Patterson Learning from Mistake

KODAK, Tenn. – Eric Patterson walked out of the locker room on Saturday with a smile on his face and a willingness to talk. Considering the circumstances that sent him back to Double-A from Chicago, it said a lot about his attitude over his change in latitude.

Patterson, the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year in 2005, had gotten a September call-up to the parent club but was optioned to Tennessee last week when he arrived late to the ballpark for a Labor Day game in Chicago.

He spoke publicly about the incident for the first team over the weekend.

"It was a mistake," Patterson said prior to a Southern League playoff game against the Huntsville Stars at Smokies Park on Saturday.

"I understand why the Cubs did it. You take the punishment and you move forward. It's something that shouldn't happen, and unfortunately it did."

Patterson said he did not receive a scheduled wake-up call at his hotel. He had also unplugged the room's alarm clock (his backup system), because he needed the outlet for his computer, he said.

The result was a late arrival to the park and a flight to Tennessee.

"It's definitely something that's not excusable," Patterson said. "I understand that, especially being in a playoff race. I wasn't careful and didn't take care of business like I should have."

Perhaps the only silver linings in the situation for Patterson were that he was reunited with mentor Pat Listach (whom he played for last summer), and that he landed with the Smokies for the start of the Southern League playoffs. (Game 5 vs. Huntsville is scheduled for Monday night with the winner moving on to face Montgomery for the league championship.)

Listach, Tennessee's manager, immediately went to bat for Patterson.

"If anybody thinks that he's a problem on the ball club, they're wrong," Listach said. "They're completely wrong. Eric is a true professional, and he works hard. He wants it; he's hungry."

Listach was the manager last season for the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, the Cubs' longtime Double-A affiliate. Patterson played for the Diamond Jaxx last summer before getting a late-season call-up to Triple-A Iowa.

"Anytime you have a history with the manager, you understand how he goes about the game," Patterson said. "I think it's comforting to play for Pat. Pat's a great manager and a great guy. He's someone who will always push you to work hard and push you to get better. He's a good guy to play for."

Patterson, 24, has enjoyed success at every level thus far.

He hit .326 in 65 games for Georgia Tech in 2004 and was then selected by the Cubs in the eighth round of the First-Year Player Draft. This summer, he batted .297 with 28 doubles, 14 homers and 65 RBI for Iowa.

From Aug. 6-14 this season, he appeared with the Chicago club in five games and got his first career major league hit on Aug. 7 against Houston.

Patterson also comes from an athletic family.

His father, Don Patterson, was a defensive back on Georgia Tech's football team from 1976-78, and Eric's brother, Corey Patterson, was drafted third overall by the Cubs in 1998 and is now with the Baltimore Orioles.

Eric Patterson himself bats left and throws right because he mimicked his older brother and father while growing up.

"I watched my dad and my brother do it," Patterson said. "When I picked up a bat, that's how it started. It's nothing that was planned."

Patterson's mother, Carolyn, is also a graduate of Georgia Tech, but Patterson said his parents let him decide for himself when he opted to go to college.

"That was the great thing about my parents," Patterson said. "They let me and my brother make our own decisions. They never pushed anything on us. I felt at the time it was the right fit for me academically and baseball-wise.

"The three years that I spent there were some of the best three years of my life so I definitely enjoyed it," he recalled of his college days at Tech.

Patterson was drafted after his junior year, so he left about a few semesters short of a management degree. When his baseball playing days are done, Patterson says he intends to finish his coursework.

"I am definitely looking to finish whenever I get a chance," he said. "You spend that much time and put in that much hard work, why not finish up? It's something that will help me in the future. You're not going to play this game forever. If you can have a degree, especially from an institution like that, it's definitely going to help me out."

Patterson may not play forever, but there is plenty of baseball in his future.

He led the Midwest League in hitting in 2005; was an All-Star in Double-A in 2006, playing in the All-Star Futures Game in Pittsburgh that year; and was named the second baseman on the All-Pacific Coast League Team in 2007.

Patterson is a second baseman by trade, but his experiment with the outfield continues. After returning to Iowa following his first call-up to Chicago, he played center field exclusively. That's also the position that Listach has used Patterson at because the Smokies lost leadoff hitter and outfielder Sam Fuld to the parent club when Patterson was sent to Tennessee.

"It's still a work in progress," Patterson said of the outfield. "Each time out there, I get more and more comfortable."

Patterson also had to make a quick adjustment in joining the team for the playoffs when he had yet to appear in a Double-A game all season.

"The biggest adjustment is not having any track record with some of the pitchers and some of the hitters on the other teams," Patterson said.

"But what it all comes down to is, it's baseball. They've still got to throw the ball over the plate and you've got to be patient and hit your pitch, and you've got to make plays. I'm not going out here trying to change anything. It's just a matter of staying with the things that I do."

Through the first two games of the playoffs on the road, Patterson was 1-for-9. The team returned to Smokies Park for Tennessee's sole home game of the series on Saturday, and Patterson put on a show in batting practice before the game with balls sprayed all over the field and over the fences.

"I think BP was more because of who was throwing," Patterson said of hitting coach Barbaro Garbey's offerings. "He threw some pretty good pitches. I've been seeing the ball well. Timing is maybe a little off. Just come out with a clean slate and take each AB for what it is and try to do your job in each AB."

Patterson had also joked with starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who played at Notre Dame, about the Irish's football game the previous weekend against Georgia Tech, a 33-3 blowout won by the Ramblin' Wreck.

In between at-bats, Patterson stood and chatted with Listach around the cage.

"When I came in the first day, we talked about how it (the demotion) happened and got that out of the way," Patterson said. "Now it's all about taking care of business. The good thing about Pat is he is a great guy and a great manager, but he's laid back. Definitely in a playoff situation like this, it's good to see the leader of the team (so calm). When your manager has a calm demeanor, I think it helps everyone else relax. Pat's good at keeping guys loose and keeping guys relaxed. That's what we were doing around the cage."

Later that night, Patterson helped lead the Smokies to an 11-6 comeback win by going 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBI.

In Sunday's Game 4 6-0 loss, Patterson was 1-for-2 with a double.

He has batted either leadoff or second since replacing Fuld on the roster.

"He's got a lot of speed and he's got some power," Listach said. "We lost Sammy Fuld. We needed somebody to play outfield. If you look at his numbers – he can run, he can steal bases, he gets on base, and he can make things happen – he hit .300 in Triple-A this year and played just about every game."

Listach wasn't concerned about the circumstances that sent Patterson to him so late in the season; he just welcomed the player and put him in the lineup right away.

"I had him all last year," Listach recalled. "I gave him my signs and I said, ‘You know my rules.' That's it. Come in and play. It's still a game no matter whether he's sitting on the bench in Chicago or playing center field in Tennessee.

"He's come down here and played hard. I never had a problem with Eric last year, and I'm not going to have a problem with him this year," Listach added.

Both player and manager have one goal: win a Southern League title for the Smokies.

When the season ends, Listach will head to Chicago to help the parent club.

"I'll throw batting practice and whatever else Lou (Piniella) needs me to do," he said.

Patterson will head home to Atlanta.

"I'll go home and rest up for a few weeks and then hit the weight room and get my mind and my body ready for Spring Training next year," he said.

But in the meantime, Patterson wants to keep the 2007 season going.

"What's done is done," he said. "That's the great thing about baseball; when you have games each and every day, you just kind of forget the day before."

Patterson was actually talking about the playoff series against the Stars and how the Smokies needed to win their one game at home before heading back to Huntsville.

"For me, I just come out here and do what I can do to help these guys win a championship," Patterson said of his role with Tennessee. "They worked hard all year to get to this point and whatever I can do to contribute, that's my job.

"Obviously it's everyone's goal to be in the big leagues, but unfortunately I'm not there. So while I'm here, I'm going to bust my butt, work hard and hopefully help these guys out. I made a mistake and I am paying the price for it. But while I'm down here, I'm enjoying the guys and enjoying being around the staff, and still continuing to work hard and trying to learn and get better."

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