George Roberts and Austin Urban have spent several months honing their baseball skills indoors at the ERA Sports Inc. facility in Windber.
The area’s two professional baseball players also tutored dozens of young ballplayers participating in the winter program.
Soon, Roberts and Urban will be playing ball in the sun in Arizona and Florida, respectively.
Snow? Ice? Freezing temperatures?
Those annoying winter trends will be memories as Roberts begins his second season in the Arizona Diamondbacks minor league system, and Urban continues to pitch in the Baltimore Orioles organization after he returned to action last summer following a back injury.
“It’s been a good offseason. I’ve really enjoyed it. I got a lot of hard work in,” said Urban, a Richland High graduate who pitched for Aberdeen in the short season New York-Penn League last summer. “This is probably the strongest I’ve been during the offseason so far. This is as good as I’ve felt going into spring training.
“I feel completely healthy. I feel I made a lot of good strides last year. I learned a lot of good stuff during the summer in the season. There still are a lot of things to learn. I try to pick up things every day in pursuit of my career.”
Urban went 3-5 with one save and a 3.32 earned run average for the Orioles Class A squad in Aberdeen. The right-handed pitcher missed 2012 due to the back injury. He parted ways with the Chicago Cubs, the team that drafted him in the 41st round in 2011.
Urban reunited with the Orioles, the team that selected him in the 27th round of the 2010 draft. That year, Urban didn’t sign a pro deal.
“The Orioles worked on my windup in instructional league,” Urban said. “I’ve been working on that. Mainly, it’s about location. I just work on everything. You continue to work to try to get better every single day.”
Urban hopes to land with the Delmarva Shorebirds, the Orioles’ Class A team in the South Atlantic League. He leaves for Sarasota, Fla., training camp on Feb. 28.
Roberts had a solid pro debut with the Diamondbacks after Arizona selected him in the 26th round of the June draft.
The Forest Hills High School graduate had a stellar college career at Kent State University, where Roberts was the MAC Player of the Year as a junior and played in the College World Series.
“I’m hoping to get to spring training and work hard to earn a spot on a full-season squad whether it’s South Bend or Visalia,” Roberts said. “I want to do well and keep climbing.”
His Diamondbacks career started strong as he batted .300 in three games on Arizona’s rookie team, earning a quick promotion to the short season Class A Hillsboro Hops. Roberts batted .251 with 34 runs, eight doubles, a triple and a homer.
“It took a little bit to get adjusted to the pitching and the grind every day,” Roberts said. “I thought college baseball was tough, but pro you work every day about eight hours a day. It’s like facing everybody’s ace in college. Everyone can throw. It’s a lot more of a mental game. Baseball is always a mental game, but it’s even more mental in pro ball.
“The big thing is once you get out there, you treat it like another game just like I’ve done my whole life,” he added.
Both Roberts and Urban are instructors at ERA Sports in Windber, where George’s older brother Rick runs the indoor program.
The two players complement each other well, with George Roberts tutoring young hitters, and Urban offering instruction on the mound. The players once were teammates for Delweld in the AAABA League and in the AAABA Tournament.
“It’s been fun. I try to gather as much information as I can from all of my different coaches so that I can feed it back to the community here and try to help young players out of ERA,” George Roberts said. “I try to teach them what I know and help them out.”
Urban appreciates the work. It’s a bonus to have a job that helps prepare him for his summer gig.
“It’s always a lot of fun. It’s a great offseason job,” Urban said. “I love helping out the kids and being able to give back what I’ve learned. It’s great that we have guys like Rick and now, us, who can give back and help these kids in their career.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.