Thursday, September 1, 2011
What Itís All About!
In 2007, Mesabi Range Community College in Virginia, Minnesota, boasted a pitcher who went 11-0 with a 0.65 ERA. That pitcher was all-division, all-state, all-regional and All-American that year. He still did not get drafted. Instead, that pitcher went, with 110 other participants, to an open tryout at the Metrodome.
ďI can still remember those two days like they were yesterday. It started with my friend Justin Hemauer and I heading down towards the Metrodome in a bunch of traffic, trying to find a way around the traffic and then getting lost. So we finally arrived and thought we were going to be late and not be able to get in the doors but luckily right as we got to the gates, they were just filtering in the big crowd. We waited nervously until they told us where our positions would meet and what we would be doing for the try-out. I stepped on the mound with the scout Mark Wilson behind me with the Radar Gun, it just so happen to be that Mr. Wilson had also seen me when I was a senior in high school and was the man who told Coach Scott about me. So I hummed a few pitches and Mr. Wilson asked me a couple of questions and told me to make sure I suit up tomorrow and be back for the second day of try outs. Both my friend Justin and I got called back so we went down the next day an hour early so we wouldn't be late and continued on with the try out. I pitched for two innings. In one of the innings I did really well and the next I kind of struggled, so they threw me in for one more inning. I ended up doing well in the 3rd inning so about a half an hour later, Mr. Wilson called me over and asked if I would like to sign with the Twins and head down to Spring Training. I agreed in an instant!Ē
Last night, just over four years later, a 24-year-old Mark Hamburger pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for the Texas Rangers against the Tampa Bay Rays. John Jaso grounded out to 1B. Sean Rodriguez flew out to center field. Desmond Jennings grounded out to shortstop. He needed just 15 pitches and 11 of them were strikes.
If I were capable of being more cynical, I might say that Hamburger has already been productive as a washed-up Eddie Guardado was for the Twins in September of 2008. That wasnít nice, but Twins fans who are always looking for the negative will recall that nearly three years ago the Twins received Guardado in exchange for Hamburger who was Elizabethtonís closer at the time. In fact, the E-Twins were just completing the regular season, but as their playoffs were starting, their closer could only watch before heading to Clinton, Iowa, the Midwest League affiliate of the Rangers.
At that time, I thought that the trade made sense for both times, but I acknowledge that a 21-year-old who throws 96 mph is certainly intriguing. Hamburger has gradually, but now quickly, moved up the Rangersí ladder. He ended the 2010 season in Double-A, but the Rangers decided not to protect him on their 40 man roster. I begged (via blog) for the Twins to draft him because of the bullpen question marks looking to 2011. Hamburger went unselected in the Rule 5 draft and returned to Double-A to start this season. †He made 11 relief appearances before being promoted to AA. At the time, he told me he was very excited, now just one step away from living the dream of being a big leaguer.
He pitched in 31 games for Round Rock. He was 7-4 with a 3.88 ERA. In 62.2 innings, he walked 20 and struck out 48. Recently, Hamburger made four starts. As Rangers manager Ron Washington continued to mention Hamburger being a possible September call-up, Hamburger started on Sunday in Round Rock and went just one inning. The team said that was the plan, but it wasnít long before the true reason was apparently. I retweeted a Congratulations from long-time friend from his days in the Twins organization, Dan Rohlfing. The Rangers did not officially make the announcement that he was being added to the 40 man roster until late in the day on Tuesday. And on Wednesday night, Mark Hamburger pitched a perfect inning in his Major League debut.
Think about that again. A Shoreview, Minnesota, kid, not heavily recruited out of high school, goes to a northern Minnesota community college and pitches well, but he doesnít get drafted. One day, he and a friend decide to go to the Metrodome for a tryout camp. Out of 110 players in attendance, he is the one that the Twins signed. He began in the GCL in 2007. He was the Appalachian League relief pitcher of the year in 2008, but when his team was on its way to the playoff, he gets traded to the Rangers so the Twins can acquire some bullpen depth for a playoff run. He works his way up the system and now, forever and ever, Mark Hamburger can call himself a big leaguer!†
Thatís what itís all about. Thatís one of the many reasons that I love following minor league baseball and that trek from signing to the big leagues that so many are unable to complete. Hamburger has a chance to be a pretty solid reliever with the Rangers for a long time. But even if he were to never pitch again, the story is still great! Hamburger has done a Q&A for SethSpeaks.net. Heís been on a few podcasts. And we have kept in touch from time to time since the trade. Obviously Iím thrilled for him and his family, so congratulations to them.
Now, since he was called up before September 1st, he can also be on the Texas Rangers playoff roster. That tells you how much Ron Washington and his staff, as well as Nolan Ryan, believe in what Mark Hamburger can do.
Also in the last few days, 27-year-old reliever Neil Wagner was promoted to the Oakland Aís big league roster. He was the 21st round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2006 out of North Dakota State University where he had a tremendous collegiate career. He advanced to AA late in the 2008 season. He posted a 2.95 ERA with 69 strike outs in 61 innings in 2009 at AA Akron. However, just seven games into the 2010 season, he was released by Cleveland. Soon after, he was signed by the Aís. He started the 2011 season back in AA again, but after striking out 53 in 37.1 innings there, he was promoted to AAA for the first time in his career. He was 2-1 with a 3.18 ERA. In 29 innings, he walked ten and struck out 34 before being called up to the Aís.
On Tuesday, Wagner got to pitch the call in the 8th inning to pitch against, of all teams, the Cleveland Indians. Like Hamburger, Wagner needed 15 pitches to complete his inning, and 11 of them were strikes. The first batter he faced was a former battery mate, Carlos Santana. Wagner struck him out. Then Jerad Head grounded to 3B. The Minneapolis-born Wagner then gave up a single to St. Paulís Jack Hannahan. But Wagner got Jason Donald for the third out.
With the Twins struggling, itís fun to follow some of the other local players, especially when they make that big league debut.
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