Justin Christian has been squarely in our sights for a few years now, certainly since the spring of 2008 when this now 30-year-old outfielder who started out in Independent Baseball was in the major league spring training camp of the New York Yankees.
Fast forwarding to today, everyone in the Indy game should want to reach out to Christian and give him a friendly pat on the back or a hearty "thank you".
Christian just signed a minor league deal with the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants. It is what he said to MLB.com writer Jesse Sanchez that makes the Indy game look good.
"The reason I believe I was able to get to the big leagues is because I had to grind and work hard in Independent ball," he told Sanchez, who was covering the Caribbean Series where Christian was the centerfielder and leadoff hitter for Mexico.
"You are not getting a lot of looks from scouts (in Independent leagues), but for me, it made me appreciate my opportunity with the Yankees that much more because I know the road I had taken was a difficult one."
Christian got into 24 games with the Yankees in 2008, and those 40 at-bats (10 hits, six RBI, seven steals) represent his entire major league regular season experience so far. He did not even get a major league spring training invitation from the Giants, yet he sounds grateful.
The speedster spent much of 2003 and 2004 breaking into the pro game at O'Fallon, MO with the River City Rascals of the Frontier League, not a great distance from Southwest Missouri State where he had been in college. (He also had played for Auburn.) He worked his way up through the Yankees' chain for three and a half years before the major league shot, and he was once again in the Bombers' minor league system for most of last season after starting out with two games back in the Indy world (3-for-9) with Southern Maryland of the Atlantic League.
"Christian is a grinder", Sanchez wrote. "He's the undrafted baseball lifer with an independent streak and an international flair for the game."
The 6-foot-1 native of Lincoln, NE went to winter ball without a job for this season. "The entire time I believed I was going to have the opportunity to sign with a team, I just didn't know with which team," he said. But pounding out a .356 average in 64 games with 55 RBI and 24 steals in 25 attempts in the Mexican Pacific League earned a the in the San Francisco system.
It is a safe bet Christian will continue grinding away.
Tuesday, February 08, 2011
NEW GIANTS OUTFIELDER CREDITS 'HARD WORK' OF INDEPENDENT BASEBALL
Former chief spokesman for Major League Baseball Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth. Six years as publicity director for the Kansas City Royals, and a background in newspaper, radio and television. Started Wirz & Associates, a sports PR and consulting firm, in 1985. Has written extensively on Independent Baseball since 2003.