The low salaries and sweltering summer weather of Tobacco Road can taint the rosy vision of professional baseball for many prospects. Luckily for recently departed Michigan second baseman Chris Getz, the excitement generated by early success helps him deal with the heat.
After being promoted from the Great Falls (Mont.) White Sox — the Chicago White Sox rookie league affiliate — to the ‘A’ level Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators after just six games, Getz is optimistic about his chances to work his way to the South Side of the Windy City.
“I wasn’t expecting to be promoted so early,” Getz said. “Usually pitchers move up a lot quicker than position players.”
Getz earned his promotion by hitting .333 with two stolen bases and four RBI in those six appearances. While these are impressive numbers, contact hitters like Getz can get lost in a generation that worships power hitters. Nevertheless, Getz is confident that there is a place for him in the majors.
“For things like the (Major League Baseball All-Star) Futures Game, everyone is looking for the next star,” Getz said. “But teams in the major leagues have lots of guys that don’t hit 25 or 30 home runs. There are plenty of second basemen and shortstops who aren’t power hitters.”
Since joining the Intimidators — who are named for the late NASCAR legend, avid baseball fan and Kannapolis native Dale Earnhardt — Getz has hit .311, stolen four bases and knocked home five runs in 19 games. His three doubles and two triples have helped him to a .827 on base plus slugging percentage (OPS), widely considered the best measure of a ballplayer’s offensive contributions. This OPS is comparable to the major league numbers of New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer.
If Getz continues to hit consistently as he is gradually promoted through the minor league system, a major league shot is inevitable. According to Getz, the key to hitting well is preparation. He thanks Michigan coach Rich Maloney for helping him realize what his role as a hitter would be.
“(Maloney) prepared me well,” Getz said. “He would tell me ‘This is what you need to do to hit .300 in the minors.’ He told me to stick to bunts and working to hit the ball up the middle and not to worry about power.”
Getz also had a leg up on the field when he arrived in Great Falls, because he was joined by left handed pitcher Clayton Richard, his former teammate at Michigan.
“(Playing with Richard) made the transition a lot easier,” Getz said. “You’re much more relaxed when you have someone that you know on the same team.”
Although he has remained in Great Falls, Richard has also had success in his first month of professional baseball, earning Pioneer League Pitcher of the Week honors for the week of June 27. Richard has notched 20 strikeouts in 17 innings, and there are rumors of a promotion floating around on White Sox message boards. While optimistic about Richard’s prospects within the organization, Getz believes the White Sox will take their time because Richard played just one year of college baseball.
“I know (the White Sox) like lefties,” Getz said. “With Clayton they will probably take their time to be safe since he hasn’t pitched very many games.”
Getz, on the other hand, has had a wealth of experience, completing three seasons in Maize and Blue, as well as two summers playing for the Chatham Athletics of the wooden bat Cape Cod League.
“Playing (in the Cape Cod League) was a great experience,” Getz said. “It really prepared me for pro baseball because I was playing with all the top college players.”
The one adjustment Getz has struggled with is the grind of playing so many games in North Carolina grueling heat. Heat indices regularly reach 105 degrees in the Kannapolis area and heat advisories are seemingly as common as the sun coming up. To fight the heat, Getz has been forced to change his diet.
“It’s been an adjustment to play every single day, especially with the heat that I am playing in,” Getz said. “I really have to watch what I put into my body and stay in good shape. The grind gets to me at times, and I get tired out.”
Luckily for Getz, he no longer has to dedicate time to study table and academic commitments, so he uses the time effectively to improve his game.
“It’s still the summer so I don’t fully feel (the lack of schoolwork),” Getz said. “But any extra time spent working on your game will help you improve greatly.”
Though the schedule is grueling and the heat is unbearable, Getz is living the dream of most college students — even the ones who haven’t the slightest interest in baseball.
“I can do what I want off the field — I sleep a ton,” Getz said. “At Michigan, we’d always be up at (8:30 a.m.) eating breakfast together, but here I can sleep until two in the afternoon.”
With the extra rest, the improved diet and plenty of practice Getz is confident about reaching the majors, although he says two or three more years of minor league baseball is an optimistic estimate.
“Chicago is a small ball type of team,” Getz said. “They’ve been beating up guys with small ball and speed, while overlooking size. I knew going in to the organization that the White Sox would be a great team for me.”