WICHITA, KS- Wichita Wingnuts veteran outfielder Mike Conroy has announced his reirement from professional baseball.
Photo Credit: Jancy Ireland Photography
Conroy played 11 seasons from 2001-12, spending a year away from the game in 2007. The 30-year-old collected 879 base hits in 914 career games, while averaging 85 runs scored, 27 doubles, 11 triples, 79 RBI, 17 stolen bases, and 59 walks per 162 contests. His 28 triples during four seasons in the American Association are tied for the most in league history.
"It's going to be tough not seeing Mike Conroy's name penciled into our lineup this season," said Wingnuts' manager Kevin Hooper. "He left all he had on the field day after day, and played the game the way I want it to be played. Mike will truly be missed by all of us in the Wingnuts' organization, and we wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors."
"I want to thank the City of Wichita and their great support system," said Conroy. "Without them, we wouldn't have the opportunity to play the game we love. To end it with the Wingnuts really means the world to me. My best two years have come with the Wichita Wingnuts, and I'm very fortunate to have had them in my life. That's a testament to the organization and how they run things, from the bat boy all the way up to the owners."
Conroy's professional career started in 2001 when he was drafted 43rd overall by the Cleveland Indians out of Boston College High School in his home state of Massachusetts. Conroy tallied six seasons with the Indians' organization, enjoying strong campaigns in 2003 and 2004. The Weymouth native ranked fourth or better in base hits, RBI, and total bases in the New York-Penn League in 2003, while finishing fifth in triples in the South Atlantic League the following year.
Conroy and the Indians parted ways after 2006, leaving the outfielder unsure about his future. Looking for a change from baseball--but one that would allow him to continue playing sports--Conroy enrolled at the University of Connecticut where he walked onto the Huskies' football team as a wide receiver. The 24-year-old "freshman" embraced his experience both on the field and back in the classroom, but the longer Conroy was away from baseball, the more he realized how much he missed it.
"I went back to play college football, and it was the best thing that happened for my career and my personal life," said Conroy. "I understood that baseball meant so much to me and it re-established the love and passion I had for the game."
Conroy revived his baseball career in 2008, earning a roster spot with the Atlantic League's Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. Just a few weeks into the season, he was traded to the expansion Grand Prairie AirHogs in the relatively new American Association. Conroy hit .294 for Grand Prairie, and helped the first-year club reach the league's championship series. In 2009, Conroy again split time with Southern Maryland and Grand Prairie, hitting a combined .300, and leading the American Association in triples.
"Independent baseball changed my perspective on pro baseball," said Conroy. "'Indy' ball is about winning, rather than developing players. If you focus on winning, the player you want to be will follow suit."
As he neared 30 years of age, Conroy took the opportunity to play closer to home in 2010, and signed with the Can-Am League's Brockton Rox. Conroy helped Brockton reach the postseason, and the ability to play in front of family and friends for an entire summer seemed a perfect way to wind down a decade-long career.
When Conroy had yet to sign with a club in May of 2011, he was at peace with the game of baseball, and stepping away for good became a serious consideration. Then he received a phone call from an old friend--Wingnuts' Bench Coach Brian Rose.
The Wingnuts were in the middle of spring training, and with just days left before opening night, the team learned that veteran outfielder Brent Clevlen had been purchased by the Cincinnati Reds. Wichita was faced with the possibility of beginning 2011 with a void in both their outfield and lineup. Rose--who was Conroy's bench coach in Grand Prairie--had spoken highly of Conroy in the past, and with a key roster spot now open, forming a partnership made perfect sense.
"I want to give a special thanks to Brian Rose for beliving in me and bringing me to the Wingnuts' family," said Conroy.
Retirement could wait. Conroy jumped at the opportunity to reunite with his former coach, and brought his versatile skill set and all-out style of play to Wichita. Conroy hit .302 with 66 runs scored, 23 doubles, 10 triples, 16 stolen bases, nine outfield assists, and was named Wichita's Unsung Hero at the end of the year. On July 13th, Conroy made the signature defensive play in the Wingnuts' combined no-hitter against the Shreveport-Bossier Captains, robbing a potential game-tying home run atop the left-center field wall.
Both Conroy and the Wingnuts were eager to continue their relationship into 2012, and the veteran once again provided a steady presence at the top and bottom of the batting order. Conroy hit .287, cracked more than 20 doubles for a second straight year, and stole a career-high 21 bases.
During his five seasons in independent basbeall, Conroy hit .285, posted a .375 on-base percentage, had more hits (450) than games played (445), and helped his team reach the postseason four times. However, as important as Conroy's statistical contributions were to the Wingnuts' back-to-back division titles over the past two years, his greatest assets were his intangibles.
Despite his status as a seasoned veteran, Conroy sprinted on the basepaths and in the outfield as if he were playing on a one-game contract. He ran through first base on every routine groundball, charged every bloop single to ensure he was in the proper throwing position, and if he popped the ball up, he would be standing on second base by the time an infielder made the catch. And while the impact of this playing style allowed Conroy to take advantage of a lazy throw, nonchalant baserunning, or defensive miscommunication by the opposition, it represented much more. The style was infectious, and Conroy employing that style as a veteran set a positive example for younger players on the team.
"I definitely take pride in playing the game the right way," said Conroy. "Whether it's working hard on your routine in batting practice, or running down to first base as hard as you can, it's leading by example and that's what I take pride in. If you can instill that in all the guys in the clubhouse, you're going to be successful."
Maximum hustle and effort were not the only intangibles Conroy possessed that made an impact on the Wingnuts. His positive and upbeat personality rubbed off on those around him. Teammates, coaches, and fans enjoyed being around Conroy, who could always be found in a good mood. Make no mistake, Conroy took a loss as hard as anyone, but he never allowed failures from the previous night to affect his attitude or approach in the present. This was another infectious quality that helped create the clubhouse chemistry that anchored the 2012 Wingnuts' run to the American Association Championship Series.
"The game of baseball owes you nothing," said Conroy. "We as players and coaches owe the game. You give back to the game by respecting it, and by playing with passion and pride. You can have a playoff team on paper, but championships are won in the clubhouse."
Conroy recently completed his undergraduate degree and is exploring several job opportunities in business. While "traditional" employment is on the horizon, Conroy would like to stay connected with baseball, and has expressed interest in helping the Wingnuts in a player procurment role. Conroy still calls Massachussets home, but he will always have fond memories of Wichita.
"The past 12 years have delivered and presented me with a bunch of opportunities I wouldn't have had otherwise," said Conroy. "I'm hoping to take the life lessons and ideals I learned from the game of baseball into the workforce. Baseball has given me everything, so it's definitely an emotional time. Thanks again to the City of Wichita, the American Association, the Wingnuts ownership and front office, and to the guys that went to battle with me day-in and day-out. I will never forget the memories that we created."
The 2013 season of Wichita Wingnuts baseball begins Thursday, May 16th against the Kansas City T-Bones at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. For season tickets, group outings, or party packages, call the Wingnuts' main office at (316) 264-NUTS, or visit the Wingnuts' official website at www.wichitawingnuts.com