Baseball journey

Four former Mavs playing pro ball in independent league

Erik Kozel is one of four former Mesa players playing in the independent Pecos League. Three of the Mavs play for the Santa Fe (N.M.) Fuego.

Matt Williams made his debut with the Santa Fe (N.M.) Fuego on Tuesday, getting a no-decision after allowing four runs on six hits in four innings.

Four former Colorado Mesa University baseball players had hopes of being drafted.

Although they weren’t taken in June’s draft, they aren’t giving up on their Major League Baseball dreams.

Pitchers Aaron Corwin, Nolan Snell and Matt Williams and catcher Erik Kozel began their professional careers last week with independent teams in the Pecos League. The league has eight teams, including five in New Mexico, one in southern Colorado and one in west Texas.

Corwin, Kozel and Williams all signed with the Taos (N.M.) Blizzard initially, but were traded after one game in which a brawl broke out, they said.

“We were all involved, but we didn’t throw any punches,” Corwin said.

All of the players on the Blizzard were either traded or released after the brawl, Corwin said, and the team was remade with different players.

Corwin was traded to the Alpine (Texas) Cowboys. Kozel and Williams joined Snell with the Sante Fe (N.M.) Fuego. Williams made his debut on the mound Tuesday night. He was pulled after four innings, but he had the lead and settled for a no-decision. He allowed four runs on six hits.

“I’m awfully blessed,” Williams said. “I’m thanking God I can continue playing baseball.

“I told myself I’d give it two years to pursue my dreams. I’m excited about it.”

Williams is living with Kozel with a host family in Sante Fe.

Kozel planned on attending tryouts for Major League teams after the Mesa season. He participated in a Grand Junction Rockies tryout with Corwin and Williams.

“I was told some (MLB) affiliated scouts were looking at me and wanted to see me play at a higher level,” Kozel said. “It’s a blessing. I’m excited.”

Corwin was happy to get another chance to play professionally after a “disappointing” outing with the Grand Junction Rockies in an exhibition game three weeks ago.

“So far, it’s been a bit of an adventure,” Corwin said. “It’s another chance to play baseball.”

Corwin already has been told he probably will be invited back to the Alpine (Texas) Cowboys next season if he doesn’t get an opportunity with an affiliated MLB team.

“We were a bunch of guys that loved playing baseball,” Kozel said. “That’s why we were such a solid team. There was no convincing each other to do this. It was: ‘Let’s do this!’

“It’s nice to have each other. It allows for a certain comfort level. We have each other to toss ideas (around to). It’s unique and awesome.”

Mike Provencher, who played on the 2009 Mesa State World Series team, is playing in the American Association Independent League. He is in his fifth season in the league. He was traded from the Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs to the Laredo (Texas) Lemurs on July 5. The infielder hit .228 with two home runs and 19 RBI in 46 games for the Saltdogs before he was traded.

Provencher, 25, began his professional career in 2009 with the El Paso (Texas) Diablos. He played several positions for the Mavericks, including catcher, shortstop, third base, first base and outfield.

A potential future Colorado Mesa Maverick, Clay Miller of Bayfield, was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in June. He has until 3 p.m. (MDT) today to sign, or he will attend Mesa.


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