Chris Carlson is a true hitter. All he thinks about is hitting; it shows in his game too. Though this season has been somewhat rocky for the power hitter, he lives by every coach's "Hang in there and hit" speech that any ball player is familiar with. And hit he does. Batting either in the three-spot or cleanup, he provides the ‘Caps with a unique sense of power.
"You want to hit the ball on a line," Carlson expressed of hitting at the 'Caps' Fifth Third Ball Park. "You're always trying to get some lift on a swing, but (home runs) aren't going to happen. The balls that go out here go out on a line. It's frustrating, but at the same time, you're going to get some doubles and triples here."
Starting the season out strong, Carlson posted strong numbers before All-Star break. In his best game yet, April 6, by the fourth inning, Carlson was a triple away from hitting for the cycle. He finished up the night 4-for-5 with four RBI, helping the 'Caps' sweep of South Bend.
By the time the All-Star break rolled around the 'Caps were riding the high-life. They clinched a playoff berth and the lineup of Carlson, Roger Tomas and Casper Wells were causing havoc throughout the Midwest League. Then agony struck. At the June 17 All-Star game in Midland— on which Carlson started at first—during the fifth inning he was hit on the left hand from a wild fastball thrown by Steven Hirschfeld of Beloit. Carlson would see the next month and a half from the dugout from that point on. The frustration for All-Star East's manager Joe DePastino was something he did not want to endure during his first All-Star managerial experience; especially to one of his own players.
"That was a big blow to the team, which makes it that much more important we clinched a playoff spot in the first half," West Michigan manager Joe DePastino said of his injury. Flashing back years before, Carlson — a Topeka, Kansas native - was a three-sport standout at Topeka Seaman High School. As quarterback of the Vikings, he helped his team to the state playoffs as a senior, earning all-league, all-city and honorable all-state honors. In basketball the forward made second-team all-state as a senior, averaging 17.5 points per game, but it was baseball that he really stood out in. To this day he holds five all-time baseball records (home runs, doubles, RBI, hits and at-bats) in his four-year varsity stint.
"My high school years were extremely busy," Carlson reminisced. "Between studies and sports it was tough at times, but I got through it."
After his phenomenal senior season, Carlson enrolled at Kansas State, where he compiled — after his redshirt year — a team leading 15 doubles, 21 runs and 32 RBI in just 46 games for the Wildcats. The next season he was cut from the team and would live the next few months in a world of self-doubt.
"I thought about being cut every day," Carlson said. "And that motivated me to prove other people wrong—to show them that I can play."
The next fall he followed suit of his older brother Nick and enrolled at the University of New Mexico, where by day he was studying business for his degree, and by night was making pitchers look foolish for the Lobos. New Mexico gave the young slugger a chance and he didn't let them down either. Within a short time he helped lead UNM to three consecutive MWC title games (all lost), while providing some little accomplishments for himself too. He garnished a truckload of honors— most notably ESPN Magazine's All-Academic first-team and Louisville Slugger's All-American first-team— before it was all said and done in New Mexico.
"I loved playing for the Lobos," Carlson said. "I had a really fun year, and I played with a group oThe Detroit Tigers caught wind of the Lobo alum, and liking his tremendous plate presence, they drafted him in the 29th round (862nd pick) of the June 2006 draft.
"Being a 29th rounder, statistically, there isn't much room to succeed," Carlson said. "But one thing I learned is that if I had a chance, I'm going to make the most of it."
From there his play skyrocketed to a whole other level. The Kansas native was named, not only to the All-Star game for both the GCL Tigers and Onetona Tigers, but was MVP of the New York-Penn League before making his West Michigan start. With joining the 'Caps, he provided an immediate impact that DePastino was looking for.
"We needed big bats early on," DePastino said. "This guy has it. He's becoming a big hitter."
July 23, Carlson was taken off the disabled list, and rejoined his teammates to provide some kind of answer to their dismal second half. In his first game, Carlson went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBI to rally West Michigan to an 8-5 win over Wisconsin. It's been told a true hitter doesn't flaunt himself after a stellar performance. Carlson did just that after his first game back.
"I'm a little rusty," Carlson said of his performance. "You can take as much batting practice as you want, but you can't simulate a 90 mph fast ball."
August 8, Carlson took an inside pitch from Justin Miller yard for a three-run shot that lifted the 'Caps to a 3-2 victory over the Great Lakes Loons, and ended Miller's chances of a no-hitter.
It's apparent his return alone is keeping the 'Caps barely alive in the Eastern Division, but his work will surely be cut out for him come September.
"Lately I've just been trying to be more aggressive in a hitter's count. In the beginning of the year I was just feeling the pitches, but now I'm staying aggressive and hitting the ball hard."