Walking away from the game you love

Chris Kolkhorst walked away on his terms

If you're a hard core sports fan, you've probably played competitive sports at some point in your life.

…and as with most of us you've also probably been told when to stop playing. Whether it was Little League, high school or beyond, there simply came a time when you weren't good enough to continue.

Not a whole lot of us can walk away from a game where we have a chance to realize our dreams, but Chris Kolkhorst did.

Kolkhorst, 24, was a 10th round draft pick of the Padres out of Rice University, and in two years of minor league baseball finished with career numbers of .303/.418/.392 and most impressively walked more than he struck out.

The "Grit Man" had been putting up numbers at every stop since he was drafted by the Padres in 2004, including last year at Lake Elsinore where he hit .327 with a .877 OPS.

So what happened?

"It was not a decision that was made overnight," Kolkhorst admitted. "My experiences in college were just too much. I could never re-capture the team camaraderie that I experienced and struggled with being an individual in pro ball."

Was Kolkhorst a sure fire major league prospect? No. He didn't have plus speed for a leadoff hitter, there were questions on his ability to play centerfield, where as a leadoff hitter with little power he would have to play, and the quintessential he was "old for the league" comment was frequently written about him.

However he still put up solid numbers and had better statistics in nearly every category except for stolen bases than Kennard Jones and Freddy Guzman, the Padres' two top leadoff prospects.

I had him as one of the top twenty players in the Padres' system.

But Kolkhorst didn't really see what he had accomplished, instead he saw how long a trip it was to the majors from Lake Elsinore.

"Its so hard to get to the majors and you have to take a realistic approach of what your chances of making it are and the type of player that I could be, probably more of a role player." "It was becoming a job, the only reason I was in it was for the [potential] money, and I just didn't want to play for that."

The Padres tried to get him to reconsider, but the allure of the chance of being a major league player had been surpassed by the feeling that he was chasing something that wasn't there.

"I didn't want to bang around the minors for five years. I wanted to use my degree and start my life, I just couldn‘t handle the fact that I could be wasting my time.

"Last year the nine innings I played was the easiest part of my day. What killed me was the rest of the time wondering what I was doing here."

If anyone has ever seen Kolkhorst play, a rare combination of passion and intelligence, with the ability to squeeze every last ounce of talent out of himself, its hard to imagine he would decide to leave baseball, regardless of the odds of his being a major league player.

Kolkhorst has spent his whole life proving people wrong who told him what he couldn't do. Few would have believed that he would not only play, but excel in major college baseball, get drafted and experience the success he's had in the minors so far.

Making the major leagues just seemed to be another one of the obstacles to conquer, but it didn‘t play out that way. Chris decided it wouldn't play out that way, not anyone else.

Try it. Talk yourself out of walking away from a dream that you have had since you were a kid, its not easy.

Whatever direction he chooses, he has a pretty good track record. Rice University graduate, Academic All American, starter on the 2003 national championship team, major league draft pick, Midwest League All-Star…

It's hard to imagine him not being a success.

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