__Chris Rahl, former Tribe baseball player, hopes to make it in MLB__
While Tribe athletic teams might not compete for championships on an annual basis, the College has seen many alumni go on to have highly successful careers in professional sports. Alumnus and NFL safety Darren Sharper has been a perennial Pro bowler in his 10 years with the Packers and Vikings, while last season, former Tribe pitcher Chris Ray won the Baltimore Orioles’ closer role and went on to post a stellar 2.73 ERA over 66 innings in his first full season in the majors, converting 33 of 38 save opportunities on the year. Perhaps the next great Tribe athlete to leave his mark on the professional scene will be Arizona Diamondbacks minor league outfielder Chris Rahl.
p. Recruited out of Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, Va., Tribe outfielder Rahl had a breakout sophomore season in 2004, hitting for a .389 average and 20 home runs while stealing 40 bases and driving in 70 runs. He was named CAA Player of the Year, the first time ever for a Tribe athlete or a sophomore in the conference. His 20 home runs and 40 steals in the same season was also a league first. Rahl’s outstanding season landed him on numerous first and second-team All-American lists in addition to the record-books.
p. He left school after his junior year when he was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the first pick in the fifth round of the 2005 amateur draft, finishing his career with a cumulative .335 average, 37 home runs, 74 stolen bases and 134 runs batted in. Last year, after a mediocre first season of professional baseball and off-season surgery to repair a damaged shoulder, Rahl reminded the baseball world why he was so highly praised after his 2004 college season.
p. As a member of the Diamondbacks’ High-A affiliate, the Lancaster Jet Hawks, he led all minor leaguers with 186 hits — 11 more than any other player — and set a Jet Hawks team record with 44 doubles while posting a .327 batting average.
p. Chris Rahl has graciously allowed The Flat Hat special access to follow his progress in this coming season, as he hopes to build upon the previous year’s success and continue his journey towards the major leagues. In a time when professional athletes are often portrayed as selfish, arrogant, and childish by the media, Chris brings a refreshing change of pace. He has met his early success with grounded humility, yet the passionate ambition that has driven this success is readily apparent.
p. The transition from life as a college student to life as a professional baseball player is not an easy one; however Chris has handled it well on and off the field. He is quick to give credit to his time at the College, particularly former Head Coach Jim Farr and Assistant Coach Ryan Wheeler, who both played professional baseball earlier in their careers, and the high level of talent in the CAA.
p. “A lot of the practice sessions and how we went about doing our work on the field were very similar to the work we do in the minor leagues. When I started, I felt very comfortable and fell right into place and it felt like I was back at school working out with the guys at William & Mary, making it a very easy transition for me.”
p. One of the biggest difficulties, beyond having to take care of himself, has been the three-hour time difference separating him from his family and girlfriend on the East Coast.
p. On the diamond, Chris’s journey to the major leagues has not been without obstacles. After his breakout sophomore campaign in 2004, Rahl’s production dipped.
p. “My sophomore year I had a really good year, and coming into my junior year it got to my head a little bit. I tried to do too much with the pitching that I did see. I saw a lot more off-speed pitches and guys tried to pitch around me some, and instead of taking what they did give to me and relaxing at the plate, I sometimes over-stressed it and went out of the zone a little bit.”
p. Rahl vowed not to fall into complacency again. After he rebounded last season in 2006 with another great year, Chris has worked hard over the off-season to take his game to the next level. His main goal was to add strength and speed in order to increase his home run and stolen base totals in the coming season. Since moving from right field to the more difficult position of center field last season, Chris has also made a dedicated effort to improve his defense.
p. “I think that the biggest thing last year for me was getting used to playing center-field, getting reads on balls and good jumps, and taking correct routes to balls. And, especially in a place like Lancaster where the wind blows out and is blowing all over the place, you have to take correct routes to the ball or you’re not going to be a very good outfielder.”
p. Perhaps the most apparent holes in Rahl’s game are a below average strikeout to walk ratio and a low walk rate, a weakness which Chris readily acknowledges and is determined to improve, beginning with a change of mentality.
p. “That’s definitely an issue that I focused on [while playing in the Hawaiian Winter League this off-season], and it may not show in my stats — in Hawaii I didn’t really hit very well — but it’s definitely something I was working on. I’ve been trying to focus on a two-strike approach and putting the ball in play more with two strikes, as opposed to in college, where my approach was to go for the home run, and if I struck out, ‘oh well.’ I think that I’m going to try to utilize my speed more this season and in coming seasons, and put the ball in play more with two strikes, and that way I can make things happen and make the opposing defense actually work to get me out.”
p. While his batting average and home run totals sagged against the tougher competition of the Hawaiian Winter League, Chris showed tremendous improvement in these areas in a limited number of at-bats, nearly doubling a walk-rate that had more or less held constant throughout his professional career.
p. “Playing professional baseball has definitely always been a dream for me, and I always told myself whenever I got a chance I would take that, because you never know what can happen in the future.”
p. With his attitude, the future certainly looks bright for Chris Rahl.