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Melonheads' Top Pitching Prospect Tosses No-No in Winter Ball
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22 Jun 2019

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30 Jun 2019 05:36:33 AM
BOTHELL, WASHINGTON - When Gary Collins was born in 2016 in Elk Grove, California, baseball fields around the country remained underwater, and the game itself had all but faded from the nation's memory. Today, at the tender age of 18, he's already etched his name in its history books.

It's been a meteoric rise for Collins, who was first noticed this April in his hometown when he threw a cantaloupe "well over two hundred feet," as one onlooker noted, to nail a would-be shoplifter making their escape from the convenience store where a 17-year old Collins worked part time in the head, rendering the thief unconscious and recovering the $8 in stolen merchandise. Norman Ellison - who was working for the nearby Sacramento Dolphins as a talent scout for the upcoming revitalization of the game once known as the nation's pastime - witnessed the event firsthand and approached Collins, encouraging him to give baseball a shot.

Collins was reluctant at first.

"Ma was not on board," he explained. "Her grandpa used to play baseball back in the olden days, before the Great Flood, and she said it put a real strain on his family, what with all the travel. I talked it over with her, and I said I didn't have time to travel all over the place. But Mr. Ellison said I would be playing for a team in Sacramento, so I wouldn't be too far. Plus, games weren't even starting until the fall, well after graduation, so I could get my degree first."

Indeed, unofficial play for the new era of baseball began in September of this year, and Collins began his career in earnest with the Dolphins, pitching ten games for the team throughout the fall. In those ten games, Collins was one of the best in the sport, hurling 58 innings to the tune of a 1.55 earned run average and 56 strikeouts. His performance certainly caught the eye of team owner D.T. Igers, who - when he made the decision to consolidate the best of his two teams' players onto the Bothell-based Humongous Melonheads - gave Collins the call onto the "A" team so-to-speak for the forthcoming winter season. Collins was overjoyed at the prospect. His mother, not so much.

"My mom gave me a hard time about the winter ball thing," Collins told us with a laugh, "she said 'you've already been playing all fall, and now you're going to play all winter! How much time do you need to spend playing some silly game?' But I was really starting to enjoy playing baseball, and there were even rumors about professional leagues starting back up, so if I've got a chance to make money playing a sport, I'd be stupid not to take it. I seem to have a knack for this thing anyway. Maybe I got it from Grandpa."

Perhaps Collins is onto something. Last night, against the Maryhill Magyars, he accomplished one of baseball's greatest feats: a no-hitter.

"Of course I knew a little about baseball from my grandfather, so I knew what a no-hitter was, and what it meant," said Collins. "I didn't even realize it until I walked that guy, and James gave the ump an earful."

Collins is referring to his seventh inning walk of Magyars lead-off man Jeffrey Black, who took a close pitch on the outside corner with a 3-2 count. The umpire signaled ball four, and Collins lost his bid for a perfect game, a feat even rarer - and more impressive - than a no-hitter. But Collins didn't let that get to him: he retired the next three batters in order and completed the game without so much as a hiccup, ultimately completing his masterpiece with just the one baserunner allowed and nine strikeouts to boot. When second baseman Lynn Griffin closed his glove around Black's pop-up to record the final out, his fellow Melonheads mobbed him at the pitcher's mound, celebrating their teammate's achievement as well as the 6-0 Humongous victory.

While it may ultimately go down as a footnote - whether due to the game's resurgence overshadowing a teenager's winter league performance or baseball itself stumbling back into obscurity - Collins will not soon forget throwing one of the game's first no-hitters in over 60 years.

"I'll be home soon, Ma." Collins answered when asked if he had a message for his family. Then, with a wink, he added:

"At least until Spring Training."

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