Finding a Home by Brett Rybak

It’s been an interesting last 18 months for former Buckeye and Franklin, Ohio, native Travis Lakins, but the right-hander is happy to have found a landing spot as a reliever with the Baltimore Orioles.

After posting a 3.28 earned-run average with 139 strikeouts in 151.0 innings pitched over 40 games, including 17 starts, in two seasons at Ohio State, the Boston Red Sox selected Lakins in the sixth round of the 2015 MLB Draft. Lakins ascended through the Boston minor-league system over the next four seasons before making is big-league debut April 23, 2019, against the Detroit Tigers. Despite bouncing back and forth between Boston and Triple-A Pawtucket, Lakins found success in a long relief and spot starter role for the Red Sox, pitching to a 2.76 ERA in his final 12 outings in the 2019 season.

However, after a series of offseason organizational changes with Red Sox management, Lakins saw his time in Beantown come to an abrupt end.

“This past January, I was in Boston on the bus heading to Red Sox Winter Weekend when Chaim Bloom, the new chief baseball officer, called me to the front,” Lakins said. “It was my first time meeting him in person and he told me they were looking to trade me but if it didn’t go through, they’d have to designate me for assignment.”

“We go on our honeymoon three days after I was traded to Chicago and I see I have call from the Cubs…"

That night, Lakins’ time in Boston was over and, five days later, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs.

In the midst of all of this, Lakins and his wife, Alexis, were preparing for a long-awaited honeymoon after tying the knot in November 2017.

We go on our honeymoon three days after I was traded to Chicago and I see I have call from the Cubs…I’ve been DFA’d again,” Lakins said. “Then a few hours later, we’re on a cruise and I receive a call that I’ve been picked up by the Orioles.

Three different teams in 14 days. But Lakins was ready for a new challenge and opportunity when Spring Training arrived. Midway through a camp in which Lakins thought he pitched well, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and threw another curveball.

“It just turned into a waiting game,” Lakins, who spent the three-month down time working out and spending time with family bouncing back between their home in Jupiter, Fla., and Ohio, said. “Then in June, we receive a two-week notice to arrive for summer camp in Baltimore. We packed up, found a place in Baltimore and the family came with me.”

“Summer camp was so strange,” Lakins said. “I’m there trying to get comfortable and trying to cement a roster spot but it was all so odd. Pitchers were in a completely other locker room from position players. We were spaced so far apart. Each pitcher had to have their own ball bag. It was just so different from anything I’d ever been a part of.”

Ultimately, Lakins did find a spot in the Baltimore bullpen, earning his first big-league win, tossing a scoreless 11th inning in a walk-off win over the Tampa Bay Rays Aug. 1 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

When you come in for the 11th inning of a tie game, you expect the crowd to be going crazy and the bases empty,” Lakins said. “But there I was, at the center of the diamond with nobody in the stands and a runner on second base. I was able to get out of it and we won it in the bottom half. The celebration was just so tempered for a walk-off. It was surreal but just an awesome feeling. Getting a win in the big leagues is something you dream of as a kid and it became reality.

Since then, Lakins has proven to be a valuable part of the Baltimore staff, going 2-1 with a 3.45 ERA in 15.2 innings pitched over 14 appearances. He’s trying to take it all in on a team that is now just a couple games out of a playoff spot with 24 games to play after back-to-back 100-loss seasons.

“I really think I learned a lot from my time in Boston,” Lakins added. “We had a great group of veteran guys…Price, Sale, Porcello, Moreland, Cashner, who carried themselves differently. But this is such a fun, energetic feel. We have a bunch of young, hungry guys here and they’re one of the best groups I’ve ever played with. We have fun, we get after it and we’re all behind each other. We just need to get hot at the right time.”

Through his time in professional ball, though, Lakins still looks back fondly on his time in Columbus.

I still hang on to how family-oriented we were and that will always stick with me,” Lakins said. “Coach Beals had such a great culture of togetherness and brotherhood. Looking back on his ability to turn a bunch of talented high school players into a team is unique. Having veterans like (Josh) Dezse and (Tim) Wetzel there for you from the day you step on campus is special. Those guys were not only great players but really good people. We were just all-in as a team.

“I still hang on to how family-oriented we were and that will always stick with me."

From that time at Ohio State to today in Baltimore, Lakins has not taken for granted all of the experiences that have brought him to this point.

“Throughout all of it, I think I’ve just grown up,” Lakins said. “Being around veterans and seeing how they handle different situations has taught me a lot. I just need to keep learning. This game can humble you quickly so you need to continue to get better. Having my family with me on this whole journey has been a blessing, though. During a typical season, I wouldn’t get to see them a lot but getting those three months this spring plus having them with me in Baltimore has made this all so much easier.”