Now presenting, your 2013 Mahoning Valley Scrappers
The 2013 Mahoning Valley Scrappers are certainly an eclectic bunch. A combination of fresh draft picks, older free agents, and rising prospects, the Scrappers embody their nickname perfectly; they are the personification of scrappy.
Just trying to scratch and claw their way to the next level, each Scrapper has a different story.
For Nick Hamilton, son of Cleveland Indians’ radio personality Tom Hamilton, Mahoning Valley is the beginning of a dream turned reality.
“I’ve always imagined it this way,” Hamilton said, referring to his experiences as a draftee of the team he spent so much of his childhood with. “Being back in Northeast Ohio is a dream come true. Avon Lake isn’t too far away, so my family will swing through for a couple of games. I remember playing just a couple of miles away from here in college. It’s amazing to be here in Mahoning Valley.”
Things are a little different for infielder Paul Hendrix. Drafted in the 18th round of the 2013 Major League Baseball Draft just a couple of days ago, the past couple of days have been an absolute whirlwind.
When asking him at what time he arrived in Niles, he replied with a quirky grin, “Just last night.”
Imagine that: being drafted, arriving in a completely foreign environment, meeting a whole new group of guys, and playing professional baseball all within a couple of days. Hendrix, however, thinks he’s prepared.
“Playing big time Division I baseball at TCU prepared me well for this," he said. "We obviously played great talent and, while the talent here may be better, I am certainly used to playing with very talented players.”
Then there are the starry-eyed rooks, like pitchers Ben Heller and Cole Sussler.
Drafted in the 25th round of this year’s draft, pitcher Cole Sussler has made adjustments like this before. A Californian by birth, Sussler decided to play his college ball at the Ivy League powerhouse, Dartmouth College.
“I grew up in San Diego,” a wide-eyed Sussler explained. “I could play ball any time I wanted to. I could play, essentially all year. Then I got to Dartmouth and the snow's coming down and you’re limited with working out. It was tough, but I was able to survive and excel.”
While Sussler is now a professional ballplayer, he was a lot like you and me just a couple of days ago.
“I was just with a couple of my friends,” said Sussler, when asked about the moment during which he got the call. “I was doing what anyone would do. We were just hanging out, watching ESPN and following the draft online. Then the call came, and immediately things just started going. It has been my dream for as long as I can remember.”
A lanky boy with that famous Midwestern charm, Ben Heller grew up a baseball player in hockey country. Drafted in the 22nd round, his dream finally came true when he got that phone-call.
“Growing up in Whitewater, Wisconsin, a lot of kids played hockey,” Heller said. “I played hockey too, but I always wanted to play baseball. It was my dream since I was a little kid.”
Finally, there’s the Caleb Hamrick type: not too talkative, not too exciting; just focused and ready to prove himself.
Hamrick was drafted last season in the 8th round out of high school and signed late with the Tribe. He was weighing his options and his commitment to Dallas Baptist University before deciding to ultimately sign with the Tribe. He spent 2012 in the Arizona League and - as one of the highest drafted players on the roster - is ready to prove himself.
“I just want to show them what I can do,” Hamrick softly said. “After I signed late, I didn’t get too much of an opportunity to pitch in Arizona, so I’m excited for a full season of baseball. I’m ready for whatever they ask me to do.”
Regardless of background, hype, or talent, each Scrapper is ready to do what they love.
“For the first time in my life”, an excited Cole Sussler exclaimed, “baseball is my primary focus. In the past, I’ve had to balance baseball with academics and other things. But now, it’s all baseball. I’m excited for that.”
This passion for the game is what will bring this team together. A group of strangers for now, this game is what will unite the Scrappers. Baseball is their common bond.
They all will work tirelessly to achieve their dream, to climb the ladder, and hit the big time. That common goal is met with small steps.
Nick Hamilton wants to work on his fielding. “That’s something that held me back in college. I definitely want to get better.”
Caleb Hamrick wants to continue to work on his strength. “I worked in the offseason on just getting stronger in my lower body, my upper body, and everything. I just want to keep getting stronger.”
Paul Hendrix is excited to learn the shortstop position at the professional level. “I played second base in college, but they said they like me as a shortstop. I’m excited about that. It’s a totally different mindset.”
Lead by manager Teddy Kubiak, hitting coach Shaun Larkin, and pitching coach Scott Erickson, the 2013 Scrappers certainly have the leadership they need to develop into Major League ballplayers. Coming in with all sorts of experience as coaches and former players, the Scrappers have a library of baseball knowledge right at their fingertips.
“Having a coach like Teddy Kubiak is great,” exclaimed the exuberant Hamliton. “He was such a great player during all of those years in Oakland, I can’t wait to learn from him.”
As the season is set to begin, there is a delicate challenge that awaits each of these players.
Each individual is trying to balance upon the fine line that separates selfish and team-oriented goals. They’re trying to make each other better, while separating themselves from the pack. Trying to win in Mahoning, but leave the Valley at the same time.
It is a challenge that many of these players have never experienced before, but will have to manifest themselves in over the next chapter of their career. They will need to balance the seemingly opposite circumstances, until they finally make the big-time. It is the central dichotomy of Minor League Baseball, and only the champions of balance will survive.
Whether the son of a Cleveland Indians legend, a big-time collegiate player, a well hyped prospect, or a starstruck high school graduate, each of these guys are now all professional ballplayers in the shadows of Youngstown, Ohio.
This is a specific, eclectic, and exciting group of guys, these are your 2013 Mahoning Valley Scrappers.