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Arkansans still grinding at professional level

by Rick Fires | July 11, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

Living the glamorous life of a professional athlete with money pouring and adulation from folks you've never met is a status that only a very small percentage of athletes reach.

The vast majority are like the ones on our list of Arkansans, who we introduced in March at the start of the baseball season. Four months later, it's time for an update on guys who are still grinding in the high minors or at the major leagues levels.

Ty Tice (Prairie Grove/Triple-A Braves)

No one is currently experiencing the ups and downs of a professional athlete more than Ty Tice, who pitched one scoreless inning for Atlanta after being traded from Toronto.

So, what was Tice's reward for making a successful debut with the Braves?

Sent down again.

Before he was traded, Tice spent plenty of time shuffling between Toronto and the Blue Jays' Triple-A team at Buffalo, N.Y. Tice has already beaten the odds by making it to the major leagues after being selected as the 489th overall pick in the June 2017 draft. He'll likely receive another chance in the majors with his continued good work in the minors, where he has a career 2.14 ERA in 122 games.

Drew Smyly (Little Rock/Atlanta)

At 32, Smyly has become a reliable starter for the Braves with a 7-3 record and 4.48 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 781/3 innings. Those numbers amount to an impressive comeback for the former Razorback, who missed two years in the Major Leagues after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Smyly should be able to surpass his career high in wins (9) that he posted with Detroit and Tampa Bay in 2014.

Blake Parker (Fayetteville/Cleveland)

No one knows more about what Tice is going through more than Blake Parker, who spent years shuffling between Wrigley Field in Chicago and the Cubs' Triple-A affiliate at Des Moines, Iowa. Parker finally established himself at the major league level after he signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Angels, where he went 3-3 with eight saves and a 2.54 ERA in 71 games.

Parker, 35, is a veteran who's pitched for seven different teams in the major leagues. He's allowed only four runs in 121/3 innings at Cleveland, where he was promoted June 5 from Triple-A Columbus.

Tyler Zuber (White Hall/Triple-A Kansas City)

Zuber was sent to Triple-A Omaha after a bad stretch when he was charged with losses in two of three games with the Royals. But the right-hander from White Hall and Arkansas State appears to be regaining his confidence again after earning his second save in a 3-2 win over the Toledo Mud Hens on Friday.

Zuber has allowed only one earned run with the Storm Chasers since June 13, which makes him a candidate to be recalled by the Royals at some point this season.

Jonathan Davis (Camden/Toronto)

Davis is a fine defensive outfielder who made arguably the catch of the year in the big leagues in 2019.

That's when he raced over 100 feet into the deepest part of the outfield at Tropicana Field and made a diving catch to rob Avisail Garcia of extra bases with two runners on base. Davis struggles for playing time with the Blue Jays because of his .143 batting average.

Like Ty Tice, Davis played at Central Arkansas before turning pro.

Grant Black (Newport/Triple-A Cardinals)

It's easy to cheer for Grant Black, a true grinder who spent two years in an independent league after being bypassed in the MLB draft in 2017.

Black played college baseball at Arkansas-Monticello, home of the Boll Weevils. He was promoted to Triple-A Memphis (1 save in 18 appearances) on June 6 after starting the season at the Cardinals' Double-A affiliate at Springfield, Mo.

Hunter Wood (Rogers/Texas)

Wood is on the 60-day injured list after pitching five innings this season for the Rangers.

Jalen Beeks (Prairie Grove/Tampa Bay)

Beeks will likely miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2020.

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