The journey home

__After several stops along the way, former Tribe shortstop Kyle Padgett ’05 returns to Williamsburg as an assistant coach__

At the conclusion of the Jupiter Hammerheads’ 2006 season, manager Tim Cossins filed a report about Kyle Padgett that landed in the hands of higher-ups in the Florida Marlins’ organization. He wrote that Kyle was “a knowledgeable player, had good leadership skills, [was] very versatile and a guy that he enjoyed having in the utility infield role.”

p. The clause that sealed Padgett’s fate was the last one. From day one in the Gulf Coast League, management viewed him as a utility infielder who could fill in wherever needed, creating scant opportunities for playing time. According to Cossins, the front office made this distinction. Shortly after draft day, Kyle believed he could be pushed along quickly through the minor leagues.

p. “The Marlins controlled me and had nothing invested in me,” Kyle said in July.

p. His $1,000 signing bonus, a pittance in the baseball business, amounted to nothing more than a common courtesy for college seniors. For the organization, the process was such that if the players did not give them a big return on their money, then they would bring in a new batch of fresh faces the next year.

p. “In a perfect world, everyone has the same chance to succeed,” former Tribe second baseman Will Rhymes ’05 said. “But it’s not the reality.”

p. Rhymes, who only stands 5’ 9’’ tall and weighs 155 pounds, is a perfect case in point of the potential a lower-round draft pick can possess given a legitimate chance to play in a minor league organization. As the College’s second baseman, he batted .413 during his senior year in 2005, but because of his size, garnered almost no attention from professional scouts, and thus was not selected until the 27th round. Now he’s been advancing steadily through the Detroit Tigers organization for three years.

p. “Scouts don’t know shit. They make a ton of mistakes,” he said.
While the Marlins organization annually tried to find more utility infielders, they were clinging to other players in the system. In the 2003 draft, the Marlins used their first-round pick to select high school pitcher Jeff Allison who, little did they know, had been abusing the painkiller OxyContin since his junior year at Peabody High in Massachusetts. Things only fell further downhill when he started experimenting with heroin, nearly dying from two overdoses after being drafted. Yet Allison, who forfeited $250,000 of his $1.85 million signing bonus for leaving spring training in 2004, remained a Marlins farmhand. In 2005, his last competitive season, he posted a middle of the road 4.18 ERA and 5-4 record for the low-A Greensboro Grasshoppers. Few said it, but his saving grace was a right hand worth over a million dollars to the Marlins.

p. Big signing bonuses are nothing new for players drafted in the first five rounds of the draft. Former Tribe baseball pitcher and Montreal Expos’ 2004 first-round pick Bill Bray commanded a 1.75 million dollar signing bonus. There was little precedence for the extended time the Marlins retained Allison, keeping him suspended indefinitely. Over the course of several years, it became apparent that the Marlins refused to admit the mistake they had made by drafting an expensive high school pitcher with drug problems. On the other hand, the Marlins had no problem figuring out what to do with Kyle Padgett.

p. In January, Kyle’s phone rang and the man on the other end explained that he would be released. His name was Brian Chattin. As the Marlin’s director of player development, his job entailed making personnel decisions within the organization.

p. He waited four months after the conclusion of the season to inform Kyle he was no longer wanted. It was quick and simple.

p. “They’re guys that have to play in the organization, they’re prospects, and then there are guys to provide depth and back them up,” Cossins, who claimed that the decision to release Padgett was beyond his control, said. “At certain points, you just got to let go of some players and keep the numbers correct. That’s kind of where [Kyle] fit in.”

p. There were other potential factors involved in Kyle’s January release, including the fact that the Marlins shook up their minor league system in mid-December 2006 and sent several managers to coach different affiliates, such as Cossins, who is now with the GCL Marlins. The bottom line remained that Kyle Padgett was unemployed and hopelessly scrambling to play for another affiliated organization less than a few months before spring training began.

p. “After the initial disappointment, I had a sense of relief,” Kyle said of being released. “I wasn’t going to have to go back and deal with being dragged around.”

p. Following the Wild Things 6-7 loss in game two of the three-game series against the Traverse City Beach Bums, first baseman Nathan Messner, a 2004 draft pick of the Florida Marlins, told me he’s having more fun playing with the Wild Things than any other team.

p. “In affiliated ball, you’re always concerned with what you’re doing right and wrong,” Messner said. “They almost make you robotic, because you try to please everyone to move up. Here you can just rely on your own abilities.”

p. With a small front office, the Wild Things could also easily communicate with players such as Padgett and Messner. Additionally, once a player signed a contract at the beginning of the season, barring a trade or retirement, it was almost certain he finished the season in the same place.

p. In July, Kyle said his decision to play in Washington, Penn. put “the love back in the game.” For once in his professional career, he was a valued entity given an opportunity to compete in almost every game.

p. “Being here is probably the best place I can be,” he said. “If I was in another MLB organization riding the bench, I’d be in the same mental battle as the Marlins of how much longer do I want to keep playing baseball.” In spite of the charm of the Frontier League, his sights, along with Messner’s, were still set on the uncertain realm of affiliated baseball.

p. When Kyle’s batting average plummeted in August, and finally dropped below the Mendoza Line to .199 at the conclusion of the season, any hopes he entertained of being signed this season faded. He told me repeatedly that he needed to put everything in perspective, because it was a long ‘96 season. He couldn’t start worrying about affiliated baseball. If he learned anything from his tenure with the Marlins, it’s that pro baseball is not a linear affair, in which you start at the lowest levels and finish on top. For most, it’s a rollercoaster ride that ends abruptly.

p. In July, with his average hovering around .230, the Wild Things manager told me Kyle needed to work on his consistency at the plate, but that his overall chances of being signed were as good as the next guy’s. In late August, as Kyle’s average continued to drop, the Wild Things acquired switch hitting shortstop Ryan Bethel from the Evansville Otters, another Frontier League team. It was a personnel move which soured Kyle’s once amiable relations with his manager.

p. “He was telling me during the summer, ‘I understand you’re struggling, but you’re still my guy.’ To have him do that, it’s just not the way you treat somebody,” Kyle said of the trade.

p. An everyday starter in July, Kyle was relegated to the bench as the Wild Things advanced through the Frontier League playoffs in September. His love for the game and for showing up everyday to the ballpark began to wear away after he felt betrayed.

p. “I had a falling out with my manager,” he said. “When he went in and traded for a shortstop, I was surprised and angry with him.”

p. His role on the team suddenly marginalized, he couldn’t wait for the playoffs to end. Ever the optimist, according to Rhymes, Kyle then decided to contact current Tribe baseball coach Frank Leoni and former coach Jim Farr, now a pitching coach at the University of Maryland, about coaching opportunities in the midst of the Wild Things playoff run.

p. While Kyle never played under Leoni at the College, he worked out with the team the past two off seasons and knew the coaching staff and players well. It seemed like a good fit, but the position was full. Kyle considered coaching at the high school level, until a few weeks later, when the spot opened up and Leoni offered him a volunteer assistant coach position.

p. “I will be here for a least one year, possibly two,” he said. “I’d like to get to the point where I can take over a college program and turn them into a powerhouse.”

p. In his first few days on the job, Padgett said he has enjoyed working one on one with players on the team, including the seniors, who were freshmen in his last year at the College. Next weekend, he will be traveling to a baseball showcase camp at the University of Virginia to scope out local high school talent.

p. “It definitely felt like it was an opportunity I needed to take advantage of,” he said of re-joining the Tribe. “I enjoy Williamsburg, and I’m glad to be back. I learned a lot while playing, and now I want to use that to coach.”


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