Making baseball a career is all work and not much play. Over the last couple of weeks I've had the chance to talk to a couple of young men who have gone through the travels, ups and downs of playing at the high levels of pro baseball.
Each speaks with no regrets but have some of the same stories of the game they loved and wished to play as a career.
First was one of Hermiston's greatest talents ever.
Mike Wick was a kid who seemed to be a natural athlete, playing football, basketball and baseball from an early age. It always appeared as though, through his work ethic, each game just might be his last. He always played that hard. My father, Ken Melton, a minor scout back in the 1960's, saw this tough-minded kid at about age 14, and saw not only raw talent but a youngster who really had a good early understanding for the game. .
Kenny contacted his friend and head Northwest scout, Babe Barbans out of Seattle, to take a look at Mike a few months later and he felt much the same about this Hermiston kid. Kenny kept in contact with Mike's career as an All-America football player while playing for the Bulldogs from 1972-74. Wick was also a quality basketball talent and his baseball skills just continued to grow. He became the premier catcher in Oregon, if not all of the Northwest in 1974.
Mike was a fifth round choice for the Pittsburgh Pirates that summer, signed for around $15, 000 and a college education just in case things didn't work out in pro ball and it was off to rookie league baseball. Mike found almost from the get-go that he belonged in pro baseball.
Adjusting to the wood bat and sharp breaking balls took some adjustment, but he felt good about his chances.
Wick's career entailed A baseball and AA baseball for four years in the Pittsburgh organization, making stops at Buffalo, N.Y., Niagara Falls and all points east where he found some good success and some very tough moments in his quest to make it to the Big Show.
An arm injury shortened a promising career, yet Wick has only fond memories of the bus trips, teammates, managers, and even the brawls that broke out in some of the most obscure ballparks most of us will never know about.
Some 20 years later a Pendleton kid named Michael Corey would have the same vision, becoming a major league pitcher. Michael, always the bulldog on the mound, had a good high school career although illness and injury gave him fits his senior season of 1993.
Despite his misfortune, Willamette University provided an opportunity and Corey had a record setting career as a Bearcat.
In his junior and senior seasons, Corey was led to believe he would be drafted, but the calls never came.
Having figured it was time to get on with life with his degree from school, a call did come after pitching six innings for Dean Fouquette's 40 and over, Oregon Outlaws.
An Atlanta Brave scout named Kurt Kemp left a message to show up in Eugene for a tryout bring a glove and some shorts and be ready to go.
Well, Corey hit his spots, had good velocity and his pro career began as an Emerald in good 'ole Eugene.
He had a solid A season and was invited to the big clubs ballpark as a premier minor league prospect and things were pretty rosy for a time. Corey made good stops in Myrtle Beach, W.Va., and Macon, Ga., before ending a quality minor league career in the Brewer farm system.
As with Wick, Corey suffered a career-ending injury. The two Mike's were divided by a couple of decades but their love for the game and vast experiences will last forever coupled with the memories of former teammates that made it to the Big Show.
What might have been doesn't seem to bother either athlete, they just appreciate their wonderful opportunity.
Notes: Eastern Oregon has had a fair number of athletes drafted and opted not to sign or became free agents and played. One of the more impressive careers is that of Pendleton's Doug Kline, who went on and played in the Twins and Mets organizations.
Other draftee's I can remember were Gary Harover, David Michael, Allen Hunsinger, John Tolan and, of course, the story of Bucky Jacobsen has been well documented. I'm sure there are others that have been missed and of course I'll hear about it ... which, by the way, I love!