Late in the 2004 season Cody Haerther was struggling. His legs weren't feeling good, didn't seem to be under him at the plate. He went to the trainer who took a look and told Haerther that it was pretty common for a player to end up with shin splints late in a season. Haerther is a tough guy, a hard worker, and no shin splint was going to keep him out of the lineup. He taped 'em up and continued to play. And they continued to hurt.
They say that you can't really measure how 'tough' a player is. They say that it's just one of those things that fellow players, maybe coaches, occasionally scouts, can just 'see' in a player. Well, if you wanted a quantifiable way to measure how tough Cody Haerther is, listen up.
They got worse. Back to the trainer who took another look and wondered why things weren't getting better. Finally an X-Ray showed exactly how tough this Cardinals prospect is.
His leg was broken. Not sticking out of the skin, Robin Ventura kind of broken. But where I come from a broken bone, even a hairline fracture, is a broken bone.
"Oh, it was real frustrating," Haerther said from the AFL, "It was the last month of the season that I missed, and we were going to the playoffs. I really wanted to be out there helping the team."
Excuse me, Mr. Haerther. It was a broken bone. It's not like your ankle was sore. But again, that's Cody Haerther. Tough guy, team player, competitor. He wasn't even thinking about himself, his career, it was about his team, his minor league team. A reporter actually has to ask him specifically if it set him back, and he actually has to think about the question for a second, it's not that he's unsure of the answer, he simply never thought about himself.
"No, I don't think it set me back, I just had to work harder that offseason."
In 2005 Haerther suffered a knee injury that once again forced him to miss time. Once again, it wasn't himself he was thinking about.
"It was just a case of, 'Here we go again,' because I've got teammates depending on me, and I'm not out there helping," he says, "but I was lucky, because when it happened I thought I'd torn something. I'd just moved up a level, and all of a sudden I'm sitting again, thinking the worst, I'm missing time again. Luckily I didn't need surgery, just some rest. I got back pretty quick."
He missed a week. A week. This kid is tough. A week of rest, and now he's right back to work in the AFL, is he healthy.
"I'd say I'm at about 90%." Haerther says. "I had the MRI, and I was proud to come back so quick, nothing was torn, which means I can play. That's just the way I look at it. There's some mind games that go on after an injury like that, I can still feel it a little bit. Especially when I slide. I went in hard at one point and I felt something in the knee pop, and I was scared, but it was just scar tissue from the injury tearing, that's not a big deal."
Wow. Scar tissue? Are you serious. This kid feels a pop in his knee and thinks, 'Just scar tissue, no big deal.'
There's an explanation for all this, there has to be.
"You know, I'm down here to work, that's what I do when I'm on a baseball field, I work. You can look around at this league, at my team [the Surprise Scorpions] and there are some guys out here we call 'freaks.' Guys like Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood. Those guys are 'freaks,' they're just so talented, it comes so easy to them. Us humans, we have to work at it, you know?"
Just for the record, this 'human' is a guy who hit over .300 with 17 homers during the 2005 season. He's an outfielder the Cardinals are high on, a guy who is just 22 years old and has already had success in Double-A. He's a Cardinal through and through, hard nosed, intelligent, tough. A battler, perfectly content to move a runner along when that's what the situation dictates, but will turn on an inside fastball and drive it out of the park if the opportunity arises.
"I like the challenge of being in a league like this," Haerther says, "the expectations are so high, because it seems like everybody's hitting .350, but I don't focus on that. I'm here to work on my defense, get some more at bats. There's a lot of good players down here, probably 80% of these guys will play in the Majors, a lot have already. I know that I have to work hard to get better, and I'm ready to do that."
Nagging injuries...you know, like broken bones...aren't going to stop Cody Haerther, and it's pretty obvious no one in the world will ever question his work ethic. He's struggled in the AFL, hitting just .203 overall, but he's taking something out of this league.
"It's great, because a league this good really shows you what you've got to work on. I'll hit the weights this offseason, I'll work on things in my swing, just take everything I can out of this league."
Maybe, just maybe, what Cody Haerther will take is a rest. But don't bet on it.
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