From Fort Wayne to Fruition: Cliff Bartosh
Welcome to the fourth 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 or George Kottaras. 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.
And today we do take a look back at Cliff Bartosh, who was a member of the Wizards during the 1999 and 2000 seasons, and most recently in his pro baseball career served as the strength and conditioning coach for the TinCaps during the 2012 season.
The following is a story that I wrote on Bartosh during that summer, with an update on his current whereabouts at the end:
It took two weeks for the phone to ring. Nearly 14 days had gone by before Cliff Bartosh found out he had been selected in the 29th round of the 1998 Major League Baseball draft by the San Diego Padres. Bartosh had aspirations of playing professional baseball, but wasn’t sure he’d be headed down that road. A phone call from late Padres scout Jim Dreyer changed Bartosh’s plans. He was scheduled to head to Texas Tech on a baseball scholarship, but instead chose to follow his dream and report to the Padres training complex in Peoria, Arizona.
“I started out as a first baseman and pitched a little bit (in high school). My junior year I might’ve thrown 12 or 13 innings for our varsity team. My senior year, maybe about 20 innings,” Bartosh said one afternoon while sitting in the home dugout at Parkview Field. “(Dreyer) said he never saw me pitch in high school, he only saw me take infield. So he only saw me throw the ball from first base, and he drafted me off of that. I didn’t know when the draft was.”
Cliff Bartosh’s life in baseball has revolved around other people dictating his path.
He made his way through the minor leagues with the Padres, and played at Memorial Stadium with the Fort Wayne Wizards in both 1999 and 2000. Although he was in the San Diego organization from 1998 until 2003, he didn’t make the big leagues with the Padres.
“After the ’03 season, (the Padres) sent me to the Arizona Fall League. I probably had the worst Arizona Fall League that anybody’s ever had in the history of that league. I just did absolutely terrible. (The Padres) end up with maybe a week left in the Arizona Fall League, and they take me off the 40-man roster and I’m picked up by Detroit. I go into the off season a Detroit Tiger. About December, I get a call from the Cleveland Indians saying, ‘We just claimed you off of waivers.’ I didn’t even know I had been placed on waivers,” Bartosh vividly recalls.
Cleveland, under then-General Manager Mark Shapiro, called Bartosh up from Triple-A Buffalo to make his major league debut on May 15, 2004, against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In March of 2005, Bartosh was traded to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Ronald “Bear” Bay. Once again, Bartosh’s destiny fluttered in the wind.
Bartosh pitched in the big leagues for the Cubs in 2005, but eventually underwent surgery for a torn labrum and rotator cuff, and by August of 2006 he hadn’t thrown a baseball in a year.
“I went home to Texas and my wife got a job teaching. I had no college at that point, and started going to school,” Bartosh says. “It’s weird because to that point, I had done (the baseball routine) for eight to nine seasons. It was the only quote-unquote job I had to that point. I had a wife and a son at that time, and I felt like I can’t just sit and wait for my arm to get better.”
While staying at home to be with his son, Bartosh took online classes at Dallas (Texas) County Community College. He studied government and history, and later transferred in 2008 to the University of Texas at Arlington, enrolling in the exercise science program.
“I got that degree when I was 30, and most guys (in school) were 18 to 22,” Bartosh says. “I got that degree and then decided, ‘Maybe I don’t want to be a strength coach.’ I got an alternative teaching certification. I took some tests to get a science endorsement, an ESL endorsement and a health endorsement.”
He became Mr. Bartosh, teaching at a middle school in his hometown of Duncanville, Texas.
“I taught a class called ‘Skills for Success’. I really don’t know what it was about. I had a set curriculum that I was supposed to teach and I did. My wife made fun of it because there was a chapter in the book that was on how to use a microwave. I didn’t have to teach that one; I didn’t feel it was necessary,” he remarks with a grin.
It was after that stint, and some time spent as an 8th grade science instructor, Bartosh decided to pack up his house, his belongings and his life, and head in a different direction.
“I’m sitting there teaching, and I’m feeling like I’m not really making an impact on these kids. I have a house and I’m living very comfortably. The more I read the gospels, the more I realized we’re maybe not supposed to be that comfortable. In the book of Mark, there’s the parable of the rich, young ruler. Christ says, ‘Sell everything, give to the poor and follow me.’”
“I’ve got a good house, a great job that pays the bills and all that, and we decided that we’re gonna sell our house and I started reaching out to people in baseball and I was fortunate that the big league strength coach here in San Diego, Jim Malone, was a minor league coordinator in Cleveland. I sent them my resume and they were crazy enough to hire me,” he says, mesmerized.
In his first year as the strength and conditioning coach with the TinCaps, Bartosh has a connection with the players that not many do—he’s one of their kind. He knows what it’s like to give up the game-tying home run, or to feel like your pitches just don’t work. He’s been there time and time again, but on someone else’s calendar. He’s now deciding his own fate, and making a difference on his time. No longer Mr. Bartosh, he’s just Cliff.
“It was very refreshing to get rid of everything that ties you down to an area. So now that I have no ties anywhere, really. Someone asked me where I was going to live in the off-season. I have no idea. I really don’t know where I’ll end up. I’m enjoying this. This is great. You get to develop relationships with players, with coaches, with other staff and hopefully that leads to lifelong friendships.”
At the end of the 2012 season, with about a week to go, Bartosh had another change of heart, deciding that the baseball route wasn’t where he was meant to be, and he decided to move back home to Texas. For those uninitiated with the Midwest League schedule, it entails playing 140 games in 152 days, and off days are more often used for laundry and sleep than anything else (at least from my experience). Bartosh had moved his family (wife and child) to Fort Wayne, and found that even with them in town, he was away too often for his own liking, and probably theirs, too.
From a personal standpoint, I was disappointed to see him leave the team. Cliff was one of the most well-spoken and thoughtful people I’ve met in my time in baseball, and he was a good person to chat with, especially on bus rides, where we sat across from one another. Seating on the team bus is a bit like seating in a college classroom–once you pick your seats for the first road trip, that’s your seat for the rest of the season. He had some pretty good stories from his playing days, too. In this game, friendship is a hard balance. Our human tendency is to gravitate toward those who are similar to us and become friends with them, and to become close. But baseball makes one wary of that choice, with the possibility that injury, promotion, demotion, or any variety of other reasons could mean that friend is gone the next day.
It took a few different Google searches to track down his current whereabouts, but I found him back at his alma mater in Duncanville, Texas, where he is both a teacher and baseball coach. Through email, he told me that he is teaching construction, “mostly residential carpentry with some electrical,” he wrote. He’s also an assistant coach for the high school’s baseball team.
It seems as though with Bartosh, there are no lingering “What if?” questions. What if I’d made it to the big leagues? What if I’d stayed healthy? What if….
Those questions all have answers, and now he’s happy at home, with his family, and doing what he enjoys.
Paramore…take it away!