For those who chase big-league dreams on minor-league baseball teams, careers occasionally include sudden, unexpected turns.
A handful of Quad-Cities River Bandits understand more than most, traded from one organization to another.
With the addition of Danry Vasquez to the River Bandits roster Tuesday following a deal between Houston and Detroit, Quad-Cities now has five players on its 25-man active roster who were obtained by the Astros through a trade within the past 15 months.
“It’s something you don’t think about,’’ pitcher Colton Cain said. “I thought I would be a Pirate for life. It may be a bit naive, but I think it’s natural to think you’re going to reach the big leagues with the team that drafted you.’’
Cain now knows it doesn’t always work that way.
Then pitching for Bradenton, Pittsburgh’s affiliate in the Florida State League, Cain was charting pitches in the stands during a game at St. Lucie last season when he received a text message from the team trainer telling him he had just been traded to Houston.
“I thought he was messing with me, but a few minutes later I had a call from the Pirates farm director and then Fred Nelson (then the Astros director of player development) called and welcomed me to the organization,’’ Cain said. “It happened just like that.’’
The news can be delivered in a multitude of ways.
River Bandits catcher Jobduan Morales was on the field at the Marlins extended spring training camp when he was pulled aside and told he had been traded to Houston, while infielder Bobby Borchering and pitcher Chris Devenski received eye-opening, early-morning telephone calls from the farm directors of their respective previous organizations, the Diamondbacks and the White Sox.
“I was in Mobile (Ala.) and we had just gotten back from a road trip,’’ Borchering said. “I hadn’t been up for more than 30 minutes when the phone rang and it was the farm director. Those calls don’t happen very often, but when they do, the first thought was, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ When it happens, when you’re told you’ve been traded, it’s a shock.’’
Calls are typically made to the player first from his previous team and then from his new employer.
Devenski’s call came later than most. He joined the Astros one year ago this week as the player to be named later in a trade with the White Sox for pitcher Brett Myers.
“I was actually asleep and had missed three messages before they got ahold of me,’’ Devenski said. “It’s a strange feeling, a hectic time, because you have to pick up your gear, get on a plane and move on.’’
Morales was waiting to be assigned to a team when Miami traded him.
A wrist injury had delayed his start to the season, keeping him at extended spring training, and he was working his way back to a roster when he was dealt.
“If I was not healthy, I may not have been traded,’’ Morales said. “I will never know that. It happened so suddenly. For a couple of days, I would think about it, wondering why it happened. But I know now that is better for me, that I can still play baseball.’’
There is still a period of adjustment.
“Over time in an organization, you build friendships with teammates and all of a sudden, that is disrupted,’’ Devenski said. “I have some family in the Chicago area and we had all talked about how great it would be someday when they could all come out to a Sox game and watch me pitch. With one call, that changed.’’
Cain was assigned by Houston to its Lancaster club in the California League, where he suddenly found himself as teammates with a few players who had been involved on the other side of a bench-clearing brawl the previous year in the South Atlantic League.
“I was playing then for West Virginia, they were at Lexington, so we had a lot to talk about when I got there,’’ Cain said. “It gave us something in common, and I think it probably helped me adjust to being around an entirely new team.’’
Borchering found himself in a clubhouse which included several players he knew from Team USA trials as an 18-year-old, something that helped him adjust quickly.
“It helps to know a few guys because baseball players tend to have unique personalities,’’ he said.
That period of adjustment includes adapting to the nuances that accompany how different organizations work.
Pitchers find themselves with a different throwing program than they may be accustomed to as team rules vary from one club to the next. For example, while some organizations allow minor-league players to arrive at the ballpark in T-shirts and shorts, the Astros require players to wear a polo-type shirt each day.
“But when you take the field, it’s baseball,’’ Morales said. “It is a chance to play the game and to play it for a team that wants you.’’
Borchering welcomed the chance to compete for an organization that is in a rebuilding mode.
“If you get sent to an organization which has a lot of older guys, you have to wonder about if there is an opportunity there,’’ Borchering said. “Houston is going with younger guys, and this feels like a fresh start. There’s a lot of energy here and I think everybody feels like they have a chance. It’s a great situation to be in.’’