KINGSPORT — Making the adjustment from college baseball to the pros can be tough. Marcus Nidiffer has the luxury of doing so in very familiar surroundings.
The Bristol, Tenn., native signed with the Houston Astros as an undrafted free agent after concluding his career at the University of Kentucky. Nidiffer homered in both ends of Tuesday’s Appalachian League doubleheader as he and the rest of the Greeneville Astros swept the twin bill from the Kingsport Mets.
Greeneville came close to a no-hitter in the first game, a 7-2 victory, and took advantage of one big inning in the nightcap to score a 9-1 decision.
“We’ve got a good team, especially for a first-year pro ball team,” said Nidiffer, a Tennessee High product. “We’ve got some pretty good guys and good chemistry.”
Nidiffer came into Tuesday’s double dip hitting .421 with a home run, five RBIs and a 1.300 OPS — on-base and slugging percentages combined.
All those numbers went up.
Nidiffer homered in the second inning of both games. His two-run shot in the opener staked the Astros to a 4-0 lead. Nidiffer’s other dinger followed a leadoff homer by Chris Wallace, and the back-to-back blasts keyed a five-run outburst in the top of the second that helped the Astros pull to a 6-1 lead.
There was little doubt on either home run by Nidiffer.
“I got ahold of those,” he said. “I was just looking for a fastball I could get up and drive, and I got one.”
Nidiffer, who played first base in both games, finished 3-for-7 with the two homers, four RBIs and a sacrifice fly.
Playing his college ball at Kentucky meant friends and family often couldn’t attend his games. They’re making up for it now. Each of Greenville’s games in the West Division is within an hour’s driving distance.
“Man it’s really cool — especially being back around East Tennessee and close to home,” he said. “I had a lot of friends and family come out to this game.”
It’s not easy for a 23-year-old undrafted free agent to climb the ranks of professional baseball and reach the major leagues. Nidiffer has to produce — and continue to do so at every level of the minors he encounters.
“It’s just part of the deal. I’m just happy to get my opportunity to play,” he said.
“If things work out, they work out,” he added. “But I’m going to work just as hard or harder than anybody out here. So, when I do that, it gives me confidence to do well.”
The K-Mets (2-6) could use a dose of confidence. Tuesday’s sweep sent Kingsport to its fourth consecutive loss. In those four games, the opposition has outscored the K-Mets by a cumulative 32-3 margin.
“There’s no point in getting frustrated now or for any of these guys to put their heads down and think it’s over,” K-Mets manager Mike DiFelice said. “We’ve played, what have we played, eight games? We’ll get it right.”
Greeneville nearly got a no-hitter in the opener. Angel Gonzalez loaded the bases in the first on a hit batter and two walks, but was perfect in the next five innings he threw. He gave up only one fair ball hit out of the infield from the fourth inning until he was removed prior to the bottom of the seventh.
B.J. Hagen tallied two quick outs, but Mets right fielder Jorge Rodriguez’s long double broke up the no-no — and the single by Albert Cordero that immediately followed disrupted the shutout.
The K-Mets scattered seven hits in the nightcap, but the six early runs yielded during starter Lachlan Hodge’s 1 1-3 inning stint proved insurmountable.
“I saw a lot better the second game today,” DiFelice said. “We had a better tempo all the way around in the second game.”