Close friend's major league opportunity hits close to home

I can remember about this time last year standing under the sun at spring training shagging balls during batting practice with my good friend Joe Thatcher.

We were talking about where we would live when we got to our low Class A affiliate in West Virginia … trying to figure out where we would live, and how we were excited to be making a team. Then together we processed the thoughts of how great it would be to move up during the season and the prospects of becoming that much closer to the big leagues.

Well, Thatcher, a left-hander from nowherville Indiana who was never drafted out of college and who was picked up out of and independent league, started in West Virginia like a steamroller, cruised through the next level and ended the season in Class AA.

His dominance was well noted throughout the organization and the team was so pleased they invited him to play winter ball in Hawaii.

He got to play a 40-game schedule with a collection of young minor league prospects and paid to play on the sandy beaches of Hawaii, calmly improving against stiff competition with a laid-back four-games-per-week schedule.

To make a long story short, Thatcher ended up pitching the final four innings of what was a championship season for the Honu Warriors — a perfect end to a storybook season.

After celebrating with his teammates Thatcher was able to sneak home just in time for Thanksgiving and a quick three-month hiatus after a long season filled with plenty of travel and success.

And although everyone loves going home and seeing old friends and family, Thatcher was excited about getting back to Arizona — back to baseball and competing.

He showed up to camp slimmed down and with pocket’s full of experience and fun stories of his travels to tell his teammates.

From the first side bullpen he threw all the way until last week’s game, Thatcher's dominance continued with his tremendous fastball command and movement and the ability to throw breaking balls when needed. His slightly hitched and unique three-quarter arm slot can be noticed from a far.

Then, last week, as we were all stretching, Thatcher was uncharacteristically called off the field for a huddled meeting of coaches and instructors.

I paid close attention and watched Thatcher break this huddle and head into the locker and didn't see him for the rest of the day.

Thinking nothing of it, I called him that evening to see why he left the field and never came back. He said, “They told me to clean out my locker!”

I exclaimed with a doubt and confusion in my voice, “Did you get cut?”

“No they told me to move all my stuff to the big league locker room, and that I am competing for the last spot on the roster.”

I was immediately silenced with my jaw open and realized that an undrafted, free agent has in two years gone from rookie ball to the doorstep of the majors. Last year we were shopping for a place to live, and now he may now have to shop for a suit to wear as a player to opening day.

You read about these stories all the time how a guy beats the odds to make it big. But for me, happening so close to home, per say, is just another reminder of how close all of us are to achieving a dream.

Dane Renkert is a pitcher in the Milwaukee minor league system. Before joining the Brewers, Renkert played at Sehome High School, for the Bellingham Bells and at Washington State University. He will be writing about his experiences and thoughts in the minor league this season.