Ardent baseball fans read the boxscores every day in March. They look for fresh faces in their favorite team's lineup to see who is waiting in the wings for a chance at what many call "The Show." On March 20, a new face to Arizona Diamondback fans ... but a familiar one around these parts ... made his debut. Dan Kaczrowski, a 2009 HU grad, had his first look at big league pitching in Arizona's 4-3 preseason victory over San Francisco. Kaczrowski faced Giant righty Heath Hembree in the eighth inning and flied out to left field. He had entered the game in the top of the inning at second base. It was his first at bat against major league pitching.
"It was the fourth game I had been in uniform for," Kaczrowski recalled. "After a while, you get a sense when you are going to get a chance. I thought I might get in this game.'
When he did, there was no time to get nervous. Kaczrowski worked the count to 3-1 and then saw a fastball he liked. He took a hack at it and, in his words, "just missed it by an inch or two. If I got a little more under it, it would have gone out."
Kaczrowski, a 26th round draft pick of the Diamondbacks in 2009, has played 280 games in the Arizona system with a career batting average of .262. (Prior to joining the organization, he played a dozen games for the independent St. Paul Saints in 2009.) He spent the 2011 season with Mobile in the AA level Southern League. In 80 games for the Bay Bears, he batted .243 and fanned just 18 times in 193 official at-bats. Although the majority of his time was spent in the infield, Kaczrowski did see time as an outfielder as well.
"My role is to be the utility guy," he said. "That means I often am going to be the pinch-hitter and have to be ready to come up swinging after sitting on the bench for six or seven innings." It's an important role. All good teams need to have a guy like that. Still, when you are used to playing every day, that's a major adjustment for a young player. Fortunately for Kaczrowski, his hitting coach in Mobile was Alan Zinter, who had played that exact role in two brief tours in the major leagues. "He helped me a lot with the mental aspect of the game."
Mobile had a great season, going 84-54 and was voted by Baseball America as the 2011 Minor League team of the year.
This spring, Kaczrowski, who has since been in uniform for a fifth D-backs preseason game, has been working out more often than not with the AAA players this spring. On March 31, he found out he will be returning to Mobile for the start of the 2012 season.
A St. Anthony, Minn. native who played in high school for Irondale, Kaczrowski was asked how long he felt he was thought of as the "D-III guy" in the Arizona system. "I think that happened the day I was drafted," he said. "One thing you learn early is you are judged by what you do, not where you come from. I am proud of coming from D-III."
He is believed to be the first Hamline grad to see action in a major league baseball game of any sort since the late Howie Schultz, a member of the school's Athletic Hall Of Fame, who had a six-year major league career with the Dodgers, Phillies and Reds in the 1940s.
For those who missed it, click here to see the boxscore of Kaczrowski's day in the sun.