One of the things I love most about covering baseball, especially my usual stomping grounds in the Minor Leagues, are the guys who aren’t the huge prospects, who don’t have the best tools.
Sure those guys who wow you with their speed or make you rub your eyes with their light-tower power are fun to watch. But I have to admit I dig the guys who have been told they are too small to succeed, who play above their natural tools, who squeeze every ounce of ability out of themselves. You know the type, guys who only know one speed — full — who
always gets their uniforms dirty and would do anything to help their team win.
These guys need a collective name, a group they can belong to. So I’ve come up with Little Over-achieving Outfielders, or LOO. Think about it. Fans love it when there’s a Lou on their team (Lou Piniella was with the Yankees when I was growing up), so they can shout it out, “Looooooooooo!” See what I mean?
Now, it just so happens that two of my favorites are also Members of the Tribe. Sam Fuld and Adam Greenberg fit the mold perfectly, guys who keep on playing, trying to beat the odds. What does that make them a part of? That’s right, J-Loo, dangerously close to a pop icon’s nickname. Can’t get much cooler than that.
I’ve written about both of them before. Greenberg was the one who clawed his way up to the big leagues with the Cubs a few years back, only to get hit in the head with a pitch in his one and only Major League plate appearance. He’s been trying to get back since.
He recently signed with the Bridgeport Bluefish in the independent Atlantic League. He was there last year, too, then got signed by the Angels and played pretty decent ball for their Double-A club. Granted, he’s now 28. But you have to think he’ll hook on with an affiliated team before the season is over. He still knows how to hit and can steal a base and yes, does the little things to help a team win. The window of opportunity for him to get back to the big leagues is slowly closing, but I fully expect him to keep running it out there, trying to squeeze through that opening until someone pries the uniform off his back.
I wrote about Fuld back in the fall of 2007 when he was the MVP of the Arizona Fall League. The Cubs minor leaguer also won the league’s Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award, meaning his work before games and his leadership in the clubhouse were recognized just as much as his on-field performance. A diabetic, he’s been very outspoken about it and serves as a terrific role model for those trying to learn how to live — and thrive — with the disease.
When Fuld made his big-league debut in the 2007 season, he hoped to use the AFL as a springboard to winning a reserve outfielder spot in Chicago. Instead, he took a step backward, hitting poorly in Triple-A after not making the big-league roster and eventually getting dropped down to Double-A. He was OK there at age 26, but he’s no longer on the 40-man roster.
Here’s what I love about Fuld. Instead of sulking or calling it quits, he went to play winter ball in Venezuela. The Stanford grad promptly hit .322 with a .425 on-base percentage as the leadoff hitter for Aragua, one of the league’s powerhouses that made the playoffs. He played in 22 games in their postseason run and hit .288 as Aragua won the league and went on to the Caribbean World Series (which they won without Fuld). He’s back in the Cubs organization, and in Triple-A, batted .250 through his first 12 games.
These guys will never be superstars. They may not even land regular jobs in the big leagues. But they sure are easy to root for. Who doesn’t like an underdog? So if you get to see them at a ballpark anywhere, whether it’s the Majors, the Minors or independent ball, remember to greet them with a big “Looooo” cheer.
(Jonathan Mayo, The Chronicle’s sports columnist and a staff writer for MLB.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)