Tanner Roark, 26, was born an hour south of Chicago in a small town of Wilmington. His father, Toby, was a St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox fan and took him to old Comiskey Park, but also still to Wrigley Field. His mother, Jodi, is a Cubs fans, so she gladly came, too. Roark went the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is as Illinoisan as they come.
Until Monday, though, the rookie right-hander had never been anywhere but the stands at Wrigley Field. On Wednesday, however, not only was he on the mound but what seemed like everyone he has every known was also in attendance. They sat in a section in right field, wore t-shirts, waved posters and screamed for “Tan-ner! Tan-ner! Tan-ner!”
“I heard them all … game … long,” he said.
Tanner entered the game in the fifth innings snapped his 10-inning streak of no earned runs. He coughed up four straight hits and three runs, only two charged to him, before escaping the inning.
“The adrenaline is just pumping big-time and the ball was up a little bit,” said the affable Roark, smiling as if he had just been the his favorite Christmas present. “I need to be able to control that. But it was good to see everybody. It’s awesome to have that kind of support.”
He found none of it embarrassing. In fact, he loved the wild cheering and hollering.
“It’s been a dream of mine to play at Wrigley,” he said. “I’ve been a Cubs fan growing up. I’ve been in the bleachers. I’ve been where all the fans were at [Wednesday]. I love the support. It’s great. It keeps me going.”
A handful of friends and family came to Monday’s Cubs-Nationals game and sat behind the bullpen in foul territory in right field. But Wednesday was the big gathering. That was the day 100 family and friends decided to fill up two “party buses,” as Roark called them, and ride to Wrigley Field together. His younger brother, Dillon, organized the entourage. It was also the only game Roark appeared in this series. It worked out perfectly.
“And they were louder than the whole entire stadium,” Roark said.
Roark settled down in that wild fifth inning on Wednesday and fired a quick scoreless sixth inning. The pride and joy of Wilmington, Ill. just needed time to calm down with all the emotions flowing.
“You don’t want to let the game speed up on you, and that’s what happened,” he said. “The adrenaline was flowing and the ball was up. You just can’t get the balls up. Your two-seamer is going to be flat and it’s not going to sink and everybody is going to hit it like they did. I need to bounce back and take a deep breath and focus on the glove.”
The Nationals see a future in Roark, one of the minor leaguers acquired in the 2010 trade with Texas Rangers for Cristian Guzman that also yielded Ryan Tatusko. Over the final five weeks of the season, the Nationals want to give Roark an opportunity to start. Reaching the majors was a dream for him. Soon he may start. He has already accomplished another fantasy, to stand on the field at Wrigley Field and pitch.
“This is so wild to actually be here,” he said.
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 8, Charlotte 5: Ryan Tatusko allowed four runs on eight hits over five innings. Tyler Robertson tossed two scoreless. Erik Davis gave up a run. Corey Brown hit his 18th homer and went 3 for 5. Eury Perez went 2 for 3 with three RBI.
Erie 4, Harrisburg 1: A.J. Cole allowed three runs over six innings. Pat McCoy tossed two scoreless innings. Jerad Head went 1 for 4 with an RBI.
Winston-Salem 6, Potomac 2: In his first start since his promotion, Brett Mooneyham allowed six runs over three innings. Colin Bates tossed three scoreless innings, Travis Henke added two scoreless and Rob Wort one. Michael Taylor went 1 for 3 with an RBI.
Hagerstown 8, Lakewood 3: Austin Voth allowed three runs on six hits over 4 2/3 innings. Mike McQuillan went 3 for 4 with two RBI and Wil Piwnica-Worms went 3 for 4.
Auburn 4, Batavia 3: Nick Pivetta allowed three runs over four innings. Cory Bafidis, Benjamin Grisz and Andrew Cooper combined for eight scoreless innings. Isaac Ballou went 4 for 6 with three RBI. Bryan Lippincott and Cody Gunter added three hits each.