No Bull, Lance Durham Can Play

West Michigan has been a stopping point for plenty of Major League hopefuls with celebrated and recognizable last names this season and one of the more recent acquisitions for the Tigers, Lance Durham, was no exception. The Cincinnati native is the son of former Big Leaguer Leon Durham who played ten seasons in The Show as a first baseman and outfielder.

When asked what it was like growing up with a professional baseball playing dad, Lance Durham acknowledged the many advantages.

"Growing up with a father who played in the big leagues has been great. You get a lot of advantages being around the game more like being in the clubhouse all the time. I've wanted to play pro ball my entire life so seeing first-hand what I wanted to do at an early age was a big advantage over other people who might not have had that opportunity."

Idolizing both his father and Ken Griffey, Jr., Lance developed his talents and became an excellent player at a young age. And it wasn't long before he too believed he could make it professionally and follow in the footsteps of his father.

"I was about 17 when I knew that I had a good shot to play pro ball and to be pretty successful at it. I got drafted by the Detroit Tigers originally right out of high school so I knew I was pretty good."

While he may have wanted to start playing professionally right then and there, he knew that he had been drafted fairly late in the 45th round. So with some coercing from his mother, he decided to attend college where not only could he work towards gaining a degree, but also work on improving his skills on the field.

"I could have signed after being drafted out of high school but my mom wanted me to go to college because she had gone to college and had a great experience. I don't regret it to this day because playing in college gave me the chance to let my body mature and get stronger."

His decision to forego professional baseball in favor of higher education paid off because in 2009, he was again drafted but this time, in the 14th round and by the Toronto Blue Jays. Durham was ecstatic because he knew he had made the right decision a few years earlier.

"Getting drafted again in 2009 was awesome because I knew I had gotten better instead of having regressed being that I was drafted a lot earlier the second time. It was great and my family was happy for me and it was just a good day."

All the excitement culminating with the draft soon turned into a reality check as Durham found the jump from collegiate to professional play to be quite startling. During his first year with the Auburn Doubledays in the New York-Penn League, the left handed batter hit a paltry .221 and had only a .299 on-base percentage. Having a hard time with the increased speed of the game, he learned quickly that even down to the way he was managed and pitched in the pros paled in comparison to what he experienced in college.

But heeding the advice of his father, Lance bounced back for his second season in a Doubleday uniform and improved his batting average to .256. With 14 more walks drawn than the previous season, he also picked up his on-base percentage to a more respectable .371.

"The best advice my father has always given me about the game is to have a short memory. You go 4-4 one game but tomorrow that might not mean anything. And when you go 0-4, the next day it's not going to mean anything either. So it's best to have that short memory which you have to try to bring to the field every day."

The next season, this time with the Lansing Lugnuts, he was forced to put his father's words to the test once more as he struggled in Low-A ball. Appearing in 50 games, his batting average dipped below the Mendoza Line at .182.

After being sent packing to the Tigers organization and called up from Extended Spring Training to West Michigan on June 9 of this season, Durham proved once again that he has a short memory. He about matched his hit total of 29 from last season with 18 during 18 games as a Whitecap. Compiling an average of .295, he scored 12 runs while knocking in 13.

Maybe it's the fresh environment or maybe it's the fact that he now plays for the organization that his father works for – Leon Durham is the hitting coach for the Triple-A affiliate Mud Hens – that is attributing to his new-found sense of success and focus. Since he's never been able to play for his father throughout his career, motivation to make that dream a reality has him off and running.

"It's a great upside and it's awesome to have him around in the same organization that I play for now. I could possibly play for him which would be great as I've never played for my dad before since he was always coaching pro ball when I was growing up in little league, high school and college."

As of Wednesday, July 3, Durham was one step closer to making that happen after being transferred to Lakeland in order for the Whitecaps to make room on their roster for Pat Leyland, who came off the disabled list. But more injuries on the Whitecaps roster brought Durham back to West Michigan a few weeks later after only appearing in five games for the Flying Tigers.

Though some success has bequeathed him this season, Lance knows he still has a lot of work to do – echoing the sentiments of most of the other players found around him – to hopefully avoid the difficulties experienced in seasons past.

"I know I need to improve on everything. That's what we're out here to do every day. Defense, base running, hitting the ball – it's an everyday process. Having a complete awareness for the game is what you have to do to get better."

Improving every day is something he'll set out to do for the duration of the season and just like everyone else, at the end of the day Lance Durham is simply hungry to win.

"We need to just try and win some games and eventually a championship which would be fun because I've never been a champion in anything either in high school or college. So it would be great if I could help win a league title."

I don't think anyone in the Tigers' organization would disagree with that.

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