By Paul Gotham
ROCHESTER, NY – More than a decade has passed since Brett Carroll roamed the fields of the New York Collegiate Baseball League.
Time hasn’t erased the memories.
The veteran of ten years in professional baseball, including parts of six seasons in the majors, has played 180 games in the bigs, hit a home run off a future hall of famer, but still keeps a memento from his summer in the NYCBL.
“I still have the hat – Dodger blue with an H,” Carroll said following batting practice prior to an International League game at Frontier Field. “It was a great experience, the first time really being far away from home for a substantial amount of time.”
Carroll hit .278 for the 2002 Hornell Dodgers which went on to defeat the Schenectady Mohawks in the New York Collegiate Baseball League Championship.
“That was a great foundational step in my baseball career. I had a great host family. It was great to be in a community like that. I’m very appreciative of the people of Hornell and the time I got to spend there. They made it home away from home.”
Carroll also held on to a pair of bats from that first season swinging wood in competitive games.
“I remember thinking ‘God, I’m puny with this wood bat. I gotta get some strength.’ I remember treating my wooden bats like they were a car. I’d clean ‘em. I’d keep ‘em all nice and pine tarred up.”
The Knoxville, TN resident came to Hornell after his freshman year at Middle Tennessee State where he hit .257 in 43 games (39 starts) for the Blue Raiders. The outfielder drove in 29 runs with six home runs and 12 doubles during his college season.
Two years later the Florida Marlins chose the 5-10, 210 pound Carroll in the 10th round of the MLB Draft. Since then he has played in five different organizations. Success and setbacks have provided him with a positive outlook and an understanding of baseball’s realities.
“I’m at a place now in my career where I look forward to each day to getting just a little bit better and enjoying the grind of where I’m at. You can’t control a lot of things that happen in this game. You can control how you prepare, your attitude, your love for the game. That obviously comes from the desire of the heart.”
He spent his first season of pro ball playing for Jamestown in the short-A New York-Penn League. From there, Carroll continued to climb. In 2005, he played Single-A with Greensboro of the South Atlantic. In 2006 he started in Advanced-A before reaching the Double-A Southern League with Carolina. After 88 games with Albequerque in the Triple-A Pacific League, he got his first taste of the Majors in 2007.
An injury slowed his 2008. He worked his way back playing rehab games in the Rookie Gulf Coast League before garnering PCL Player of the Week honors.
In 2009, he played 92 games with Florida and connected for his first Major League home run off Randy Johnson. One week after the future hall of famer won his 300th career game, Carroll drilled a three-run shot in the second inning.
“I was getting work against left-handers,” the right-handed hitter recalled. “I remember getting in the box and feeling a peace come over me.”
That feeling of peace changed to elation as he rounded the bases.
“I don’t ever remember feeling my legs when I was running around the bases. I felt so jelly-like.”
For an encore Carroll knocked a triple in his next at bat against the “Big Unit” – marking the only time in his career the five-time Cy Young winner surrendered seven total bases to one batter in consecutive plate appearances.
Carroll found himself back in Triple-A to start 2010. He has spent time in the Red Sox and Brewers’ organizations along with a brief stint in Washington.
This past off-season Carroll married his wife, Heather, and signed with Pittsburgh. He currently plays for the Indianapolis Indians. He earned International League Player of the Week in mid-April after going 10-17 with three home runs, but a rib injury kept him on the DL for six weeks.
No longer the up and coming player, Carroll understands the reality of the business.
“I’m not the 24-year-old prospect. I’m the 30-year old who has to find a way to get in the lineup. You get to a point especially in Triple-A where unless it is the right place at the right time, you usually have to grind out playing time. You’re not the young guy the organization is looking to for the future.”
He has made 255 plate appearances in 82 games for Indianapolis hitting .227 with 13 round-trippers, 37 RBI and an on-base percentage of .334.
“It’s a game of failure. It’s going to kick you in your teeth. But you’re going to continue to try and get better in this game. You’re going to continue to make adjustments and find changes here and there. It’s just about enjoying that process.”
“A lot of love for the game, the joy of the game can get stolen by all the hoopla of the professional world. Obviously, you want be in the big leagues. You want to compete at the highest level. I hope there’s not a guy out here who doesn’t want to do that, but just being content with where you’re at and enjoying that process and seeing areas where you can get better during that time and let future take care of itself.”
Throughout it all, Carroll points to his relationship with God as his source or strength and focus.
“God has taught me so much about Him and myself through this game. God’s grace has been unbelievable through my life and in my baseball journey. That’s been the great experience for me learning through all the ups and downs, and the trades, the designations and all kinds of stuff like that. I started playing this game at (age) four because I really love this game. It was something that God gave me the ability to play. I believe He gave me the desire to play. I don’t want to let all the outside stuff affect that.”
Indianapolis sits atop the IL West with a record of 75-59. The Indians hold a ten-game advantage over second-place Columbus. The parent Pirates are tied for the NL Central lead and have a commanding advantage in the Wild Card race. Barring a late-season callup, this will be the first time in six years Carroll hasn’t played games in the Majors. Just don’t expect the possibility of not seeing the big leagues to leave Carroll disappointed.
“This is the first season I have had a chance to stay in one place,” Carroll said noting the positive. “This is ministry… Home runs are sweet. Knocks are great, but to sit down and talk about real life, that’s what really matters… I’m just going to play and all that stuff will take care of itself.”
The NYCBL is part of the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball (NACSB) which oversees the rules and policies of ten different summer leagues: the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, Cape Cod Baseball League, Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, Florida Collegiate Summer League, Great Lakes Collegiate Summer League, New England Collegiate Baseball League, Southern Collegiate Baseball League, Sunbelt Baseball League, and the Valley League Baseball.
These ten leagues provide a variety of competition levels that help prepare young players for life in professional baseball. One in every six Major League players has spent at least one summer playing in the Cape Cod League.
The NYCBL, sending players to the pros since 1978.
Paul Gotham is the Communications and Media Director for the New York Collegiate Baseball League. Paul is the founder, owner, editor and lead writer at Pickin’ Splinters. His work has been featured on Seamheads.com, BruceSpringsteen.net and GoBonnies.com. His book, Everybody On, Nobody Out, chronicles the hope and possibility in the New York Collegiate Baseball League. He will also appear in USA Today’s 2013 College Basketball Preview. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PickinSplinters.