For nearly 25 straight years, Suzan and Steve Karinchak have been watching their kids play baseball. Whether it was at local Little League fields, Valley Central, college or a big-league ballpark, it was one of the most consistent parts of their lives.
After not being able to watch any games live in 2020, due to coronavirus limitations, they will be heading out to Cleveland for the April 5 home opener. They are hoping to watch their son pitch for the Indians.
“That was the first year, and God-bless us that we’ve been so lucky, but it’s the first year we haven’t been to a baseball game live since Brendyn started t-ball – and he’s turning 28,” said Suzan Karinchak, James and Brendyn Karinchak’s mom.
James is beginning his second season in the big leagues and first full season, after 2020 was shortened to 60 games. The right-handed power reliever has worked his way through the Cleveland system and will be used in a late-inning relief role, with the closer position still up for grabs.
“The last time I saw him play was his debut on September 14, 2019, when we all went out there,” said Brendyn Karinchak, James’ brother. “I know my mom loved going out there and seeing him play in college and the minors and cheering him on whenever she could. It probably impacted her most, not being able to go out there.”
In 2019, Karinchak’s parents also made a trip to Washington DC in late September, to see him pitch against the Nationals. That was the last time they saw him play in person until Spring Training this year.
“It was horrible,” Sue said. “We had gone down to Spring Training in 2020, Steve and I. It rained the first day we were there and then the next day they canceled the rest of Spring Training because of COVID. Then James flew home with us.”
After returning to Walden and doing his best to stay ready, Karinchak returned to Cleveland in July 2020, an unusual time for everyone. With increased roster sizes, he was able to make the team and find his niche in the bullpen.
“Last July we actually made a video, just our family, which they played on the big screen at the stadium for the players, since there weren’t any fans,” explained Sue, who also arranged for there to be cardboard cutouts of everyone.
Steve and Suzan got a head start on games this season by traveling to Phoenix, Arizona for Spring Training. They will go out to Progressive Field for the April 5 home opener.
“He had a rocky spring and was up and down a lot, so it was nice for him to get off on the right foot,” Steve said of James’ first outing of the regular season on April 1. “His last game of the spring was very good and hopefully he can keep in the right direction.”
The Indians began their 2021 season on the road, in Detroit. He threw one inning, striking out one and walking one.
“I thought he did pretty well,” Brendyn said of James’ first appearance this year. “I was actually at work when he came in, but I have the MLB App on my phone so I tuned into that. I get notifications on pitching changes for the Indians, so whenever his name comes up, I’m able to watch.”
While Brendyn won’t be making the trip to Cleveland with his parents this week, he’s hoping to catch a game sometime in the near future.
“I’m definitely going to make a trip either out there or maybe somewhere else when I get some time off,” he said. “I don’t think they come to Yankee Stadium until September.”
A key move from the Indian’s offseason was not resigning their closer, Brad Hand – showing a lot of confidence in their young bullpen. During Spring Training, Karinchak was in a competition with fellow relievers Emmanuel Clase and Nick Wittgren for the job. After a subpar spring, Indians manager Terry Francona elected to go by closer-by-committee, to begin the season.
“We’re trying to develop Karinchak and have him be a weapon at the same time,” Francona said during a virtual press conference. “So, rather than pigeon-holing him into a certain inning, I think we can help that along, too.”
While he doesn’t have the closer role locked up yet, he will still get those opportunities with Hand gone.
“He’s still really young and has a lot to prove,” Brendyn said. “I think having a year under Hand - it helped him understand a lot of things about pitching in the big leagues, especially about the closer role.”
The key to his success is going to be consistency. The 6.10 ERA he posted during Spring Training came from a select few poor outings. In 10.1 innings, he struck out 21 and walked 10 – a number he needs to cut down on.
“He had a few outings in Spring Training where he was a little wild and he knows that his biggest improvement has got to be throwing the ball where he wants to throw it and getting ahead,” Brendyn said. “His strikeout numbers are ridiculous, but if he can limit the walks that would take him to the next level.”
That next level, for Brendyn, would be seeing his brother on the American League All-Star team, though it’s definitely going to be one step at a time.
“I’d like to see him cut down on the walks and get very consistent,” Steve said. “Making the All-Star team and establishing himself as a solid closer would be great too. Really I hope he’s able to stay up there for the 162 games and stay healthy.”
Now that the Karinchak’s are headed back to watch games in person, they’re going to have to stay in their seats when he takes the field, as Sue admitted she gets nervous while watching her kids pitch.
“I used to hide behind the dugouts when Brendyn and James were pitching. I would hide,” she said. “During his debut in 2019, I got up to find a stairwell to hide in – just to be anywhere from where I was sitting. This big woman behind me asked where I was going and I didn’t know she was talking to me.”
Karinchak’s parents are amazed any time he strikes out the side or batters just stand there and watch his pitches.
“I think that whenever he strikes out the side - that blows my mind every time,” Sue said.
“When they were playing the Twins, they were just standing there and not swinging the bat,” Steve added. “They just gave him a look like, what was that.”
At the end of the day, they’re just proud parents of a Major League pitcher.
“We’re just so proud of everything he’s been able to accomplish, of how he sets goals for himself and works so hard to achieve them,” Sue said.