CUMBERLAND — In a few weeks Aaron Laffey will be back at work doing what he does best while adjusting to a little change of scenery.
But the major league pitcher will be in a very familiar spot on Sunday, Jan. 27, at the Ali Ghan Shrine Club: at the head table as the Dapper Dan Club’s top award winner.
“It’s an honor to be able to have the opportunity to play the game I love and live out the dream I had as a boy,’’ Laffey said. “And it’s also an honor to be recognized by the Dapper Dan and the city of Cumberland for all the efforts I’ve put in.”
The 65th Dapper Dan Awards Banquet begins at 4 p.m. Laffey was also the top award winner in 2006 and 2007.
“I don’t ever look for or expect any recognition, but whenever the opportunity arrives and you are honored for something, it’s great. I always try to do my best any time I’m away from the area, and work as hard as a professional as I can to represent the city well.”
Laffey, who begins spring training with the New York Mets on Feb. 11, will become the fourth person to win the George W. Stevenson/Nicholas A. Perlozzo Memorial Award at least three times. The others are Bob Kirk, Sam Perlozzo and Leo Mazzone. The award is presented annually to the person who brings the most national recognition to the Cumberland area through athletics.
Laffey, 27, completed his sixth year in the majors last year and this year hopes to land a spot on the Mets’ staff, which would bring him to the National League for the first time. He welcomes the opportunity.
“It definitely was a big thing for me,” he said. “I was trying to get to the National League last year, but being in the American League all my career, it’s kind of tough for National League teams to see you for any extended period of time.”
The NL means no more designated hitters to face, plus the chance to get the plate himself. Laffey said he’s been working on his hitting skills throughout the offseason.
“I like playing the game, and what I like about the National League is it’s nine-on-nine, and everyone hits for themselves,” Laffey said. “I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
“One of my goals, if I were to get to the NL, is that I’d like to make an impact with my bat as well. I take pride in my ability as an athlete, and feel if you get an opportunity to start, you cannot be just a person who makes an out.
“If you can handle the bat at the plate and are able to advance runners, it can be the difference between winning and losing, and the difference in the innings you pitch. Because if you’ve proven you can handle the bat and get the job done, there’s no need to pinch-hit for you in the sixth inning of a close game.”
Laffey was drafted by Cleveland after graduating from Allegany in 2003, and made his big league debut with the Indians in 2007. He has also pitched for the Mariners, Yankees and Blue Jays and has a 25-29 record, three saves and a 4.38 career earned run average. Of his 148 appearances, 65 have been as a starter and 83 as a reliever.
Last year he made 22 appearances, including 16 starts, and was 4-6 with a 4.56 ERA. Left-handers batted only .239 against him.
Laffey was used almost exclusively as a starter early in his career with Cleveland, where 44 of his first 50 appearances were in a starting role.
“The Mets told me I’d have a shot at a spot in their rotation. The bullpen is pretty wide open, so that would be another alternative,’’ Laffey said. “They told me if I pitch well, I would have a great chance of making the team and that they look for me to break camp and head to New York with them.”
Laffey began last year at Las Vegas, Toronto’s triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League.
“Definitely, my goal is to break camp as a starter, and my whole intention last year was to sign with a team that viewed me as a starter and would give me the opportunity to be a starter,’’ he said. “Beginning the year at triple-A last year was not a big deal to me because I hadn’t started in about two seasons and being in the Pacific Coast League, which is a hitter’s league, was a good challenge and opportunity to get back to starting and find out who I am as a starting pitcher.
“I added a cutter last year, and it gave me a chance to work on it and play with it without being on the biggest stage. There was a little less pressure.
“But this year, my whole goal is to make the big league club in whatever aspect or role that is needed. It really doesn’t matter. If I do start in the bullpen, there’s always an opportunity to slide into the rotation at some point if needed. I have one goal and purpose: to make the team and make an impact.”
Laffey was the 2003 Skip Cook Memorial High School Player of the Year at Allegany. That year he was 6-1 and in 44 1/3 innings did not allow an earned run, walked eight and struck out 116. He also batted .533 with two home runs and 22 runs batted in.
He was 19-3 with a 1.27 ERA and 315 strikeouts in 148 1/3 innings — an average of 14.8 strikeouts per seven-inning game — in his high school career, which included a memorable playoff duel with the late Nick Adenhart of Williamsport.
The 10-year anniversary of that game, watched by nearly a dozen major league scouts and a throng of fans that lined Sedgwick Street, is just a few months away. Allegany won it, 1-0, with Laffey throwing a two-hitter, walking one and striking out 19. Adenhart got the loss despite throwing a no-hitter with one walk and 14 strikeouts.
For tickets to the Dapper Dan Awards Banquet, call 301-722-5490.
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at email@example.com