Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has dual degrees in music from Ohio State University.

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From years of watching baseball I think I can defend my position when I say…if you’re going to play professional baseball you’d better have more than just the skills it takes to get drafted.

The major league baseball draft was this week, and I’m guessing most of you hardly noticed.

It is rather demure in comparison to the whorish spectacle of the NFL draft.  You can thank Mel Kiper and Todd McShay for that…the personification of paralysis by analysis.  Honestly, I’ve bought steaks for the grill with less consideration.

But you can also thank the arrogance of the NFL.  The league assumes that our right to know more than we need supersedes our right to exist, that no one turns his head to a good show.  And so you get three days of Broadway and prime time coverage on ESPN.  Give me Ethel Merman!

No, the baseball draft comes and goes like a cat walking through the room.  Unless you’re watching for it, and unless you know what you’re looking for, you really don’t notice anyone taken until they show up in the big leagues.  And then you ask…where did he come from?

As many of you know I spent several years in the minor leagues as an umpire, calling balls and strikes, yes, but also observing how professional baseball works.  And the one thing I learned as an umpire is…that you’d better be more than a good umpire if you hope to make it to the big leagues.  I know this is a shocking revelation, but you’d better know someone with influence that can help you get there.  Balls and strikes are important, but having an ally trumps the basics almost every time.

The same thing applies to baseball players, as well.  Trust me, it takes more than baseball skills to get to the big leagues…a lot more…which in part explains why so many players of seeming talent never get there, or get passed over in the draft from the outset.

I said this all spring…that I didn’t see an area high school player that I thought had the tools to be drafted.  In large part I said that because area baseball was very young this spring…young in actual age and young in playing experience.

But I can also tell you that to make it past rookie ball as a professional baseball player you have to “want it”.  That is, you have to have a desire and makeup that sets you apart…fearlessness in the face of failure.  Fearlessness in the face of competition.  And fearlessness to put home, family, girl friend, and your adolescent support system behind you.  You’ve got to “want” to be a professional more than you want to be home, and you have to find a way to “win”, every step of the way.

There’s a lot of bad things that can happen to you once you sign a professional contract, and the worst of the worst is self doubt.  Slumps and bumps cannot get you down if you expect to be around for more than one season.

What others say about you can’t get you down, either.  I love the story of Ft. Loramie’s Jared Hoying.  When he was drafted by the Texas Rangers two years ago Baseball America came out and wrote that he had “an ugly lefthanded swing”, and that his future beyond the fact of signing a professional contract was “questionable”.

That kind of criticism would demoralize a lot of kids starting out their careers.  It apparently made Jared Hoying better.  He led all Rangers hitters from the big club to rookie ball in his first season with a .325 average, 20 home runs and 50 rbis

In my first year as an umpire in the Florida State League I saw one first round draft choice become so devastated with seeing a teammate “beaned” (hit in the head with a pitched ball) that he could not recover from it.  His worst nightmare became an inside fastball, and of course that fact got around.  That’s all he saw.  And by the end of his second season he’d given up baseball altogether.

By contrast I watched Reds prospect Devin Mesoraco last weekend in Columbus.  Their #1 draft pick from three years ago, a Pennsylvania high school phenom as a catcher, Mesoraco struggled mightily in his first year of professional baseball, hitting just .219 in rookie ball.

A year later he was better as a member of the Dayton Dragons, but still he made more than one wonder if his potential as a #1 pick wasn’t grossly overrated.

He began to emerge in 2009, eventually making his way to Triple-A Louisville.  And a year ago, Mesoraco was selected as the organization’s minor league player of the year.

The heir apparent to the Reds' catching position, Devin Mesoraco is batting .330 at Louisville with 7 home runs and 35 rbis.

Last Sunday, he went three for four against the Columbus Clippers, raising his average to .330 against top pitching in the International League.  He ran the bases like a young Mickey Mantle.  What’s more, his catching skills were apparent as he threw out the only Columbus base runner who attempted to steal…and threw him out easily!

On that same Louisville team Yonder Alonso is struggling to learn a position other than first base, the position for which he was drafted #1 out of the University of Miami one year after Mesoraco.  But with National League MVP Joey Votto firmly ensconced as the Reds first baseman for years to come, Alonso’s only chance to get to Cincinnati was from the outfield.

He doesn’t look like an outfielder, stocky and thick bodied.  He doesn’t have great speed.  And his instincts in tracking fly balls was an early issue.

But he wasn’t discouraged.  He’s worked to become proficient in left field at Louisville and last Sunday made a couple of plays that looked major league, including a running, over-the-shoulder catch in front of the wall.  And man can he hit!

It’s not easy to become a professional in any field.  There’s competition, there’s bad luck, and there’s the reality that regardless of how good you become someone will always like another player better.  You gotta’ be lucky to make it, yes, but you have to be good in more ways than what you portray on the field.

You’ve got to be good enough in your head and in your heart to withstand those 0-for-5 nights when you strike out four times.  And you’ve got to be good enough to ignore the nay-sayers when you read their comments in the paper the next morning.

You know that old saying about it’s better to be lucky than good?  Well, not if you expect to last in professional baseball.  Luck eventually runs out.  You’ve got to have the “goods”, and you’ve got to be “good”.

Four years ago I said the same thing about Jay Bruce when I saw him play in Louisville, so believe me when I tell you now…Devin Mesoraco will be here to stay.

And the way he’s playing he’ll be here soon.

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