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Dietrich Enns is latest to benefit from Rays’ ‘land of opportunity’

Released by Seattle in May 2020, the pitcher was in the right place at the right time in the independent league and now with Tampa Bay.
Lefty Dietrich Enns was signed by the Rays out of an independent league last summer, where he also was serving as the pitching coach.
Lefty Dietrich Enns was signed by the Rays out of an independent league last summer, where he also was serving as the pitching coach. [ MARC TOPKIN | Times ]
Published Aug. 7
Updated Aug. 7

BALTIMORE — Dietrich Enns had been back at his Philadelphia-area home for a couple of months after the spring 2020 pandemic shutdown when he got the call on May 27 from Mariners player development director Andy McKay telling him he’d been released.

Enns quickly reached out to another Seattle pitcher and friend, Louis Head, to check in. Head, living in Arizona, hadn’t heard anything and thought maybe the Mariners were keeping him around for the delayed season. Well, not for long. McKay was going down the list of released players alphabetically and called minutes later.

Neither Enns nor Head really knew what was next.

And certainly not that they’d end up together in the big leagues, sitting in the home bullpen together last week at Tropicana Field.

“The Rays, the land of opportunity, the land of misfits,” Head said. “I mean, it’s definitely cool to watch everything come to fruition. Especially with me and Dietrich and our paths. A lot of us didn’t know what we’re going to do. … A year later, it’s just crazy to think about where we’re at now, compared to where we were at then.”

Head was 30 at the time and, with eight years in the minors, kept throwing for a while in hopes of a chance to chase his big-league dream elsewhere.

With no teams calling, and independent ball opportunities going to cost him money to play, Head started to transition to the real world, going door-to-door selling solar panels (and, he says, quite well).

Rays relief pitcher Louis Head pitches during a game against the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday at Tropicana Field.
Rays relief pitcher Louis Head pitches during a game against the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday at Tropicana Field. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]

Enns, who had just turned 29, was working to get back to the majors after a 2017 cameo with Minnesota. Though he kept training, he, too, was unsure, due to the pandemic, when or even if he would get another chance. He started thinking about a part-time job and, longer term, enrolling through a Major League Baseball program in online classes at Northeastern University with an interest in business management.

He got what seemed like a fringy opportunity, to pitch in a four-team independent league that was hurriedly arranged in July when it became clear there would be no minor-league or full indy ball season.

Enns’ wife, Julie Anne, pushed him to keep pitching, and he did want a chance to show off the recently revamped mechanics that added several mph to his fastball. It helped that the league was based in Joliet, Ill., in the same general Chicago area where he grew up, meaning he could make it work financially by living with his parents, in his childhood bedroom.

But there was a catch. The team, managed by former big-leaguer Scott Spiezio, didn’t have a pitching coach. Since Enns was one of the Tully Monsters’ oldest and most-experienced pitchers — with his two big-league games for the Twins in 2017 — he was asked to also assume those duties. He took his turn in the rotation and coached the rest of the time.

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It wasn’t all bad. “It was a really cool experience,” Enns said. “Really eye-opening to coach but also play and just see the game from a different angle.”

The Rays had interest in signing Head before he ended up with the Mariners in 2020, so when they were looking for a few final pitchers to fill out the spring training roster this year, it was a logical move to reach out again.

They tracked him down, ceded his request for extra time to get back in shape since he had been pitching solar panels rather than baseballs, and inked him to a minor-league deal. Head got called up on his 31st birthday (April 23), debuted two days later and has pitched well, going 1-0, 1.35 in 14 games, while being shuttled up and down seven times, optioned back to Triple-A Saturday.

Ending up with Enns took some serendipity.

Then-Minnesota Twins pitcher Dietrich Enns throws during a spring training game against the Boston Red Sox in 2018 in Fort Myers.
Then-Minnesota Twins pitcher Dietrich Enns throws during a spring training game against the Boston Red Sox in 2018 in Fort Myers. [ JOHN MINCHILLO | AP ]

Kevin Ibach, the Rays’ senior director of pro personnel and pro scouting, lives in the Chicago area, and with scouts not allowed at major-league stadiums and no minor-league games, he kept himself busy going to several indy league games a week. He was often the only scout, and one of a few dozen folks, in attendance.

Enns happened to be starting the night Ibach randomly decided to go to the Monsters game at the Joliet stadium. Ibach remembered scouting Enns as a college pitcher at Central Michigan, especially “what a great human being” he was. The stuff Ibach saw that August night, a fastball at 92-93 mph, sharp curve and a biting cutter, was not familiar, and explained his 2-0, 0.72 ERA over five games, with 42 strikeouts in 25 innings.

“I’m sitting there thinking, this is not the Dietrich Enns I remember,” Ibach said.

He texted Rays general manager Erik Neander, and they agreed — given the injuries and roster shuffling Tampa Bay had been doing — they could use a stretched-out starter at the alternate camp site.

Ibach checked with Spiezio, waited for Enns to deal with some postgame coaching duties, then told him the Rays were interested. Two days later, Enns was a on a plane to Florida, signing a two-year minor-league deal.

He impressed the staff in Port Charlotte to join the Rays’ taxi squad for two trips, was an invitee to big-league camp this spring, and did well enough at Triple-A Durham (6-2, 2.44 in 14 games, including 10 starts) to earn last week’s promotion.

“It’s been a crazy whirlwind,” Enns said.

And another example of a player whose career was on the brink who found a home with the Rays.

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