LEXINGTON — If there’s a singular moment that Frankfort native J.T. Riddle will freeze in time last week, it may be the ovation he received from a crowd of some 7,000-plus at Whitaker Bank Ballpark Thursday night at the conclusion of a three-game set between Riddle’s Greensboro Grasshoppers and the homestanding Legends.
The Grasshoppers swept the series between the two Class A baseball rivals, with Riddle playing a decisive role in two of the three wins.
On Tuesday it was a 2-for-4, two-walk performance in a 16-12 Greensboro win. And on Thursday, it was Riddle’s eighth-inning triple off the top of the center field wall that tied the game at 2-2 and led to a 3-2 victory.
Riddle was 2-for-5 at the plate Thursday, after going 0-for-5 in a 3-0 Greensboro win Wednesday.
And when it was over, as the fans waited for a fireworks show, the Legends saluted Riddle with an introduction as the “local boy does good,” so to speak. Riddle came out of the dugout and tipped his cap to the enthusiastic response.
Some 200 members of the crowd were family and friends who have followed Riddle through a stellar prep career at Western Hills, through his three seasons at the University of Kentucky.
But many of those applauding know Riddle only through his baseball, without personal knowledge about what a good guy Riddle is.
This is the first time playing back near his home turf for the 22-year-old Riddle, who’s in his second season of professional baseball after being drafted by the Miami Marlins in June of 2013 in the 13th round.
“This has been great,” Riddle said Thursday night as the Grasshoppers prepared to load the bus for the late-night, seven-hour ride to Greensboro. “I’ve been here for three days, and it’s been fun. All the support from everybody, you know ...
“It puts a big smile on my face, knowing that I have supporters here throughout Kentucky, especially from my hometown and my family. It’s amazing.”
Riddle said he spent plenty of time off the field this week with both family and friends.
“Just being around them,” Riddle said when asked for some of the social/personal highlights of his return. “Of course, there are tons of them. I got to see everybody while I was in town here. I went home a couple of times, had dinner with my mom (LaKeta) and (stepdad) Buddy, and my sister (LaKenzie), and then had dinner with my dad (Shane) a couple of times, too.”
Riddle said his father and stepmom were planning to go to Greensboro this weekend to stay with him during the Grasshoppers’ three-game home set with the West Virginia Power.
And Buddy and LaKeta plan to either see Riddle play July 10-13 in a four-game series at West Virginia, or take in a series at Greensboro before the season ends.
On the field, Riddle is also riding high, going 4-for-14 against the Legends, bringing his season batting average up to .264.
He also played errorless baseball in the field this week, while playing one game at third base and two at shortstop.
Riddle was satisfied with Thursday’s performance at the plate after his 0-for Wednesday.
“You just have to shake it off,” Riddle said. “I had been seeing the ball well lately, and 0-for-5 ... all of a sudden it just didn’t feel right. It felt like a dream. But you shake it off and come in here this last day and give it my all. I knew there were going to be a lot of people here tonight — family and friends and everything — and I wanted to leave here on a good note.”
Nothing is etched in stone for Riddle now, even in the short term.
At the very least, he will be a regular in Greensboro through the end of the season. The regular season ends Sept. 1, with playoffs to follow. Greensboro won the first half of the South Atlantic League’s South Division title, clinching a postseason berth.
But there’s always a chance Riddle could get the call up to the Marlins’ high Class A affiliate in Jupiter, Fla.
“I wouldn’t mind staying in Greensboro and trying to go for that ring at the end of the season,” Riddle said. “I love this team — the coaches, the players, everybody.
“And it’s always a good thing to get called up,” he added. “You never know what’s going to happen. There could be an injury tomorrow, and you’re on the next flight out.”
All Riddle knows for sure is that it was bittersweet to leave Thursday night.