Jerry Sands of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a two RBI double against the Chicago Cubs at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Spring training is filled with hopes and dreams, especially for players who toil in the minors for years, making little money. Some of these guys spend the winter working as a substitute teacher in order to make ends meet. These are their stories.
Spring training. A time of big dreams, high hopes and bad hops. Well, mostly big dreams and high hopes. No, that's not right. There are plenty of bad hops, too. Bad hops that lead to awkward fielding plays. And awkward fielding plays that lead to injuries. Or just regular fielding plays that lead to injuries. Serious injuries. Out-for-the-season injuries. A player comes into spring training with big dreams and high hopes and leaves with an out-for-the-season injury.
Such was the fate of Scott Sizemore this week. Sizemore was expected to be the Oakland A's starting third baseman. Last Saturday he fell to the ground in a heap trying to field a grounder. Monday, we learned that he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee and will miss the entire 2012 season. In sports, as in life, someone's pain is someone's gain. Sizemore's injury opens an opportunity for Josh Donaldson, a catcher in the A's farm system who played third this winter in the Dominican Republic. And if not Donaldson, perhaps Wes Timmons.
Wes Timmons. A ten-year veteran of the minor leagues and the lone non-roster infield invitee to the A's spring-training camp. Timmons is a third baseman with some pop in his bat. He's also an elementary-school substitute teacher.
If Timmons makes the A's 25-man roster this season, he'd be the starting third baseman on the All-Substitute Teacher Major League Team. A team of my own creation, but still. The All-Substitute-Teacher Major League Team is comprised of players who toiled in the minor leagues for years before making a major league roster and who supplemented their paltry minor-league salary by working as a substitute teacher in the offseason.
The starting nine:
Bobby Cramer: Cramer made his major league debut with the Athletics in September 2010, a long journey from his time as a non-drafted free agent with the Tampa Bay (then Devil) Rays in 2003. Cramer had a guardian angel of sorts, a scout named Craig Weissman, who worked for the Rays and then the A's. After Cramer left baseball entirely in 2005 to work for Shell Oil and as a substitute teacher, Weissman stayed in touch, urging him to get back in the game. Cramer signed a minor league deal with the A's in 2007 and three years later, was in the big leagues. Cramer's career record is 2-2 with a 2.53 ERA in 32 innings pitched.
Hal Keller: Keller may be best known as the much younger brother of Yankees slugger Charlie Keller, who played for New York for eleven seasons (1939-1949). Hal Keller played three partial seasons with the Washington Senators (1949-1950, 1952), catching 125 innings over the course of his short career. Even though Hal Keller debuted at age 22, he had, by then, already served a stint in the Army. He also spent the winters during his playing days as a substitute teacher in his native Maryland. After his playing career was over, Keller went on to a long career in scouting and player development with the Senators (and then the Texas Rangers) and the Seattle Mariners.
Jerry Sands: There's a name that sounds familiar, huh? Sands made his major league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, after three-and-a-half seasons in the Dodgers' farm system. He played in 61 games, mostly in left and right field, but did some time at first base, too. After his second call-up in September, Sands hit .342 with a .415 OBP and hopes to use that as a springboard onto the Dodgers' 25-man roster this season. Sands spent part of this offseason, and the two prior ones, working as a substitute teacher in North Carolina. When he left for Dodgers spring training camp, he forgot to tell the school district, and got a call recently at 4:30 a.m. Arizona time asking if he was available to teach that day. He told them he was busy.
Billy Bates: Bates is famous for scoring the game-winning run for the Cincinnati Reds in Game 2 of the 1990 World Series against the A's. He's really famous for that in Cincinnati, but otherwise unknown in the baseball world. Bates played 21 regular-season games for the Brewers over two seasons before being traded to the Reds in mid-1990. His strongest skill was his speed. His lightning-fast speed. The Reds used him mostly as a pinch runner, although he did have to earn an infield hit off Dennis Eckersley in Game 2 before coming around to score the winning run. Bates worked as substitute teacher in Houston in the offseason.
Dave Campbell: You probably know Dave Campbell best as a baseball analyst for ESPN. And that's not only because "Soup," as he's known, is a pretty good color guy, but because he had a lackluster major league career. Campbell played for four teams over eight seasons, 428 career games, with a .213/.272/.311 line. I said lackluster, right? It's a bit of a cheat to start Campbell at shortstop, because he played first, second and third in the majors. But major-league-shortstop-substitute-teachers are hard to find, and Campbell did play short one season in the Tigers' farm system. Campbell used his degree from the University of Michigan to work as a substitute teacher in the offseason.
Bobby Scales: Scales toiled in the minor leagues for eleven seasons before getting a call-up to the majors in 2009. During those years, he worked winters as a substitute teacher in Houston. When right-hander Carlos Zambrano went down with an injury in early 2009, the Cubs added Scales to the 25-man roster. He made his debut on May 5 against the San Francisco Giants, getting a hit and making a sparkling defensive play. In 61 games over two seasons in Chicago, Scales hit .248/.342/.401 with three home runs. He played defense in left field, right field, second and third.
Scott Podsednik: Podsednik was drafted by the Texas Rangers out of high school in West, Texas (that actually is a town called "West" in Texas) and spent nine seasons in the minors with the Rangers and Mariners organizations. He worked winters as a substitute teacher in his hometown. Podsednik made his major league debut with the Mariners on July 6, 2001, but his first full season in the big leagues was 2003 with the Brewers. He then went on to play with the Chicago White Sox, Rockies, Royals and Dodgers. Podsednik hit a walkoff home run for the White Sox in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series, fueling Chicago's first championship since 1917. It was the only home run he hit all season.
Doug Clark: On September 14, 2005, the Oakland Tribune reported, "Doug Clark was teaching a social studies class on human rights at
Yes, there are only two outfielders on the All-Substitute-Teacher Major League Team. Podsednik was really fast, though, so he'll cover center and left field. Clark will play right.
Steve Delabar: Delabar made his major league debut with the Seattle Mariners last season. He was a 29th round draft pick of the San Diego Padres in 2003, played five seasons in Single A, and then blew out his elbow. Completely. While working as a substitute teacher and baseball coach, Delabar was introduced to a new training regimen that rebuilt his arm strength, enough to where he could throw in the mid-90s again. Delabar's buddy called his friend, a Mariners' scout, who gave Delabar a try out. Then another. Then a minor-league contract. And, finally, a call-up to the big leagues last September. Delabar pitched seven innings with a 2.57 ERA and actually won a game.
Tom Trebelhorn: Trebelhorn never played in the major leagues, but he was the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers from 1987-1991 and for the Chicago Cubs in 1994. He was a catcher in the minors for five seasons, with the Angels and the A's, before becoming a minor-league coach. Trebelhorn managed in the A's, Indians, Pirates and Brewers farm systems before becoming the Brewers' major league third-base coach in 1986. Before landing the job as Brewers skipper, Trebelhorn spent his winters as a substitute teacher at a high school in Portland, Oregon.
Never give up your dream. These guys didn't. And they probably made a bunch of kids smile along the way. Not bad. Not bad at all.