Not many players have embraced the spring conditions of the Midwest League quite like Burlington's Chad Oberacker. The Bees center fielder is so locked in that he was likely disappointed his team was snowed out Monday night in Wisconsin.
Oakland's 25th-round pick in last June's amateur draft has hit safely in all of his eight games and compiled a line of .419/.486/.742. After not hitting one homer in 157 at-bats in Vermont last summer, Oberacker has two in his first 31 with the Bees.
It's taken the Erie, Pennsylvania, native little time to adjust to playing on a full-season affiliate in his first full year of pro ball.
"The cold weather hasn't really affected me at all," Oberacker said. "I think growing up in Pennsylvania and having to play in that terrible weather prepared me for this. This is actually a little better than I was used to in high school. The weather is not too much of a factor."
Oberacker is probably the only one who shares that sentiment about the Midwest League. After a solid month and a half in the New York-Penn League last summer, the 5-11 outfielder positioned himself for some early-season success this spring.
The Tennessee Tech grad made a good first impression last year, batting .293 with a .371 OBP and 13 stolen bases in 15 chances as a rookie. He also showed a solid understanding of the strike-zone, walking 20 times against 30 strike-outs.
"It was definitely an experience transitioning from college ball to having baseball every single day," Oberacker said. "It became your job. But it's what we love to do. It was a good start to my career.
"I stayed hot [this season] and a lot of stuff was just carrying over from spring training. I'm trying to stay consistent. That's the only thing you can do. Hopefully everything will take care of itself out on the field."
Oberacker credits the structured environment during a well-run minor-league spring training for his hot start in the cold elements.
"I think the biggest thing was a lot of the coaches down there wanted to get us a routine – something that we could do every day to get us going for every game throughout the season," Oberacker said.
"I had that with a lot of the tee work we were doing. I think that helped and translated into the game every day."
In addition to the A's minor-league staff, Oberacker has confided in a former college teammate and current Stockton Ports first baseman A.J. Kirby-Jones.
Although they are the same age, Kirby-Jones got a head start on his pro career by signing with the A's after his junior year and already has a year in the Midwest League season under his belt. Oberacker could have signed that year as a 19th-round draft pick by St. Louis, but opted to return for his senior season to finish his degree.
"Luckily I've had some guys that had been playing pro ball, like A.J. who I played at college with, telling me about how much of a grind a full season is," Oberacker said. "I was ready for that aspect of it.
"It ended up working out that we got picked up by the same team, so that's pretty cool. He had a game that night of the draft and he saw my pick, so he called me and we talked on the phone. We were both pretty excited when it happened."
Although Oberacker fell six rounds in last year's draft and was left with little choice other than to sign as a college senior, he has no regrets about coming back to Tennessee Tech.
"This year it was a no-brainer, but I was ready to get started playing pro ball," Oberacker said.
"My senior season wasn't as good as my junior year, or as good as I had hoped for. But I got my degree, which was a good thing, and I'll have that to fall back on. I have no regrets at all about going back to school. I ended up here and couldn't be happier."
The 23-year-old will rely on a veteran's approach to handle the grind of his initial professional season.
"My offseason workouts have helped and I feel stronger and quicker," Oberacker said.
"But the biggest thing is the base of the mental game that my college coach originally instilled in me. I can see it now and saw it in the offseason. They always preach to stay consistent. You shouldn't be able to tell whether you were 4-for-4 or 0-for-4. I know its baseball. You could hit it, but can't control if they catch it or not."