Kurt Spomer knows the odds are against him.
As a baseball player, he's felt that way since graduating from Tri-Center High School in 2008. Opportunities to show what he can do become rarer every year.
Yet the former Creighton walk-on and undrafted free agent is still pursuing a major league dream. He's spending this summer as a relief pitcher with the Burlington (Iowa) Bees — a Class A team affiliated with the Los Angeles Angels.
The familiar underdog role remains with Spomer, who will turn 24 next month. He's the oldest man in the dugout, competing with many players the Angels acquired through trades or draft picks.
“I'm on the clock, so I have to just keep performing the best I can,” Spomer said. “There's nothing I can do to move up. I just have to keep performing and hope that the Angels believe I can keep pitching.”
The right-hander, as usual, turns to hard work to help his chances. At coaches' direction, he began converting his over-the-top throwing motion into a sidearm/submarine delivery during spring training. The transition has cost him velocity, knocking his fastball down from around 90 mph to around 82 to 85.
Deception and movement on pitches has been the payoff. He's developed a change-up that might be his best offering, a two-seam fastball and sweeping slider. Last week he began tinkering with a split-finger pitch that can look like a knuckleball.
Returns so far have been promising for the 6-foot-2 Spomer, who works in long relief or setup roles. He boasts a 2.84 earned run average in 31-2/3 innings, spanning 21 games. He's issued 13 walks to 27 strikeouts.
Spomer's personal favorite was his first professional save last month. He got five outs to preserve a 6-3 win over the Cedar Rapids Kernels despite allowing two hits and two walks.
“When you work harder than anyone, good things will happen,” Spomer said. “It could be my last day tomorrow, so I just try to go out there and do the best I can and work as hard as I can. That's what I've been doing my whole life.”
Indeed, the son of Michael and Sharanne Spomer was a full-time standout at Tri-Center, where he lettered annually in football, basketball, track and baseball. The Honey Creek native and childhood New York Yankees fan later walked on at Creighton, where he molded himself into a closer and go-to reliever.
But Spomer didn't get selected in the June 2012 draft following his senior year with the Bluejays. He started looking for jobs in the business field.
A few days passed. He attended a Major League Baseball tryout camp at Iowa Western. Then the Angels called, and he left the next day to play rookie ball in Arizona. A helpful connection was that the nephew of Creighton coach Ed Servais — former major leaguer Scott Servais — is a front-office executive with L.A.
Former Creighton catcher Anthony Bemboom and infielder Chance Ross also are current Burlington players.
“I was kind of bummed when I didn't get the opportunity at first, but now that I'm here, I'm blessed the Angels gave me the opportunity to show what I can do,” Spomer said. “I'll try to ride it out as long as I can.”
Michael Spomer said his son's determined disposition was evident growing up. It helped the younger Spomer finish third in the boys 10-11 age division at a national free-throw shooting competition in 2001. Now it helps him stay level-headed even after an occasional rough outing with Burlington.
“He's quiet, yet extremely focused,” Michael Spomer said. “He's always had that focus ever since he was a young kid. All the sports together made him what he is in baseball.”
Most of Kurt Spomer's days lately have been on a diamond, from the 11 a.m. workout sessions to leaving the ballpark around 10 p.m. after a game. The pay isn't the greatest, and there isn't much extra time to hunt and fish.
But they're small drawbacks for Spomer to continue doing what few thought he could.
“It's been fun so far,” Spomer said. “I'm hoping just to keep it going as long as I can.”