Tanner Roark is used to coming home and pitching in his home state. A 2005 Wilmington graduate, Roark has enjoyed a successful major league pitching career, with 2019 serving as his seventh year in the big leagues.
In seven appearances (six starts) in Illinois, all against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, he compiled a 5-1 record and 2.68 earned run average at the Friendly Confines.
Saturday was a new twist in Roark’s homecoming, as he made his Guaranteed Rate Field debut in his first start against the Chicago White Sox.
Roark had his homecoming spoiled, however, as White Sox starter Reynaldo Lopez edged him in a low-scoring affair the White Sox won by a 3-2 score.
“I just feel like I got beat,” Roark said. “It was a pitcher’s duel for the most part, and Lopez came out on top.”
Although he was a tough-luck loser in the scorebook, Roark shined again in his South Side debut, as he allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits, no walks and seven strikeouts.
It was Roark’s fourth quality start — allowing no more than three earned runs in at least six innings — in Chicago. The statistics might prove otherwise, but Roark said butterflies return to his stomach each time he comes home.
“It’s weird because I get a little nervous that I’ve gotta do really well for the hometown crowd supporting me,” Roark said. “I know they’re Cubs fans and they’re White Sox fans, so them still showing me support is really cool.
“There were a bunch of people when I was down in the bullpen, saying ‘hello’ and stuff; it’s really cool.”
There were scores, if not hundreds, of Roark supporters at the ballpark Saturday, many of whom either had a hand in his growing up in Wilmington or have picked him up as a role model from the same town.
For Roark, the ability to pitch in front of the same eyes that saw him win a pair of state championships every once in a while helps keep his competitive fire fed.
“Coming from where I grew up in a small town, everybody knew who I was,” Roark said. “Making a name for our town of Wilmington is really cool, and I’m just [going to] try and keep going.”
Roark’s latest return home has come at one of the most interesting moments in his career. In the offseason, Roark was traded from the Washington Nationals, where he made three postseason appearances, to Cincinnati.
With the Reds sitting near the bottom of the National League, Roark was a trade deadline acquisition by the Athletics, who find themselves square in the middle of the American League playoff hunt, just 1½ games back of Tampa Bay for the second wild card spot.
“I’ve been there before, so I have that experience, and I get that excitement again of competing in a playoff race,” Roark said. “Every game matters and that’s exciting to watch every single pitch, every single play, every single game.”
He said he still is feeling out his new teammates — Saturday was just his second start with Oakland — but he already has learned what makes his new team a special one.
“I’ll give my tips here and there, and they’ll give their tips here and there,” Roark said. “That’s what’s good about this team is nobody’s afraid to speak their mind, let you know what you need to do.”
He saw that firsthand Saturday. Down 3-0 and down to their last strike in the ninth inning, the Athletics rallied to score a pair of runs and load the bases before finally succumbing in their one-run loss.
Roark said the ability his team showed to fight and grind will take them a long way.
“We battled back in the ninth, so it shows we’re never out of it,” Roark said. “It was good to see guys keep fighting and keep battling.”
Whether it be his postseason experience or his time playing for the United States in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, where he threw four scoreless innings in the semifinals, Roark has had plenty of baseball memories to pile up.
But coming home is always at the top.
“It’s definitely really, really cool, just getting the texts and the calls before you even pitch,” Roark said. “Them knowing and telling you they’re gonna be there makes me want to prove myself to everybody that I can still do it.”
Not only do his hometown fans show him support but they also do it on their own dime.
“Guess how many tickets I gave out [Saturday]? Zero,” Roark said. “They get their own; they’re always really good with that.”