Welcome to the first installment of our new series here on “It’s All Relative”, From Fort Wayne to Fruition, a look at players that have spent time during their minor league careers with either the Wizards or the TinCaps and then have gone on to play Major League Baseball. The word fruition, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as “the state of being real or complete”, and for our purposes that’s very fitting. Players reaching the majors have their dream come to fruition, although by no means does that mean their journey is complete. Some of the players in this series have had storied MLB careers, while others have only seen a few games of time in the show. However, the odds of ever making it onto a Minor League Baseball roster, let alone an MLB one, are slim, and so it’s worth recognizing those who have been fortunate and talented enough to reach the apex of professional baseball in the United States.
I’m going to go in no particular order with any of these players, but if you do have any requests, please do let me know and I’ll be happy to accommodate you. (You can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter, @MikeCouzens.) As of today, the list of former Fort Wayne players to have reached the majors stands at 118. Some of the more notable alums include LaTroy Hawkins, AJ Pierzynski, Torii Hunter, and David Eckstein, while some names you may not be as familiar with, like Mike Baxter, George Kottaras or Cliff Bartosh. Each one of them has a story–where they’re from, how they got to Fort Wayne and, ultimately, how they got to play in Major League Baseball.
Our first subject is Jake Peavy, who has played 12 years in the majors after originally being drafted in 1999. Peavy is now 32 years old, 13 years removed from his time with the Wizards, but as Parkview Field goes, his history in Fort Wayne will live on for years to come:
Peavy was taken by the Padres in the 15th round of the 1999 draft out of St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile, Alabama, and chose professional baseball over an opportunity to play baseball in his home state at Auburn University.
He originally followed the path that many minor leaguers do, starting out in the Arizona League and then moving up to rookie-level ball in Idaho Falls, Idaho, with the then-Idaho Falls Braves. (The team, now known as the Chukars–a native bird–kept the Braves name for four seasons after its affiliation with the Braves came to an end.) Following that 1999 campaign, he began the 2000 season in Fort Wayne and pitched in 26 games, starting 25 of them. He worked 133 2/3 innings (about an average workload over a full season) and struck out 164 batters while walking 53. He also held opponents to a .216 batting average. He stayed in Fort Wayne for the entirety of the 2000 season, moving on to both Advanced-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A Mobile in 2001 turning in a 2.97 ERA over 133 1/3 innings. He did that, it should be noted, as he was 19 (turning 20 in May) years old. The numbers are pretty darn impressive by themselves, but it’s the age at which he did them that’s most impressive.
One number that remains constantly strong throughout Peavy’s minor-league career and on into his MLB days is his strikeout/innings pitched ratio. Here’s a small sample:
2000 (Fort Wayne): 164 K in 133 2/3 IP
2001 (Lake Elsinore): 144 K in 105 1/3 IP
2002: (Mobile): 89 K in 80 1/3 IP
In fact, he’s ranked #21 in the history of Major League Baseball when it comes to ratio of strikeouts per nine innings pitched. (Randy Johnson is #1, in case you were wondering.
After starting the ’02 season in Mobile, his hometown, where a local Pepsi distributor made a can with his face on it, Peavy was called up to San Diego by then-General Manager Kevin Towers, to help out an injury-laden Padres squad. It was also a team that finished 66-96, last in the National League West, 32 games out of first. Peavy’s debut came June 22 of that season against the New York Yankees. What a way to come into the majors…facing a lineup that included Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, and Bernie Williams, among others. Peavy was 21 years old.
Fast forward now to the 2004 season, just Peavy’s third in Major League Baseball. As a 23-year-old (I was still figuring out how to properly iron things at that age), Peavy turned in a 2.27 ERA, the best in the bigs. He became the youngest pitcher to lead the majors in earned run average since Dwight Gooden did it, at 20 years old, in 1985. From the “You win some, you lose some” category, Peavy also gave up Barry Bonds’ 700th career home run.
Clearly, Peavy was head, shoulders, and perhaps even torso above the rest of players his age. But, as an old axiom tells us, excellence is a habit, not something that’s just found one day. Sports Illustrated once profiled Peavy, and shared a great anecdote about his baseball intelligence when he was in Fort Wayne:
“In the summer of 2000 Padres general manager Kevin Towers was sitting in the stands at a Class A ball game in Fort Wayne when a skinny teenager sat down next to him and introduced himself. It was the kid out of St. Paul’s Episcopal in Mobile whom the year before Towers had taken in the 15th round of the amateur draft on the recommendation of scout Mark Wasinger, who had raved about the kid’s mound moxie.
“I don’t get it,” the kid said after a while. “Why don’t these hitters ever make adjustments? They’re supposed to be professionals. I make adjustments every time I’m out there pitching.”
Recalls Towers, “That was the first time that I had met Jake–and I remember thinking, Is this kid 19 or is he Greg Maddux?”‘
Time and time again, anyone within the game from pitching coaches to managers to scouts will tell you that the best players make adjustments, especially at this level. Jose Valentin preached it the last two years in the media, and scouts scribble it in judgmental ink each and every night on their notepads, letting their organizations know who to keep an eye on and who to forget.
In 2007, Peavy not only won the NL Cy Young Award, but he again won the National League ERA title, while also leading the circuit in wins (19) and strikeouts (240 in 223 1/3 innings). At that point, he was seven years removed from his time in Fort Wayne, with 76 MLB wins under his belt.
On July 31, 2009, more than ten years after he had originally been drafted by the Padres, Peavy was traded to the Chicago White Sox. Despite seeing season-ending surgery in 2010 and a dip in his numbers after the trade, he was named a 2012 All-Star and also awarded the Gold Glove that season. On July 30 of this year, he was shipped off to the Boston Red Sox, and went on to win the World Series with the club.
Considering that the average major-leaguer can expect to be in the bigs for 5.6 years (number as of 2007), what Peavy has done in doubling that service time is quite impressive. Not only has he made his mark as a player, but as a philanthropist, too, purchasing one suite at the Mobile BayBears’ ballpark for each of the team’s 70 home games, and donating it to charity.
After winning the World Series with Boston, he took part in the Duck Boat parade around the city, where the team’s executives and players rode in World War II-era vehicles that are equipped to ride on both land and water.
Riding on the boat wasn’t enough, though, for Peavy, who bought the boat and says he hopes to keep it in the family. According to his Twitter account, the boat is now back at his home in Alabama.
It was perhaps easy to see, from his demeanor in Low-A, his sterling Minor League numbers, and his rapid ascension through the ranks, including just 3 1/2 years in Minor League Baseball. However, no one can truthfully predict a future Cy Young award winner when he’s only 19 or 20 years old. Peavy has made a name for himself, both on and off the field. His contract with Boston, originally signed by White Sox management, runs through the 2014 season, with an option, at Peavy’s leisure, as long as he reaches a certain innings threshold.
Peavy is one of many to have started his career in Fort Wayne, and certainly one that fans who watched him here can be proud to say was once a Fort Wayne Wizard, his dream now come to fruition.
In other news, I’ve been traveling more for ESPN calling college basketball, and got to call a thriller in Ames, Iowa, on Friday night between Iowa and Iowa State. Here’s a look at a packed Hilton Coliseum:
This Thursday I’ll be down in Indianapolis with Dan Dakich and Paul Biancardi calling high school basketball, which will air on ESPN at 9:30. Then, on Sunday the 22nd, I’ll be in Morgantown, West Virginia, to call Purdue’s game against the Mountaineers. I hope you’ll be able to tune into one, if not both!
If we don’t cross paths again before the New Year, have a great holiday season and new year’s celebration.
Miranda Lambert…take it away!