by Brendan Ripley-Barasch
It is pretty common to hear a feel-good story about a professional athlete, whether it is about them coming from a low-income family or overcoming a devastating injury. But Jeremy Hazelbaker’s story is a unique one, it is about perseverance, dedication, and dealing with adversity.
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Currently, baseball analysts are spending their time discussing Trevor Story’s historic start, but one player that has maybe been more impressive than Story is the rookie outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, Jeremy Hazelbaker. Similar to Story, Hazelbaker was only given a shot in the big league this year because of something that happened to another player. For Story, he was given the opportunity because Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes is on paid leave from the MLB stemming from a domestic violence case. In Jeremy’s case, he got his shot because of an injury that Cardinals shortstop Ruben Tejada suffered which opened up a spot for him on the 40-man roster. With that said, let it be known that Hazelbaker certainly earned his spot and it was not only because of the injury. In Spring Training, the prospect showed the team that he was capable of playing all three outfield spots, led the club with two homers, and was one of the top base stealers in the entire league.
This is one of those feel-good stories because not only did the Ball State alum earn a spot on the team on the last day of Spring Training, but also because he had been in the minors for the past seven seasons before finally breaking through this year. Originally a fourth round pick of the Boston Red Sox, the outfielder’s path to the majors included playing in 751 minor-league games where he had 3,104 plate appearances. At this time last year Hazelbaker was sitting at home wondering if he would ever get another chance in professional baseball after he was cut by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The only team to reach out to him after his release was the Cardinals, who signed Hazelbaker to a minor-league contract. He then went from AA to AAA in 2015 sporting an average above .300 at both stops. Hazelbaker was rewarded for his excellent play with a contract that paid him $18,000 a month, more than he had ever been paid before, and an invitation to Big-League camp. He made the most of his chance and as described before, eventually made the Major League club out of Spring Training.
As of Monday, the 28 year-old is batting .394 with three home runs, seven runs batted in, and an OPS of 1.239 through the first two weeks of the 2016 season. Those numbers are eye-popping for any player, let alone one viewed as a career minor-leaguer. The rookie has also earned praise from his teammates through his play. In an article from baseballamerica.com titled After Long Stay In Minors, Hazelbaker Arrives, writer Derrick Goold includes a quote from Randal Grichuk one of Hazelbaker’s fellow outfielders. Grichuk is quoted as calling Jeremy “the greatest hitter ever.” This is definitely a stretch but it is obvious that Hazelbaker has not only earned respect from the coaching staff but also his teammates.
The coverage of the (kind of) young outfielder hasn’t been the same as that of Trevor Story, but I venture to think this player maybe prefers it that way. As he has joined the MLB’s top hitters atop the leader boards, more and more stories are being written about him by the day. Hazelbaker’s story is very appealing to baseball writers because they know that we as fans crave these kind of feel-good tales about players overcoming obstacles to ultimately succeed at the highest level. Similar to myself, Jeremy hails from a very small town. He grew up in Selma, Indiana which has a total population of 858. There is no doubt that this man, who is one of the hottest topics of conversation in baseball, is the talk of the town and is serving as not only an inspiration to all the kids from back home but also to anyone who is at a cross-roads whether in sports or life in general.
It is pretty obvious that the player will eventually slow down in terms of his production but he has certainly impacted many from his dedication and humbleness. In an article from USA Today titled Jeremy Hazelbaker’s big league dream comes true with Cardinals, author Bob Nightengale includes a quote from the player himself where he demonstrates this humbleness. Jeremy is quoted as saying, “this is stuff you think about, even dream about…But at the same time, it’s not something you can prepare for. I can’t thank them enough for giving me this opportunity.” The stories that members of the media have wrote about the player have all been positive ones that emphasize the player’s determination and credit him for finally reaching the big leagues because of his incredible work ethic. It is my hope that Hazelbaker stays consistent throughout the 162-game season and I am confident he will, solely because of the motivation he has gained from his past failures.