USPBL pitcher, Sterling Heights native signs with Minnesota Twins

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Metro | Published June 22, 2022

 Eastside Diamond Hoppers’ pitcher Pierce Banks signed with the Minnesota Twins on May 28.

Eastside Diamond Hoppers’ pitcher Pierce Banks signed with the Minnesota Twins on May 28.

Photo provided by Katie Page

STERLING HEIGHTS — As the United Shore Professional Baseball League welcomes another player to its lengthy list of former players signed to a Major League Baseball organization, this one hits a little closer to home for the USPBL fanbase.

Pierce Banks, who graduated from Sterling Heights Parkway Christian in 2016, was signed by the Minnesota Twins on May 28, becoming the 46th player from the USPBL to join an MLB organization. Banks also got engaged the week before to his girlfriend of four years, Hope Kapelanski.

Banks will play in Fort Myers, Florida, for the Twins’ rookie ball team, the FCL Twins, in the Florida Complex League, which formerly was known as the Gulf Coast League. Former USPBL player Ricardo Velez currently plays for the FCL Twins.

“We’ve all just been so excited; he’s just wanted that chance,” Victoria Banks, Pierce’s mother, said.

Banks had a 2.52 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings of work in 2021 for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers.

Banks had no indication that the second inning of a game against the Wooly Mammoths would be a moment he’d never forget.

As the announcement was made from the broadcast booth, family and friends surprised Banks on the field, embracing him and celebrating.

Shane McCatty, USPBL’s director of baseball operations and a friend of Banks, wanted to make it a special moment for him.

“Honestly, I don’t even know if it has still set in,” Banks said. “As a guy playing indie ball, it’s really the only goal is to get in an affiliate, and for it to happen like that is a shock.”

Westside Wooly Mammoths’ player Gunner Rainey, who caught for Banks last season on the Diamond Hoopers, was first in line to congratulate him.

Banks and Rainey both played baseball at Adrian College from 2017 to 2021. Rainey caught every game for Banks both at Adrian and last year on the Diamond Hoppers.

“Him and I were really close,” Banks said. “We played together for five years at Adrian and, you know, him being a catcher, so to know you have a guy you can trust and have that comfortability factor is huge.”

Banks, who grew up in Sterling Heights, latched on to baseball early, first playing organized baseball at 6-years-old.

While he loved playing and watching baseball, his father, Ted Banks, said Pierce took a particular interest in one thing when going to the Detroit Tigers’ games.

“He wanted to sit in the first row of the 200 level so he could watch the guys warm up in the bullpen,” Ted Banks said. “He was fixated on watching their routine and what they did.”

That dedication would lead to Banks playing for the Jason Thompson Baseball Tigers’ travel team.

Thompson, a first baseman for the Detroit Tigers from 1976 to 1980, met Banks when he was 12 years old and he tried out for the team.

Thompson had hired Greg Porter to coach the team, and that’s when Porter first met Banks — at the tryout.

“He had really smooth mechanics; he seemed to know what he was doing,” Porter said.

Banks would go on to play until he was 18-years-old with the JTB Tigers, and Thompson said Banks represented everything he was looking for in a ballplayer.

“I wish we had more of him,” Thompson said. “Pierce was the one kid that stuck with us year after year after year.”

After attending three years at Henry Ford II High School, Banks transferred his senior year to Sterling Heights Parkway Christian in 2016 to continue his career.

In his first season, Banks hit .472 on the season with 11 doubles and five triples, and he was second on the team in RBIs and runs scored.

Parkway Christian ran the table, winning the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division IV state championship as Banks closed out the championship game. He threw four innings and allowed only one run. Banks threw a complete game in the quarterfinals, striking out 10 in the win.

“I’m not that surprised that he’s doing what he’s doing right now,” Parkway Christian coach Rich Koch said. “From day one, he’s been a kid that’s driven, but he lets his actions speak for themselves.”

While Banks was an everyday shortstop at Parkway Christian, he became a full-time pitcher once he attended his freshman year at Adrian.

While Banks said the transition was difficult at first, his numbers in 2017 didn’t seem to show it, as he went 8-1 with a 2.43 ERA and 60 strikeouts on the year.

He was named D3baseball.com Mideast Rookie of the Year and all-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association first team.

“He was kind of a freshman, but in an upperclassman’s ability and mindset,” Adrian coach Craig Rainey said.

Rainey felt Banks could make an immediate impact on the mound, and Banks’ numbers backed that up.

Banks went 36-6 with a 2.99 ERA in five seasons at Adrian, and his most dominant year was 2021 when he went 11-1 with a 2.38 ERA and tallied 86 strikeouts. He would break the career strikeout record of 297 in 2021, and would finish with 307.

Banks’ pitching arsenal includes a four-seam, sinker, knuckle curve, slider and changeup.

“He’s got the best changeup I’ve ever worked with,” Don Kirkwood said.

Kirkwood, who played baseball at Oakland University, was a former MLB pitcher for the California Angels, Chicago White Sox, and Toronto Blue Jays from 1974-1978.

Kirkwood had been working with Banks since he was 13 years old and helped him train for his first season in the USPBL.

Banks signed with the Diamond Hoppers on June 18, 2021, to continue his baseball career.

No matter where the road leads for Banks, he said he knows his family will always be in his corner.

“Most guys don’t have that kind of support. It’s a huge value for me to have that,” he said.