By IAN WILSON
A two-way star with the Okotoks Dawgs and Edmonton Prospects has made his Major League Baseball debut in stellar fashion.
Kody Funderburk – the most valuable player (MVP) of the 2017 Western Major Baseball League (WMBL) season – was called up by the Minnesota Twins on Monday, Aug. 28th and made an immediate impact in a matchup against the Cleveland Guardians.
The 6-foot-4 lefty entered the game in the fifth inning, taking over from starting pitcher Kenta Maeda with the Twins up 10-6. Funderburk wore No. 55 and walked out of the bullpen to AC/DC’s song “Thunderstruck.”
He pitched two perfect innings, with no hits or walks allowed, and struck out three batters to pick up the win for Minnesota.
“I don’t think I had enough time to be nervous, it was just focus on my game and execute,” Funderburk told sideline reporter Audra Martin after the game.
“These are big games. Being able to come in and execute and help get a win, that’s big.”
The Twins sit atop the American League (AL) Central standings with a 69-63 record, seven games up on the Guardians.
Infielder Royce Lewis, who hit a grand slam in the second inning, offered post-game praise for the 26-year-old from Mesa, Arizona.
“It was super impressive. He looked cool, calm and collected and he dominated. Give it up for Fundy, right here,” said Lewis in prompting cheers from the fans at Target Field.
Funderburk was a 15th-round pick of the Twins in the 2018 MLB Draft. The Dallas Baptist University alumnus has spent the bulk of the 2023 season pitching for the Triple-A St. Paul Saints in the International League. With the Saints, he’s gone 4-1 with five saves in 37 games. Through 52 innings he has a 2.60 earned run average (ERA) and 75 strikeouts.
Funderburk was on his way to the Minnesota State Fair to enjoy a day off when he got the call informing him of his promotion to the majors.
Rocco Baldelli, the manager of the Twins, met with Funderburk before the game to prepare him for his MLB debut.
“I told him in my office today – he came in, shook his hand, congratulated him and said, ‘Be ready to pitch. I’m just letting you know. Don’t come in here and think that you may just be here or you may just come in and mop something up, no, like actually be prepared to pitch today, almost regardless of situation,'” Baldelli said on Bally Sports North.
“He looked really good. The types of swings that he was getting, that’s what we’re looking for. He was in the zone, he went at them directly, right in the zone. You want guys to be able … to attack in the zone but also not get comfortable swings and that’s exactly what we saw.”
Alberta baseball fans got to know Funderburk when he played in the WMBL, the predecessor of what’s now known as the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL).
He joined the Edmonton Prospects for the 2016 season and pitched out of the bullpen, while also serving as a first baseman and designated hitter.
In 16 regular season and playoff appearances on the mound for the Prospects, Funderburk was 1-0 with a pair of saves, 23 Ks and a 3.08 ERA in 26.1 innings. At the plate, he batted .318 with five homers, 27 runs batted in (RBI), 22 runs and 11 doubles during 39 regular-season contests. He added another three long balls and eight RBI in 12 postseason games for Edmonton, who lost to Swift Current in the championship final.
Ray Brown, who coached Funderburk in Edmonton, described him as a “good guy who came to play” on social media, adding “may he have a long career.”
Funderburk returned to the WMBL in 2017, this time suiting up for the Okotoks Dawgs. On the bump, he made 10 appearances out of the bullpen, registering a 0.90 ERA, 12 Ks and a save for the Dawgs.
He took his hitting to another level that summer and led the circuit in homers (15) and RBI (54) during the regular season. The impressive season resulted in Funderburk being named the league’s most valuable player.
Funderburk had planned on returning for the 2018 campaign with Okotoks, but the Twins came calling at the draft.
“I was glad I got to go to Okotoks and experience a summer with the Dawgs. It’s like nothing else up there to play in front of the big crowds,” he told the Western Wheel newspaper.
Funderburk joins relievers Jim Henderson and Andrew Kittredge, as well as infielder Alejo Lopez, as players who graduated from playing for the Okotoks Dawgs of the WCBL to taking the field for an MLB team.