In a matter of days, Pomona senior Drew Hedman graduated from the comfortable 5-C campus of just under 5,000 familiar peers and immediately exchanged his cap and gown for a uniform, a grassy diamond, and an average of 5,000 unknown fans that attended the first week of Lowell, Massachusetts summer league games. This is a whole new ballgame.
The Red Sox picked Hedman in the fiftieth and final round of the amateur baseball draft. After communicating with various scouts, Hedman believed he would be picked sometime during the second day (between rounds 8 and 30), but he ultimately slipped to the final day and the final round.
The situation, according to the reigning national Division-III hitter of the year, was “nerve-wracking.” On Thursday, Jun. 18, “About 15 minutes after it was announced I was drafted, the Red Sox scout I had been talking to called me and told me they picked me and asked if I wanted to play. I told him yes, and by that evening he told me that they were assigning me to Lowell… they wanted me to fly out on Sunday morning.”
The short-season league is designed to give new prospects a chance to acclimate to the major league baseball environment immediately after the draft. The players move from their college, high school, or international team straight into the rookie leagues. From there, they work to move up to other minor league teams that have already been playing their full season.
The Lowell Spinners are a Red Sox affiliate located about 30 minutes outside of Boston, and are members of the New York Penn League. Had he not been assigned to Massachusetts, Hedman would have been shipped down to Florida to join another rookie team in Fort Meyers.
Upon arriving in Lowell, Hedman immediately began to prep for the summer season. The players, pulled from around the country and the world, are scheduled to play from Jun. 19 through Sept. 5, opening with 24 straight scheduled games. They are given only four off-days during the summer—not counting rain delays, of course.
The routine is not quite the standard post-graduate nine-to-five, but it still requires a good eight or nine hours of work per day.
“For a 7:05 [p.m.] game time, we show up to the park at 1:30. Hit a little at 2. Stretch and take [batting practice] and groundballs and defensive work at 3:30. Hang out from then until 6:00 where we go take a few more swings. Sign some autographs before the game. Then get back out there 20 minutes before to stretch and throw again to start the game.”
Typically, a game will last upwards of three hours, and when it’s over Hedman is finally able to return to his temporary housing at the UMASS-Lowell dorms, which feel “like college without all the work,” by around 10:30 p.m. Nine hours of baseball a day, seven days a week. Welcome to the life of a professional baseball player.
For Hedman, the mood is noticeably different from the dugout of a college baseball diamond. “With a college baseball game, we would be screaming the whole time,” said Hedman. “[In Lowell], the dugout atmosphere is very relaxed, and [there isn’t] much chatter.” The calm and composed atmosphere “remind[s] us that this is our job.” The focus is on “staying professional” and avoiding “going too high with the highs and too low with the lows.”
Hedman was abruptly introduced to the professional game with his first at-bat. The lefty first baseman stepped into the batters box to face a 6’4” southpaw that could throw into the low-90 MPH range, and was promptly hit in the ribs. Take your base.
The pitching opposition only got better night by night. After starting his career batting fifth and hitting 1 – 3 with two runs and a walk, Hedman continued to face high-velocity pitchers. After the initial game, “We faced a guy that our radar gun had clocked from 97-100 [MPH] and the other guns had him at 95-98 [MPH]. Needless to say, fastest pitching I’ve ever seen.” Hedman batted 1 – 3 in the second game as well.
Division-III ballplayers generally don’t break 90 MPH on the gun, so the high-speed pitching has presented a challenge for Hedman, along with the sheer repetition of the rookie-grind. Twenty-four straight days of baseball games?
“It can be tough making sure you don’t get into a rut with the same thing every day. [You] have to make sure you are having fun and at the end of the day I realize that I’m getting paid to play baseball… not a bad deal at all.”
Hedman’s starting salary, as mandated by major league baseball is a maximum 1,100 dollars a month, plus 20 dollars per day for meal money. As he advances in the organization, though, so will his pay level.
Other life-style adjustments haven’t been as hard to make. Just like in the freshman year of college, guys are coming from around the world and being thrust into dorms as strangers and told to adopt a new daily routine. This time, however, there is less room for freshman mistakes—Hedman plays for keeps.
The composition of the team is characteristic of the ever-changing demographics of professional baseball. About half of Hedman’s teammates were born abroad and are still learning English. The countries with the greatest representation are the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, and there are a few guys from Taiwan and Korea as well. The rest are from the United States, including five D-III baseball guys, which is “kinda cool and unusual,” said Hedman.
Hedman describes his Spinners teammates as a “good group of guys,” but in reality, the entire team is competing for a limited number of spots as they move up through the organization.
As it stands, Hedman is happy in Lowell. “The weather has been pretty bad so far… but we get a great crowd, normally five to six thousand, a great stadium and setup, and [we] are treated well. The Red Sox are a great organization that knows how to win and has good people in their system and front office.” Currently, his team has an 8-8 record.
On the field, Hedman is still adapting to the talent around him. Many of these players are young and talented with notable raw athleticism, but they are just beginning to polish their natural skills and gain consistency with the guidance of the minor league system.
As of Jul. 20, he has 51 at-bats and 13 hits, good for a .255 average. He has only three extra base hits (all doubles) and three RBIs, along with 8 strikeouts. His slugging percentage is just .314. For a player who slugged 24 home runs and drove in 87 runs this past season, however, it looks like he only needs time and practice to adjust to the fast pitching and intense competition of the professional game.
Currently, Hedman has played in 16 of a possible 29 games for the Spinners, who have an overall record of 15-14 record.
Hedman’s manager is Gary Disarcina, an ex-professional baseball player that spent the majority of his career playing for the then-California Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim). His hitting coach is another former MLB player, Luis Lopez.
Be sure to keep an eye out for more updates on Hedman as he navigates the world of professional baseball. For more Hedman statistics, visit http://www.lowellspinners.com.