GENEVA – Cougars relief pitcher Nathan Dorris backed the St. Louis Cardinals growing up, falling in line with the majority of baseball fans in deep southern Illinois.
Then Dorris attended a Cubs game at Wrigley Field with the family of a friend during middle school, and life – or at least his baseball fanhood – would never be the same.
“I just fell in love immediately,” Dorris said. “Switched to the dark side, if you will, as they put it down south.”
Dorris fell for the Cubs, and if the 22-year-old lefty keeps pitching this way, the feeling could become mutual.
One of six Cougars to make the Western Division’s Midwest League All-Star team, Dorris will take a quick detour from his sizzling season to participate in the league’s showcase game tonight in Dayton, Ohio.
“It’s just exciting to go out there and represent the Kane County Cougars, represent the Cubs and represent my family, and meet some of the guys around the league … and it’s just another opportunity to go out there and play baseball, which gets me excited,” Dorris said.
Left-handed batters are hard-pressed to summon similar enthusiasm when Dorris is on the mound.
The statistical calling card for Dorris this season: He has allowed only one hit to left-handed batters in 25 at-bats.
He uses his curveball extensively against lefties while focusing more on his change-up as his offspeed against right-handed hitters, but Dorris said he tries not to pigeonhole himself as a potential specialist.
“My job is to get a hitter out, no matter what the case, left-handed or right-handed,” Dorris said. “I just go up there and try to pitch.”
Overall, Dorris was 2-2 with a 2.79 ERA in the first half of the season. Right-handed hitters had 23 of the 24 hits he has allowed and are batting .277 against him.
Dorris is one of two Illinois natives on the Cougars, having attended high school in Marion.
That’s just about 15 minutes from Carbondale, where Dorris pitched collegiately at Southern Illinois University.
Dorris committed to play for longtime former Saluki baseball coach Dan Callahan, a highly popular figure in southern Illinois who died from skin cancer in November 2010, when Dorris still was pitching at Rend Lake College. Callahan had recruited Dorris out of high school as well as junior college.
“That was a tough thing, a tough thing for the university and the program,” Dorris said. “But [current SIU coach Ken Henderson] did a great job of stepping in. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t going there to play for Callahan, I was going to be a part of the Saluki family, just their idea of baseball and the way they represented themselves.”
Dorris originally committed to Vanderbilt before re-routing to junior college after being drafted out of high school by the Atlanta Braves in the 45th round. The Cubs selected Dorris in the 17th round of the 2012 draft.
Cougars manager Mark Johnson called Dorris “a super competitor” who benefits from his mound presence.
“He just has conviction,” Johnson said. “When he’s on the mound, he has the ball and he has a plan and he throws each pitch with conviction. … When you’re locked into making that one pitch ahead of time and you have conviction with it, good things usually happen.”
Dorris, who lives with a host family in St. Charles, said he has enjoyed the relative proximity to his family, which was able to visit him as recently as this weekend.
As for his buddies from southern Illinois who once were unimpressed by his decision to switch allegiances to the Cubs, they’ve had to do a little baseball soul-searching themselves in light of the trajectory Dorris’ career is taking.
“It turns out now all my friends at least have a little bit of a reason to cheer for the Cubs now even though they vowed they never would,” he said.