GRANVILLE — David Carpenter carved his own unique path to Major League Baseball, and now that his playing days are behind him, he’s in a position to help others do the same.
Carpenter, a former six-year MLB relief pitcher, is in his first season managing the West Virginia Black Bears of the MLB Draft League. He guided the team to an exciting 6-5 victory in its home opener at Mon County Ballpark on Tuesday.
“It’s fun, especially seeing this place alive and really having people come out to support the guys,” Carpenter said. “For some of these guys, it’s probably the most eyes they’ve gotten to play in front of, it excites them and gets them an opportunity to experience something that is close to pro-style baseball.”
Carpenter is very familiar with north-central West Virginia, having been born in Morgantown and growing up in Fairmont. He graduated from East Fairmont High School and played his college baseball at WVU.
A catcher for the Mountaineers, Carpenter was drafted in the 12th round of the 2006 MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. After catching for two seasons in the minors, Carpenter transitioned into a full-time pitcher in 2009 and his career took off.
He made his Major League debut in 2011 for the Houston Astros and finished his rookie season with a 2.93 ERA in 27 2/3 innings. He would also take the mound for Toronto, Atlanta, the New York Yankees, Washington and Texas, eventually finishing his career with a 3.69 ERA in 214 2/3 innings.
Carpenter said his path to the Majors is something he can use as an example for the Black Bears’ players who are trying to turn pro themselves.
“Everybody has their own story, everybody has their own background on how they got there,” Carpenter said. “The position you’re currently playing might not be the one that a Major League scout sees you playing at your highest level.”
Carpenter last appeared in the Majors for the Texas Rangers in 2019. After retiring, he took his first coaching job as a pitching coach at Fairmont State University. Managing the Black Bears this summer is his first chance to be a head coach.
“It’s exciting for me,” Carpenter said. “I got the opportunity down at Fairmont State to do pitching coach duties and have an impact across the board. Getting the chance to come up here is a lot of fun. It’s definitely something I want to expand upon and hopefully get an opportunity to do it at a higher level, whether that’s the division-I level or getting back to pro ball.”
In preparing for his first job as a manager and for facing the unique challenges of the Draft League, Carpenter was able to consult with someone who has plenty of first-hand experience, former Black Bears manager and fellow area native Jedd Gyorko.
“I’ve known Jedd basically since he was 15 years old,” Carpenter said. “We have a relationship and we kind of joked back and forth about what all is going to be going on. Just little things that friends talk about. I was thankful to talk to him about it.”
The biggest quirk of the Draft League is the difference between the first half of the season, the pre-draft portion, and the second half, the professional portion. The pre-draft portion lasts the first 30 games of the season and the professional portion, which brings in a new crop of players, is the final 50 games.
“It’s something that I take serious, being able to impact these guys that I have for a short period of time,” Carpenter said. “Trying to express to them here’s how you play this game and here’s how you play this game to be successful and still have fun. How to go out there and do your job, but enjoy doing it.”
Draft League managers were not given a lot of time to get familiar with their players before games started last week, but Carpenter said his background as both a catcher and a pitcher has helped him learn how to evaluate guys quickly and determine where to slot them in the lineup and pitching staff.
“It’s just being able to watch their swings progress during batting practice, watching bullpens and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “As a former catcher and a former pitcher, you read swings all the time. That’s what I did for a living.”
The main goal of the Draft League isn’t’ necessarily winning, although winning is nice, it is ultimately to help as many players as possible reach the next level. To that end, Carpenter said his main focus for the players is having fun and making the most of their time in the professional setting.
“You’re trying to go at it with the best attitude, your best swing, but enjoy yourself while you’re out there,” Carpenter said of his advice to players. “If you’re going out there and you’re constantly grinding and you’re not enjoying it, then it’s a job. Go enjoy this because then it turns into a career that you love.
“There does come a day when you have to step away from it, so enjoy every time you get a chance to go out there.”