For the love of the game, Sam Runion just keeps going and going.
It’s 11 years and counting in the pro baseball career for the former Reynolds High righthander, still throwing strikes, still hoping and believing in his dream.
He has gone from a promising prospect - a second-round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals in 2007 who signed for $500,000 – to playing in an independent league last year when he couldn’t land with an affiliated organization.
The 6-4, 220-pound Runion has played for three organizations and reached the Triple A level four straight seasons (2013-16), but has yet to get the call to the major leagues.
And though the summons to the Show hasn’t come yet, Runion has no interest in walking away from the game he loves.
“I love to pitch, love to play. I’ve gotten good hitters out and believe I still can. I want to play,” Runion said last week after a round of golf with friends and his father Larry.
After stints in the organizations of the Royals, Tampa Bay and Washington, Runion was 36-39 with a 4.82 ERA and 421 strikeouts and 178 walks in 10 minor-league seasons (2007-16).
When no other team signed him in the offseason, Runion hooked up with the Southern Maryland team in the independent league.
“That league had a totally different feel about it,” he said.
“You run across a lot of different people from diverse backgrounds. (Former major-league star) Gary Gaetti was a manager, and my manager was a guy who had never played above independent ball. There were some ex big leaguers playing and some college kids who had never played professionally.”
He was 3-2 with a 4.39 ERA last season in 52 games.
Runion lives in Fairview with his wife Steelie, who has a floral design business. He plans to play in 2018, and he continues to stay baseball fit and work out while he and his agent look for teams interested in signing him.
He said after a period of adjustment that he enjoyed his time in the Atlantic League.
“The money is not there to make a living at that level, it was just an opportunity to keep playing. If I wasn’t playing, with the ability I think I have, I would be bitter.
“It affected my confidence at first, not being part of an organization. I felt far away from baseball, but I made the adjustment to where I just enjoyed playing.”
And it is that attitude of finding joy in the game and in his job that keeps him going after so many years of playing off the beaten path of baseball.
Having turned 29 last month, Runion said he won’t put pressure on himself by setting an age or year deadline on reaching the majors or else.
“I’ve thought a lot about it, talked to a lot of people about it – family, friends in the game and out of the game, and players. We talk about that all the time in the bullpen,” he said.
But I don’t want to put a timetable on it. I just hope that at the end of my career I will know it’s time.
“I love baseball and have played it professionally for 11 years. I don’t think it’s time yet. My wife has always believed in and supported me, and she wants me to play until I’m 40.”