Yale Brian (Y.B.) Hughes is continuing to pursue his baseball dream, though it is in a remote way.
Hughes is playing for the Houston Apollos in the Pecos League, an independent professional league in the Midwest. It is also a comeback attempt for the former Cortland High and West Liberty University graduate.
Hughes played in the Pecos League for the Santa Fe (New Mexico) Fuego in 2017 and 2018. In 2018, he led the league in strikeouts (97) in 87 innings pitched. He logged the most innings pitched in the league which took a toll on his body. After that season, Hughes developed thoracic outlet syndrome and had to have his first rib removed.
“Many pitchers have had that surgery due to the repetitive motion of pitching,” said Hughes’ father, Yale. “He had to sit out last year to rehab. He has diligently rehabbed to a level where he thinks he can be an effective pitcher again.”
“I woke up one morning after the 2018 season and I couldn’t move my pitching arm,” Y.B. Hughes said. “I had had a few blood clots and this was just the straw the broke the camel’s back. I could move the arm some, but not a pitching motion. I decided to have the surgery and took a year off from playing. I actually started the rehab work last August.”
Hughes said the rehab work was to “be ready.”
“I was throwing in the mid-80s and I wanted to be fully prepared to get back to playing,” he added. “I was going to play in some adult baseball leagues just have a chance to keep playing baseball and that was going to be my plan this year.”
Hughes had been living back in Cortland and doing his workouts and rehab at Vine Health and Fitness.
“I got a text from an old teammate,” Hughes said. “He said that Houston needed pitching. I told him about my surgery and I wasn’t the pitcher I used to be, but he said to come back. I was unemployed, so I headed to Houston. I’m actually playing in the outfield.
The Pecos League is an independent pro league with the Central Division made up of the Houston Apollos, Roswell Invaders (NM), Salina Stockade (Calif.) and the Tuscon Saguros (Arizona). Because of the Coronavirus, all the games are played in Houston.
The Pecos League has 22-man rosters with no DH (designated hitter) used in games. Each team roster has 11 experienced players (with a maximum of three veterans) and 11 rookies.
“It is a chance for guys who want to play baseball,” Hughes said. “There are guys out of college who didn’t get a chance yet and there are experienced guys who have played at some level of pro ball. Some guys have made it to affiliated teams in the minor leagues and some have made into the major leagues. The real role of the experienced guys to help guide the younger guys.
“It’s certainly different because we also help with the cleanup after games. You help take care of the field, clean up the dugouts, etc. You can get an opportunity to coach as well.”
Since joining Houston, Hughes is hitting .440 (11-for-25) with three home runs, 11 RBIs and seven runs scored through July 31. He has walked five times, been hit by pitch five times and struck out four times in seven games while playing in the outfield. He has made three appearances on the mound for a total of six innings, but has not fared as well, but has a 1-0 record. He has surrendered 10 earned runs (15.00 ERA) with 10 hits, seven walks and five strikeouts. Nine of those runs came in his latest outing after picking up a three-inning win in his pitching debut July 22 and allowing just one run on July 24 in one inning of work.
At 25 years old, Hughes still hopes to play at a higher level.
“I still want to play pro (affiliated) ball,” he said. “You have to believe you are that guy who can move up. You also need to put in the work and I will keep working.”
Hughes has certainly grown as a player from his days at Cortland High and West Liberty University. He also played with the Cortland Crush and in the Perfect Game League with Oneonta. What has he seen in terms of growth as a player?
“The biggest thing is the importance of preparation and lifting weights,” Hughes said. “There are more bumps and bruises now and you are aware of them more as you get older. You really need to take care of yourself and put in the work to be a good player. These are things I really didn’t do in high school as well or really think about. That is my advice to young players in high school now. Take care of yourself, there’s no excuse not to.”
Of course, there is the COVID-19 pandemic to deal with now. That’s the reason the hub for all the Pecos League Central Division Games in Houston.
“We have temperature checks every day,” Hughes said. “Some guys do wear masks and there really are no handshakes. We do have some fans at the games, but they all have to stay away from dugouts. It certainly is a different feeling right now.”
Determined and still optimistic have been traits of Yale Brian Hughes since he was a youngster. Those same traits are what he drives him to continue his goal in baseball, make the Major Leagues or get a shot in the minors. Who knows if that dream will come, but Hughes is certainly smart and knows enough about the game that if he doesn’t get that call, maybe he still can as a coach or manager.