Baseball players are no strangers to trades.
And four members of the 2012 Cal Poly baseball team made a pretty big one: camaraderie for career.
“In pro ball you’re fighting each other for a spot,” former Cal Poly relief pitcher Nick Grim said. “You can be friends with a pitcher, but at the same time, you guys are both fighting to get moved up before the other. You don’t necessarily have that team vibe like we did at Cal Poly.”
Grim, along with former Mustangs Mitch Haniger, Mike Miller and Kyle Anderson, all signed professional contracts since playing for Cal Poly last season and have found the grind of the minor leagues is a little different than the brotherhood of Cal Poly baseball.
“It really is like a full-time job,” Haniger said. “(In) pro ball, you may have a couple buddies, but you might not be in the same level or they might get hurt, sent up, sent down. That’s the big difference.”
Haniger, the 2012 Big West Player of the Year, was selected 38th overall in the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in June and signed a contract with the Milwaukee Brewers worth more than $1.3 million.
The former Cal Poly center fielder began his professional career in June with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a Class A affiliate of the Brewers. Before partially tearing his posterior cruciate ligament in early July, Haniger posted a .286 batting average and .379 on-base percentage in 14 games.
“You’re going to play some top tier programs here,” Haniger said. “It’s pretty much like you’re playing like the really good college team every single game.”
And while the competition remains level compared to Cal Poly, the schedule and routine of a minor leaguer is one of the biggest differences, according to Miller.
A first-team All-Conference selection, Miller led the Mustangs with a .354 batting average and signed with the Boston Red Sox after being selected in the ninth round in June.
“It’s still the same game but the hard part is playing every day,” Miller said. “At Cal Poly, we’d play three or four games a week. In pro ball, I think we play 75 games in 78 days.”
Miller recorded 69 hits and 14 doubles in 66 games last summer with the Lowell Spinners, the Red Sox’s Class A Short-Season affiliate. He often endures six to eight hour road trips, leaving at 6 a.m. and arriving at 4 p.m. before game time.
“Being able to stay healthy and take care of yourself is probably the biggest challenge,” Miller said. “At Cal Poly, I was mostly cooking my own dinners and being able to recover from a three-game set, having a couple days to take care of my body. Out there, it’s just a grind.”
Absent from the minor league grind, however, is one large part of Division I baseball.
“There’s no school,” Grim said. “It’s more like a job now, almost to where it’s very business like. You get up in the morning, you have your practice, you have lunch, you have your game and you go home. It’s a lot easier to focus just on baseball.”
Grim, who went 3-2 on the mound for the Mustangs last season, was drafted in the 17th round by the Baltimore Orioles. The setup man only pitched seven innings in the Rookie Gulf Coast League this past summer before injuring his forearm.
Anderson, a starting pitcher, had a banner year for the Mustangs in 2012, going 10-1 with a 3.40 ERA as Cal Poly’s Saturday starting pitcher. The southpaw signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Toronto Blue Jays immediately following the draft on June 6.
Anderson went 4-2 in 13 games on the mound with the Vancouver Canadians in the Class A Short-Season Northwest League.
Even without Haniger, Miller, Grim and Anderson, the Mustangs are finding success this year. Collegiate Baseball Newspaper ranked Cal Poly No. 27 after their first 7-0 start in a 19-year Division I history. After winning a series against Washington this past weekend, the Mustangs now sit at No. 21 heading into a midweek two-game series against Holy Cross that starts Tuesday.
“You couldn’t ask for anything better than that,” Haniger said. “Definitely there could’ve been a couple more guys to (get drafted) from Cal Poly last year and I think they’ll get their chance this year.”
In their post-Cal Poly baseball careers, the future goal for these former Mustangs is the same as any minor leaguer.
“I want to be a big leaguer,” Miller said. “I’m honored and blessed that I got the chance to play in the Red Sox organization, but my goal is not just to be a minor league baseball player. I want to have impact on a major league club.”
Haniger and Grim, now healthy and game-ready, along with Miller, will spend the next few months at their respective spring training locations before they are assigned to a minor league team for the remainder of the regular season.
“(I’m) just trying to move up the ladder as quick as possible,” Haniger said, “leave it all on the field and put myself in a good position everyday to be able to win and help my team win. Everything else should fall into place.”
And still, as each of these minor leaguers takes the next steps in their professional careers, they all miss the same thing about baseball at Cal Poly.
“Just playing with the guys,” Miller said. “I made a lot of good friendships out there. That atmosphere that we had in the locker room and on the field, there’s nothing better than playing with those guys on the weekends.”