat for a program that never had more than one player drafted in a single season and just 10 players drafted all-time prior to Pierce.
"UWM baseball has really taken off since the day I arrived on campus and there are only greater things to happen for baseball at the school," Pierce said. "Playing professional baseball is hard, and it's a great feat for our university to have two athletes suiting up for the same team in a professional organization."