The San Diego Padres picked up Rich Thompson from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the rule V Draft…
"Prince Fielder's first game with us was the home opener and he hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game. "Last year we were down to Provo one game to nothing and down in game two going into the bottom of the ninth inning and a guy hit a three run homer to win the game. That was pretty exciting.
"Then this year Steve Baker – we had a bad road trip to Wisconsin and came back with a week to go in the first half – and just struggling. Steve Baker hit a couple of grand slams, one in the sixth inning of a seven-inning game on Saturday, game one of a doubleheader, and then on Sunday a walkoff grand slam. Those were pretty big deals."
A small sampling for sure, and the bigger moments may have yet to come. Hearing the crack of the bat and knowing the game is over on that one swing is a marvel. Being a part of it on a daily basis is what dreams are made of.
Highlights go beyond the field of play. Moments on the sidelines can be just as rewarding.
"I had Larry King on air with me for about 20 minutes and that was a lot of fun.
"And this year I had Kevin Towers on with me for three innings. He and I are roughly the same age, we both grew up in Northern California, and we both grew up Giants fans."
The guess here is Byrom didn't ask if Towers is happy the Giants won the division again last year.
"He was up at South Bend for a week and we talked for probably 45 minutes during batting practice, before the game, in between his phone calls. He was a great guy. Matter of fact, everyone I have met that has come in here has been really good."
So what did he tell you about the future direction the team and its affiliates will take?
"He was actually pretty candid on the air, which I was a little surprised about. So far everything we talked about, on and off the air, is happening. What he said would happen, in a couple of cases with specific players, but more along the lines of the philosophy that we are going into a new Park, this is what we are going to do. We are going to take care of the farm system. We are going to look for a shortstop and we are going to look for a catcher, and this was before the Giles trade was complete, he had talked about that. He said, ‘we think with the Giants getting older and the Diamondbacks getting older and the Dodgers are the Dodgers and we think we can compete in the division in a year or two.' And I think he is right.
"I think if they follow the plan, there is an awful lot of talent in this farm system. I think they have a pretty decent shot."
It all starts with the Draft. The Draft in June is largely a hit or miss. Can't miss prospects miss. Undrafted free agents make it to the big leagues.
The Padres philosophy has been to draft College guys rather than high school guys. The reasoning is they are getting a more polished prospect, and a college guy is more likely to make the majors.
At Fort Wayne, Byrom is in a prime position to see the differences between college prospects vs. high school prospects.
"The college guys, I don't want to say take it more seriously as that is unfair, but I think they have a better understanding about what they need to do. And even having said that, for most of these guys, this is their first full season. I think it surprises them how difficult it is. How much of a grind it is.
"When I talk to these guys in late March, early April when they got here, just getting to know them, ‘well last year we played 60 college games and then 70 in Eugene, so I have done this before.' Then as the season wears on, they begin to admit it wasn't remotely close to the same thing.
"The travel in college – most of these guys went to universities and they are traveling on planes. They are only playing over the weekend, maybe one day a week. They had three or four weeks off before going to Eugene, which again is a short season. It is a little bit different when you look in the paper and look at the stat sheet in early June and you have played 60 games and realize there is not going to be a point where you get to start over again. So that batting average at .230 is going to hang with you until you do something about it. It's just an every day thing.
"I think for a lot of the college guys it is just trying to get through this level, the first everyday, 140 games and get to the next level so you understand a lot more about how to take care of yourself. I heard that a lot at the end of the year from a lot of different players. ‘I am going to do a lot of things different next year. And I will be better prepared to do this.'
For the Padres sake, they can only hope each player comes back next season with more fervor. The deeper their farm system, the further they will go as a ballclub.
Denis Savage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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