Leaving the Diamond

Its not supposed to end this way, but, except for a select few, it will.

You were the best player on your high school team, maybe even in the league, star player in college culminating in being drafted by a major league team.

Next thing you know you're bouncing between organizations, earning the dreaded title of an "organization" or "4A"player" and then you're finished with baseball in your mid-twenties trying to figure out what to do with your life.

Former USD star and Padres' farmhand Greg Sain, 27, didn't believe this scenario would happen to him when he was drafted in the 5th round of the 2001 draft by San Diego, but after six long years of chasing the major league dream he finally had enough.

"I could see that my opportunities were getting smaller as I got older. I had to decide if I want to keep playing baseball just because I love it or to move on with my life, and I chose to move on"

Sain played five years in the Padres organization, hitting nearly every affiliate with the exception of the Arizona Rookie League, from the freezing Aprils of Fort Wayne to the swampy conditions of Mobile in July. During his time he made three all star teams, led two leagues in home runs, was ranked in Baseball America's Top 30 Prospects three times yet never had a single at bat with the Padres or with any major league club.

So what happened?

The quick answer is Sain, like many others in the minors, never found himself in the right situation with the right organization. A classic slugger, he couldn't convince the Padres he had enough of a bat for first base or enough of a glove to play third or catch.

Sain will be the first to admit that he didn't always put up the numbers he would have liked, but will also let you know in the same breath that maybe if a few decisions had been different, he may have had a better opportunity to play in the major leagues.

"Injuries of course play a role, but there are just so many other things going on other than just how well you playing," said Sain. "Why this guy is playing there and I'm here and so on. The position that you play will dictate where you fit in with the organization, their expectations and in reality how many opportunities that the team is going to give you to succeed."

Sain's ticket to the major leagues was as a slugging third baseman or catcher, not where the Padres eventually assigned him at first base where the knock on him was he struck out too much despite some impressive power numbers.

In 2003, playing with future Padre second baseman Josh Barfield in Lake Elsinore, Sain hit .274 with 19 home runs and 100 RBIs, but there was a problem. He made 35 errors in 94 games at third base and the Padres decided that he didn't have a future at that position.

"About 70% of my errors came on throws which I was just coming off of surgery and had put on an extra 20 pounds in the off-season", said Sain. "Do I think that I could have done better over there? Definitely, but I think with the [offensive] numbers I put up you would think they would want to work with me a little more at third."

The Padres apparently didn't see it that way. In the minors the perception of what you may do in the future outweighs what the evaluators are seeing now. The next year the Padres elected to go with former first round draft pick Jake Gautreau at third and the following year with Corey Smith, another former first round pick. Both Gautreau and Smith were believed to have more potential than Sain and like Sain, neither made it to the major leagues with Smith finishing with team high 35 errors in 2005.

Despite leading the Southern League in home runs with 28 in 2004 and putting some good numbers coming off of an injury in 2005 in Portland, Sain's window of opportunity in San Diego was closing with the hiring of Grady Fuson, the Padres new head of scouting and development. In spring training he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, the start of a tumultuous year that saw him released from the Brewers and Yankees organizations to finally ending up with the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Independent Northern League.

The nomadic experiences of 2006 were enough to convince him that the time had come to hang them up, despite some spring training invitations from other major league organizations in 2007.

"You can handle the low pay and the bus rides when you think something is at the end of the road, but when you can't see it anymore its time to get off."

Greg is now back at USD finishing off his degree in Communications and coaching a little baseball on the side. While he is obviously not satisfied with how his career ended, he also understands that he didn't cheat himself.

"I think everyone should have a chance to chase their dreams, especially when you think how many of us from Little League grow up wanting to be major leaguers. But you also have to be aware of the odds and know that a great many things have to fall into place, many of which will never be in your control."

John Conniff is a senior writer for Madfriars.com.

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