Mauians unite: Widell joins Karaviotis in Kane County
They faced each other in the Maui Interscholastic League in 2013, their teams battled in the Pac-12 Conference in 2016 and now, as professional baseball players battling to get back to a Major League Baseball organization, they are teammates.
Ryley Widell, a 2015 King Kekaulike High School graduate, signed with the Kane County Cougars of the American Association on Friday, joining 2013 Maui High graduate Mark Karaviotis on the roster. Widell played one season for Washington State University, while Karaviotis played three seasons for Oregon.
“It is wild, I mean we played against each other in high school, we didn’t get to play against each other in the Pac-12, but we saw each other when there was an opportunity,” Widell said via phone on Friday. “So we were in the same (college) league there, and now we’re teammates. So, it’s kind of fun. I haven’t been his teammate before, so we’ll see how that goes.”
Widell is joining Karaviotis, who at .338 is the leading hitter on the Cougars by 36 points — he does not have enough at-bats to qualify for the league batting race, but would stand seventh if he did. Karaviotis entered Sunday with 12 doubles, three triples, four home runs and 23 RBIs in 39 games.
Karaviotis doubled off of Widell on Tuesday in Widell’s final game with the Chicago Dogs, who released him following a short outing. It was the first time they had faced each other since Widell was a Na Alii and Karaviotis was a Saber.
“I got a little bit of bragging rights, but I’m definitely happy that he’s in our bullpen and I don’t have to face him again,” Karaviotis said. “His velocity was phenomenal. He’ll be a good addition for us. His fastball was in the 90s and it’ll be a good addition. I think it’ll be a blessing in disguise because our park is a pitcher’s park. It’s a graveyard out there — I think he will have a good time pitching here.
“He’s got that big, tall, athletic frame. His fastball is in the low to mid-90s, so that’ll play at any level.”
Widell was released by the Dodgers organization on June 1 — his 24th birthday — and after three weeks back on Maui to reorganize his career, he signed with the Chicago Dogs.
The American Association was formerly affiliated with Major League Baseball, but is now independent — it is watched closely as an “MLB Partner League” and is rated at the Double-A level.
Widell was only with the Dogs for a little over a week.
“Ryley, he’s like everybody else in this league, including myself — we’re trying to control what we can control, go out there, have a good time, hopefully put up some good numbers and get another shot with an organization,” Karaviotis said.
Karaviotis is happy with his performance in the AA — the 25-year-old was a 19th-round draft choice by the Diamondbacks in 2016 and rose to Double-A before being released as part of the minor league purge last summer brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Things are going well, really well,” Karaviotis said. “I’m swinging the bat probably the best I’ve ever swung it in my life to be honest with you. I just came off a really good month and hoping to finish this last month strong.”
Widell, a left-handed pitcher who was a seventh-round draft choice of the Minnesota Twins in 2017, was released following his tough outing against the Cougars on Tuesday after he had a minor issue with a rib after warming up.
“I popped my rib out of place, it went in and out of place before the start,” Widell said. “I went to a chiropractor and it feels fine now.”
Karaviotis is glad to have his new teammate on the roster.
“I was talking to him briefly when he got released by the Dodgers,” Karaviotis said. “Our bullpen has been a little short-staffed the last couple weeks, so we needed an arm, especially a lefty. So, I actually referred Ryley to our manager a couple weeks ago and it ended up not working out. … I faced him on Tuesday and unfortunately he got let go shortly after the game. I let our manager know and he said, ‘Yeah, we’d love to have him.’ “
Widell was grateful for Karaviotis’ recommendation. He pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings on Friday, hours after being signed.
“Mark reached out to me, said that the manager wanted me, literally like the next day,” Widell said Friday. “I said, ‘Yeah, you’re only 40 minutes away.’ Stayed in Chicago for a night, I got settled in with a host family, and actually I’m on my way to the field now.”
Widell was a reliever with the Dodgers and a starter with the Dogs, a major challenge to adjust to. Still, he is comfortable now after illness, injury and cancellations were present throughout his affiliated career — mononucleosis wiped out his 2018 campaign and the 2020 season was canceled by COVID-19.
Widell was released by the Twins in September 2020 and signed by the Dodgers in January. He was released by the Dodgers after compiling an 8.71 ERA in six games with the high Class A Great Lakes Loons.
“Prior to the Kane County outing and not getting out of the first, I was doing well,” Widell said of his time with the Dogs, where he left with an ERA of 5.59. “You know, just kind of figuring it out.”
Having a familiar face, even a former foe — Karaviotis was a Maui High senior when Widell was a King Kekaulike sophomore — is reassuring for Widell.
“Obviously, Mark and I, our goal is to be actually on an affiliated ball team,” Widell said. “Indy ball, this league is like Double-A, Triple-A, there’s some older guys, it’s a good league, it’s competitive at-bats. You know, I’m excited for this new opportunity, hoping that it works out for me.”
Both players have been told by their agents to be ready to roll after the American Association season ends Sept. 6.
Widell is thankful to his old friend from Maui. The lanky lefty said his fastball is touching 93 mph and is consistently in the 90-93 mph range.
“Yeah, definitely, it’s awesome” he said. “I don’t know how he found out — I’m sure the manager reached out to him to say hello, but he pushed for me. I remember after I got released by the Dodgers he kind of reached out about Kane County, but that was the time I was still trying to figure out what to do. I just picked the Dogs, but now I’m also excited about Kane County.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org.