The Odyssey of Jeremy Hazelbaker

Jeremy Hazelbaker
BobLee
June21/ 2017

Originally Posted April 2016

WARNING:  The following has absolutely NOTHING to do with Roy Williams, The Great Unpleasantness or nitwit fans of any persuasion.  If you restrict your precious time on this earth to those subjects LEAVE THIS PAGE IMMEDIATELY.

My name is BobLee and I am “a baseball fan”.  FWIW…. so is “That Damn” Dan Kane who is also a Cardinals fan.  “Mary’s” husband Chuck is a Dodgers’ fan as is The Bob Kennel.  Art Chansky is a Red Sox fan.

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I do follow several other sports because I sort of have to as a certified smart aleck with my own website.  I do NOT follow UFC or NHL Hockey… or girls’ basketball under any circumstance.

…. I haHazelbakerd never heard of Jeremy Hazelbaker until a few weeks ago.  I was reading Spring Training reports about my St Louis Cardinals and started seeing his name popping up.

Jeremy Hazelbaker is a 28 y/o professional baseball player…. a port-side swinging outfielder.  He hCrash Davisas been a professional baseball player for seven years logging over 750 games in “the minor leagues” with four different organizations.

Think “Crash” Davis.  PLEASE tell me you recognize the name “Crash” Davis.

 

Last week as The Cardinals “broke camp” to head to Pittsburgh for Opening Day, Jeremy Hazelbaker was told “Mike (Matheny) wants to see you in his office.”   In the NFL the guy that tells marginal players “coach wants to see you…. and bring your playbook” is called The Turk.   That means “you’re being cut” and your dream is being squashed at least for now.

For Jeremy Hazelbaker who was on the “expanded Spring Training roster with the major leaguers” it likely meant “you’re being sent down” to Memphis (AAA) or Springfield (AA) to add to those 750 minor league games.  Major League Baseball is “a numbers game” with each club limited to how many players can be on its “big league” roster.  The chasm between being “the last man on a big league roster” and the top prospect on a AAA roster is gianormous.

Jeremy had done very well in both his offense and defense in his spring appearances but he knew the roster make-up was not in his favor.   The Cards seemed well-stocked with veteran outfielders. ….. BUT…. The Baseball Gods (and an injury to newly acquired Ruben Tejada) smiled on Jeremy Hazelbaker.

Matheny knew Jeremy was expecting “…. we’re sending you down; but we’ll be keeping our eye on you blah blah blah….” ….. INSTEAD he got

“Congratulations, you’re a Major League baseball player (at least for now).

I don’t know the comparative numbers of major leaguers versus minor leaguers but there are a LOT more of the latter than of the former.   All of’em were “phenoms” in Little League, high school, many in college…. their parents and friends and followers “back home” had followed their exploits for years as they “hit .500” …. “pitched X # of no-hitters”…. “clubbed mammoth home runs” ….. and had everyone “back home” convinced they were destined for stardom in “The Show”.

Alas for every Mike Trout and Bryce Harper there are dozens and dozens and dozens who “max out” their potential in the Durhams (AAA) or with the Mudcats (A) or in other bus stops in Baseball’s “hinterlands”…. who, at some point, give up “the dream” and head back home as “the local phenom who used to be ……”. …. Giving up baseball for – quoting Crash Davis’ coach in Bull Durham

“…. working at Sears selling Lady Kenmores.  Nasty, man, nasty”

At 28, I suspect Jeremy Hazelbaker was nearing that point.   28 is “old” for a minor leaguer.   3-4 years “toiling in the minors” is normal.  Beyond 4 and you’re “hanging on and hoping”.   Jeremy had toiled for seven years and over 750 games.

Baseball is a game of inches.  Line drives right at the 3rd baseman are Outs…. a few inches to either side is a Hit.  Hits are good…. Outs not good.  Jeremy got a hit in his first game at Pittsburgh.   He will have a limited number of “at bats” to show Mike Metheny he can help the ballclub. ….. I hope he “makes it”.

Can you even imagine the “goose bumps” that Jeremy Hazelbaker got, after 750 games in the minors, on Opening Day 2016 to see his face / name on a Big League Jumbotron…. WOW!

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Every major league ballclub has a “last man on the roster”.   Every one of’em has a dream…. and a story.   This is Jeremy Hazelbaker’s.  Enjoy!

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PITTSBURGH—On the final day of spring training, as teammates packed all around him, some of them headed for the majors and others minors-bound, Jeremy Hazelbaker received word that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny wanted to see him in his office.

Matheny quickly realized that Hazelbaker, during his seven years as a pro, had been involved in a few of these office meetings. They had not always been good news, and Matheny sensed that Hazelbaker could have some “bad relapses” if he didn’t assure the outfielder.

“I don’t think you’ve been in one quite like this,” Matheny said as Hazelbaker took a seat. “Welcome to the big leagues.”

Almost seven years and exactly 751 games in the minors, Hazelbaker had reached the majors, turning an impressive spring training into a spot on the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster. It wasn’t certain he would make the team until the final day of spring training, when he went 2-for-3 with a home run against the Yankees.

It wasn’t Hazelbaker’s performance that secured the spot on the 25-man roster. Rather it was an injury to shortstop Ruben Tejada that made the decision for the Cardinals. Then an injury to outfielder Tommy Pham on Opening Day and subsequent disabled-list stint should keep Hazelbaker in St. Louis for a while.

For days leading up to the final roster call, the Cardinals had described how “difficult” Hazelbaker had made their decision and how he forced them “into some tough decisions.” He led the team with two homers, was one of the leading basestealers in spring, and he proved that he could play all three outfield spots. The Cardinals weren’t looking for a lefthanded hitter to fill an outfield spot. Hazelbaker, a year removed from his release, forced them to.

“It’s become more than a nice story,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “It’s exciting to watch him go. He obviously had a very impressive few months with us last year. I think . . . the whole staff (has) been extremely impressed.”

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BobLee

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RowdyBlueTarHeeler
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RowdyBlueTarHeeler

North Carolina is blessed with a lot of professional baseball teams to see and root for.

Doug
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Doug

MLB, to its credit, remains virtually unchanged unlike some other sports and also seems to have plateaued in popularity. I wonder if the MLB Suits, are contemplating changes to attract younger fans. Players could start doing the Cam-Thing, Shortening the game to 8 innings with a halftime so Beyonce and Bruce can perform. Breaking balls could be banned and no pitches above 85 MPH to increase scoring. Eliminate extra innings by having a best of 10 pitch home run derby tie breaker. You get the idea. Basically anything to piss off or run off existing fans or white christian males.… Read more »

Zoot
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Zoot

These are the columns I love reading from you. Any hack can write a human interest piece and make it palatable. This was written from a place for the love of a game and their team. It is refreshing not to hear about any of the other column fodder. I am sure we will get back to that soon enough. Will be interesting you following your Cardinal machine and I with some hope for my lowly Cubs.

Todd Lesley
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Todd Lesley

My father worked at Burlington Industries and knew the real Crash Davis. Crash took his grandkids to the premier of “Bull Durham” in CA ….they kept asking him “Grandad…were you really like that?” Three pinch hit home runs vs. my Braves last night got the Cards back on track.

RC
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RC

Great story thanks for sharing. You might also check out Houston Astros rookie and NC native (my old high school no less) Tyler White, also a great story.