By Trey Wilson
CURVE, Pa. – Curve left-hander Brandon Waddell has a knack for putting together outstanding performances in the most critical games.
In fact, his clutch pitching skills earned him the nickname “Big Game Brandon” during his time playing at the University of Virginia, when time after time he put together dominating performances on the biggest stages.
His most notable moment with the Cavaliers came in the biggest game in school history: a decisive game three in the 2015 College World Series Finals.
“When you’re a kid growing up and you’re playing in the back yard, you’re putting yourself into the situation of game seven in the World Series, I’m on the mound and this is what’s going to happen,” Waddell said. “You see yourself being successful over and over.
“I enjoy a big-game moment. It’s something that really excites me. That being said, it’s the same game every time you go out there. The biggest thing is to not make it bigger than it is.”
In that decisive game on June 24, 2015, Waddell held the defending-champion Vanderbilt Commodores to two runs over seven innings as the Cavaliers picked up their first national title in school history.
“From the moment you step foot on a college campus, it’s something that you’re working for,” Waddell said. “At the end of the year, you want that last game of the season to be a win. You get to hold up that trophy and celebrate with the guys.”
Later that year, Waddell helped the short-season West Virginia Black Bears win a championship in his professional debut campaign. In game two of the division series, he tossed six scoreless, two-hit innings as the Black Bears clinched a spot in the league championship.
Last year, he became one of the fastest players to make the climb to Double-A in Curve history, debuting with Altoona less than a year after being selected in the 2015 MLB Draft. After dominating in the A-Adv. Florida State League with Bradenton and earning April Pitcher-of-the-Month honors, the Houston native joined the Curve on May 3, 2016.
“It’s something I wasn’t really expecting,” Waddell said. “As a player going through the system, especially early on, it’s not something that’s in the forefront of your mind. You want to move quickly and you want to keep progressing up the levels.
“You want to get to the big leagues. The way to get there is by facing better talent and becoming a better player. That’s more of what I was focused on. Everything else just happened to work out for me.”
He took the mound on September 11, 2016, with the Curve facing elimination in the Eastern League Division Series in Akron. The result? Another masterful performance. He spun seven scoreless innings and allowed just one hit. Unfortunately, Akron ultimately won on a walk-off single in the bottom of the tenth by Eric Haase, scoring Waddell’s former college teammate Mike Papi to end Altoona’s season.
“As you get to the playoffs and near that championship goal, it really becomes evident how much you want to succeed for the guys next to you or the guys on the field with you,” Waddell said. “It wasn’t the result that we wanted, but I think it was a great experience for everybody.”
This year, Waddell and the Curve are once again front-runners in the Eastern League and trying to make it to the postseason for a third consecutive year.
“Now, we know what it’s like to be there and we know what it’s like to be that close,” Waddell said. “It’s something that you can take with you in the back of your mind and know that we’re going to work to get there so we can have that feeling again, but get the job done.”