Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Letter to a 43rd-round draft pick
Dear Chadd Hartman:
You probably don't know me. In all honesty, Chadd, until a couple of days ago I'd never heard of you.
Saturday, I went to the Portland Beavers game. This was the Beavers' last weekend, ever. They're moving, probably to Southern California, and next year their home ballpark will host soccer games and football games but (alas) no more baseball.
I don't know that I've ever become a Beavers fan, exactly. But they became an important part of my life after I moved to Portland eight years ago. I've spent a few hundred hours in PGE Park, and I've been lucky enough to "work" on radio and TV broadcasts from time to time. I'm always going to have a little twinge of sentiment when Portland Beavers pops into a conversation (or into my head).
Anyway, when I arrived at the ballpark Saturday evening, I was probably in the mood to find a keepsake. I'll always have the memories and the scorebooks and the Jerry Mathers bobblehead. Maybe something else, though ...
Upon entering the stadium, I spotted a table loaded with actual Beavers jerseys, supposedly game-worn. Most of them were lower-quality road tops, or perhaps batting-practice jerseys. One member of my little party is something of a collector. He'd been there 24 hours earlier, and told me the selection had been quite a bit larger. Now, most of the pretty, cream-colored home jerseys were gone. But there were still a few left, and I was drawn to No. 37 ... my favorite number.
Why is 37 my favorite number? Because some years ago I noticed that it keeps turning up on TV whenever someone needs an interesting or funny number. I reveled upon turning 37 (unfortunately, that was seven years ago). I still make a note every time I'm watching something and I hear the number (and the list is always growing). Hey, I know it's a silly little thing. But everyone's got a favorite number and that's mine.
Anyway, it seemed of little consequence that the name on the back of the shirt -- HARTMAN -- didn't mean anything to me. In the absence of Kyle Blanks or Tim Stauffer or any other major leaguers (or future major leaguers), this Hartman fellow's jersey would do just fine. It even fit (not that I'm in the habit of wearing baseball jerseys around town, but still).
Of course, after the game I had to look up this Hartman fellow. I had to look up you. Here's what I found ... Chadd Hartman was drafted out of high school by the Indians in 2005, in the 43rd round. He didn't sign, and instead played baseball at the University of Central Florida. After his senior season, he was again drafted in the 43rd round, this time by San Diego.
This is probably where I should mention that his -- sorry, I mean your college careeer was not incredibly distinguished. It was consistent, though; your batting averages were .244, .247, .254, and .236. You hit five home runs and stole 14 bases in four seasons, and it looks like you weren't an every-game starter in your junior and senior seasons.
In all honesty, I'm surprised you were drafted. But that probably says more about my ignorance about the draft than anything.
Chadd, this is the point at which I should admit that I'm incredibly impressed by anyone who can play baseball with any sort of competence at any level. I played in an over-38 league for a couple of summers, and by any objective measure I was the worst player on my team and quite probably the worst in the league. We had players in their late 50s who did things that awed me. I have always had a great respect for talents greater than mine, whatever the field, but watching these old guys -- the best of them had topped out in the low minors, decades earlier -- only heightened my respect for men who do what they do.
Who do what you do. I would give five years of my life to hit .236 for Central Florida, and another five for a summer of professional baseball.
Which is what you had. One summer.
Well, less than that, really. You were drafted in June 2009, and shortly afterward you joined San Diego's Eugene farm club, in the Northwest League. In your second game -- and on my 43rd birthday -- you hit your first professional home run and scored a couple of runs. Oddly, after those first two games you were promoted to Fort Wayne in the Midwest League. Three games and four plate appearances later -- again, oddly -- it was back to Oregon.
Three weeks later -- and I'm just guessing here -- there was a bit of an emergency with the Padres' Triple-A franchise. Portland's game in Salt Lake City on Friday night was rained out. They would play a doubleheader Sunday, and they needed a body. Preferably a body who could play the outfield without stumbling around too much.
And Chadd, you were there. Barely a month into your professional career and carrying a .267 batting average in the short-season Northwest League, you were promoted to the second-highest level of professional baseball. And you played. Both games of the doubleheader. Sure, you did strike out three times. But you also picked up a single in the second game. That must have felt good. For two games, you were on the field with many former and future major leaguers.
I don't know. Maybe I'm projecting. But that seems like it would have been a pretty incredible experience.
It was fleeting, of course. You didn't play another game for the Beavers. Four days later you were back in Eugene's lineup. You finished the season with them, with an 0-for-2 in your last game knocking your average down to .196. Those last few weeks it must have felt like you couldn't buy a hit.
I don't know what you're doing this year. If you've been playing baseball, I can't find any evidence. I saw somewhere that you were a business major at Central Florida, so I'll guess that you've found a job that pays a living wage (unlike Class A baseball) or that you're working toward that.
Anyway, I have your jersey. I don't know if you ever wore it. It's a home jersey and you never played in a home game with the Beavers, but maybe you sat on the bench at PGE Park and fantasized about getting into a game (which is more than I ever did). I don't know if you even care about such things. Some guys don't.
But Chadd, you played with and against some of the best baseball players in the world. If you actually wore this jersey, I think the Beavers should have let you keep it. If you actually wore this jersey during those few days you spent playing Triple-A baseball, I feel a little uncomfortable having it.
For the shirt off your back, I paid the Beavers seventy-five dollars. But I'm not hard to get ahold of. If your No. 37 means something to you, just let me know.
You deserve it a lot more than I do.
Postscript: I've misplaced my scorecard, but I just realized that I saw you play in Eugene on the 3rd of September, in the Emeralds' last-ever game at ancient Civic Stadium. You started in left field. I saw your last professional hit.