Cody Stashak says the only place he’s been since the COVID-19 pandemic canceled spring training is the hardware store.
The Minnesota Twins reliever and 2012 Oakcrest High School graduate built a nursery for he and wife Taylor’s first child — a son due June 24.
He also finished two bedrooms and a half bath in the upstairs of his Atlantic County home on the border of Hammonton and the Sweetwater section of Mullica Township.
Stashak is currently remodeling another bathroom, and a new air conditioning unit is on the way this weekend.
He doesn’t mind the work, but he wants to exchange his tool belt for a Twins uniform.
“All these house projects are making me want to get back,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve been working since I got home from spring training. Baseball will be a relief.”
Stashak’s rookie debut and his success in the Twins bullpen made him one of baseball’s best feel-good stories last season.
“I was never a prospect coming up,” he said. “I had to earn my way and open up some eyes.”
Stashak, 25, played in the outfield and pitched at Oakcrest, a high school not typically regarded as a baseball power. Stashak played two seasons at Cumberland County Community College, where his performance earned him an NCAA Division I scholarship to St. John’s University in New York.
The St. John’s coaches turned him into a full-time pitcher, and the Twins chose Stashak in the 13th round of the 2015 MLB draft. Stashak progressed quickly through the Twins’ system.
“The only thing that kept me moving forward was throwing strikes,” he said.
He made his major league debut July 23, throwing two scoreless innings and striking out three against the New York Yankees.
He finished the season with an 0-1 record and a 3.24 ERA in 18 appearances. He struck out 25 and walked just one in 25 innings. Stashak found himself pitching in some high-leverage situations for the Twins, who won 101 games and the American League Central Division title.
Stashak appeared in two postseason games against the Yankees. He allowed a pair of home runs in his first outing but a threw a scoreless 2/3 of an inning in his second appearance. The Yankees swept the three-game division series.
“We have a good team with a lot of great guys,” Stashak said. “They helped me out throughout the season. You had pitchers like (Jake Odorizzi) and (Taylor Rogers). If I had a question, I would just ask.”
Stashak showed the benefits of that postseason experience this spring training, throwing seven scoreless innings in five appearances. He struck out nine, walked none and allowed just three hits.
“I was hungry to earn my spot out of spring training,” he said. “I’m the type of guy that sets my mind on something, and when (I) want it, (I) go get it.”
Stashak throws mostly a fastball and a slider with a changeup occasionally mixed in. His fastball averages 91.7 mph, but Stashak still had an impressive 17.1 swinging strike percentage last season. By comparison, Astros closer Roberto Osuna, who led the American League with 38 saves, had a swinging strike percentage of 16.9 last season.
“It’s all about changing the (hitter’s) eye levels,” Stashak said, “and pretty much putting the ball where you want to put it. Everybody has a weakness.”
During the pandemic, Stashak has gone back to his roots to stay in shape. He works out with the modest weights he has and throws bullpens on a portable mound in front of his home. His best friend and 2012 Buena Regional graduate Anthony Lopez catches.
The portable mound came from the South Jersey Sand Sharks travel team that Stashak played for as a youngster. He threw on that mound when he was 10 years old.
If and when baseball returns, there’s been plenty of talk lately about what conditions the game would be played under. One of the main discussions is how paternity leave for players such as Stashak would be handled.
“I’m just taking it day by day,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do right now until we get word on what’s going on with baseball. We’ll go from there once we figure out what’s going on.”
The next few weeks are sure to be eventful for Stashak, but he has no doubts about being ready to play again.
“It’s about time,” he said, “to get back to baseball.”