It is always too early to give up on your sports dreams

It is always too early to give up on your sports dreams

Tim Adams was going to be a baseball superstar. Or so I thought.

During the 1997 season opener for the Butte Copper Kings, Adams hit a home run over the 450-foot sign in dead center field at Alumni Coliseum in Butte.

Yes, it was 450 feet to center at Alumni. The Montana Tech Orediggers did not want a warning track cut into their football field, so the baseball field went around the end zone.

That gave the Mining City the distinction of having the largest field in pro baseball in terms of field dimensions.

Nobody hit a home run to center in Butte, not even in batting practice. Except Adams. He is the only one. He crushed a line drive that just cleared the tall green fence.

I was lucky enough to cover that game for The Montana Standard, and I gushed to sports editor Bruce Sayler when I got back to the newsroom.

“Tim Adams,” I said, talking like I was Peter Gammons, “is going to hit at least 20 home runs this season. At least.”

The number 20 was significant in Butte, too. That is how many home runs the great Cecil Fielder hit during his legendary 1982 season in the Mining City.

Fielder also hit 28 doubles and drove in 68 runs in 69 games.

So, my prophecy to put Adams in Fielder’s company was, to say the least, a very bold prediction.

It turns out I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Not only did Adams not hit 20 bombs that year, he did not even hit two.

Adams’ home run to center turned out to be the only one he ever hit in professional baseball.

When the 1998 season opened, the former 26th round draft pick of the Anaheim Angels was out of professional baseball. His career lasted just 38 games.

By the end of June 1997, it was obvious that my Adams prediction was dead wrong. He was very impressive in batting practice, slamming ball after ball to the football press box at Alumni. But he hit a curve ball like Pedro Cerrano.

A week or two into the season, I turned my attention to Steve “Hollywood” Hagins. He was going to be the next Copper Kings to star in the big leagues. Or so I thought.

Hagins had a good season in Butte that summer, hitting .351 with 17 home runs and 56 RBIs in 64 games. He  hit balls off the press box in games, and every girl at the Vu Villa wanted to be his.

The Hagins story also fell short of a true Hollywood script. He played 12 games at Class AA Erie in the Eastern League 2000. He tried playing for a few independent teams before leaving pro ball for good by 2001.

When it comes to baseball prospects, you just never know. Actually, that is true for prospects of all sports.

Ryan Leaf was drafted by the Chargers with the second overall pick of the 1998 NFL Draft. Two years later, the Patriots picked Tom Brady with the 199th selection.

Leaf was a notorious bust, and Tom Terrific is still going strong.

That is something to keep in mind if your son or daughter failed to make the “All-Star team” this summer.

Major League Baseball teams and there legion of scouts miss on baseball prospects all the time. They miss on way more players than they hit on, and that is after the players have graduated from high school or college.

So, it is safe to assume that the Little League All-Star selection process might have missed some future stars, too.

The Copper Kings, the Pioneer League baseball team that left town following the 2000 season, were full of prospects who missed. More than 95 percent of them missed.

In 1999, K-Rod came from Venezuela with his gift of a right arm and his million-dollar signing bonus. Everyone knew he was going to make the big leagues, and we were right.

K-Rod was a star on the 2002 World Series champion Angels team, and he is ranked No. 4 in Major League Baseball history for saves.

At 36, Rodriguez is currently playing for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, holding onto the dream of another shot in the Show.

For every story like K-Rod, there are more like Skyler Knuchel, a guy who found success because he just kept on playing.

One of the true good guys, Knuchel was a Deer Lodge kid who had no business being a 1,000-yard rusher in the Frontier Conference, but nobody could tell him that.

Knuchel was a decent enough athlete, but his talent level was well below that of Drew Savage, the Great Falls Russell superstar who signed with Montana Tech the same time Knuchel did.

Savage, a guy many figured could not miss, was faster, quicker and had much more natural running ability than Knuchel. Most thought Knuchel would be, at best, a scout team player for the Orediggers.

While Savage’s career was marred by injuries, the hard-working Knuchel proved us wrong. He led the Frontier Conference in rushing with 1,012 yards during his junior season in 2009. He ran for nine touchdowns in 11 games.

He also led the league in determination.

While we usually focus on the superstars, it is guys like Knuchel who show us that it is always too early to give up on your sports dreams.

Jim Haugen is the former executive director of the Montana High School Association and a man whose opinion I trust more than just about anyone.

Mr. Haugen told me that when he hears about a boy in junior high dominating the competition, he looks at the boy’s legs. If that boy has a bunch of leg hair, he knows to take that dominance with a grain of salt.

We all knew that kid in junior high who developed faster than everyone else. We thought he was destined for greatness, but he fizzled away when the rest of us saw our voices deepen. You see that in almost every class.

If you are not the coach’s kid and did not play shortstop and bat leadoff every game as a 12-year-old player, shake it off.

If your middle school football coach put you on the bench more than he played you at receiver, do not worry about it.

If your parents do not have the time and or money to put you on a travel team, the sporting world has not passed you by.

Right now we have too many kids who give up because they are not an All-Star by age 10. Our culture has made kids so afraid to fail that they fail themselves by giving up way too soon.

Whatever you do, tell these kids to go out for the team again next year, then the year after that.

Sure, that player might no be the next Francisco Rodriguez, Tom Brady or Cecil Fielder. He might not even be the next Tim Adams.

But who knows? Maybe he is net next Skyler Knuchel.

The world really needs more people like that.

— Bill Foley, who failed miserably as a baseball prospect, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74

 



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