Chase-ing The Dream

It's supposed to be a long road between being drafted in the 34th round of the amateur draft and playing in a big league game. You're not supposed to go from fans saying "Who the heck is THIS guy" in short season A-Ball, to standing next to Mike Piazza during the National Anthem in the space of 18 months. But that's exactly how things played out for Mets' minor leaguer Chase Lambin yesterday.

Less than two years ago, Lambin was selected in no-bonus territory on the second day of the amateur draft out of Louisiana-Lafayette with the low expectations that come with being a late pick. Someone forgot to tell Chase he wasn't supposed to move so quickly through the system. After a short season in Brooklyn where he hit .280 and popped 15 XBH in 179 ABs, Lambin was tabbed as having the "Best first spring training" in Mets minor league camp last season and was given a rare promotion from short-season low A to the Mets' high A affiliate in St. Lucie for the 2003 season.

He quickly proved that his spring success was no fluke, and not only stuck in St. Lucie, but thrived there.

"My goal before Spring Training (last year) was to make the Cap City team." Lambin said during the offseason, "When I made the St. Lucie team I was very excited because I had heard how great the Florida State League was. I knew going in that hitters had a history of struggling in that league, so I just set a goal - not to lose my starting job and to continue learning and getting better."

Chase finished the 2003 season in the top 10 in hitting in the pitching dominant Florida State League and was a key component on the league's championship team. He was named a Baseball America All-Star. And he capped his season with a bases clearing double in the championship finale that sealed the victory.

In addition to his top 10 batting performance, the St. Lucie secondbaseman was a team leader both on and off the field. His easy manner, determined competitiveness, and natural leadership qualities had both teammates and coaches alike singling him out for praise throughout the season.

Then yesterday a series of spring events conspired to put Lambin in the bright orange jersey of the big league club for the first time. First of all, he is having another terrific spring in minor league camp. Secondly, with several Mets suffering minor injuries and the team facing a spring split-squad day and needing to fill out two game rosters, the Mets needed an extra middle infielder, so they decided to reward him with a day in the big league dugout.

In the seventh inning, with the number 88 and no name stitched on the back of his uniform, Lambin stepped out into the on deck circle to pinch hit. As luck would have it, without Chase even knowing he was going to play until the morning of the game, his Dad Bruce Lambin, who is an accomplished amateur baseball coach (see his web site at tipsfromthecoach.com), had driven several hours from Jacksonville, where he had been on a business trip, to spend a couple of days watching his son.

Chase's first at bat was no gimme. In a 3-1 game with two runners on, he stepped in to face Dodgers' veteran Darren Dreifort. With the count 1-1, he took a pitch that looked to be off the plate for strike two, before popping the next pitch into no man's land behind the pitcher's mound, only to have the athletic Dreifort spin and make a nice over the shoulder catch.

"(One of the coaches) told me the zone gets a little bigger when you're wearing number 88." Chase said after the game about the strike two call. Then with a grin he added, "I wasn't going to go down looking. He coulda thrown the next pitch to the backstop, I woulda swung at it."

Hopefully, for Lambin, the opportunity to test his mettle against the best players in the world will only be the first of many. Today he will return to the minor league camp and go about winning a job at AA Binghamton for this season, and continue chasing his dream. Back to the relatively anonymous life of a late round draft pick fighting his way through the system to the big leagues. Hoping the next time he gets inside a big league clubhouse, he'll be there to stay.

PHOTOS: Lambin(2), Heilman, Piazza, Heilman, Piazza/Lambin, Lambin, Lambin/Hietpas, R. Peterson, Matsui, Spencer, Piazza, Heilman(2), Spencer, Wigginton, Matsui(3), heilman(2), Matsui(3), Spencer, Franco, Bottalico(2), Spencer, Piazza, Phillips, Wigginton, Lambin(4), Moreno, Matsui, Moreno(2), Wigginton, Matsui(2), Lambin

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