Mike Cervenak Is Not Crash Davis Or A Prospect
June 27, 2013 7:53 PM   Subscribe

Like a lot of us in our mid-30s, he has found his career has landed somewhere between optimal happiness and utter futility. These days, Cervenak is more valuable for his reliability than his potential. He would be a tough guy to lose but not a particularly hard guy to replace. He is organizational depth. He is not a prospect.

Despite finishing his college career as Michigan's record holder in hits and doubles with a .385 batting average in 1998 and .340 in his senior season, his career didn't seem to take off.

He played for the Alaska Goldpanners, the Chillicothe Paints, the Greensboro Bats, Norwich, Fresno, the Kia Tigers, the Norfolk Tides, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the Philadelphia Phillies, the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Buffalo Bisons, the Toledo Mud Hens, and the Czech Republic, among others.

His lifetime minor league line comes in at .295/.346/.461 with 179 home runs and 916 RBIs.

He is a third baseman a major league line of .154/.154/.154 in 13 at bats. In fact, the only two videos for him on MLB.com are an RBI double for the Czech Republic in 2012 and an interview with him that same year. He is 36 years old with 15 years playing in the minors, in indie ball, in Korea, and for various winter league teams. He's a "good kid", organizational depth, and definitely not a prospect.
posted by Ghostride The Whip (17 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
It's guys like this that go on to become great managers.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:16 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Brocktoon: "It's guys like this that go on to become great managers."

My thoughts exactly. Look at Mike Matheny right now, or Tony Larussa. Decent players, great managers (especially, of course, Larussa.)
posted by notsnot at 8:22 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

As sad as this story might seem, on the bright side he's gotten to play baseball for a living for over 15 years. My uncle started as a pitcher in college, went into single A ball and worked up to AAA farm leagues, but never quite made the majors. He even did a couple seasons in Italy and all his stories from the time are him having the time of his life. I think in total he only did it for 3-4 years but he talks about it like he spent decades doing it.
posted by mathowie at 8:25 PM on June 27, 2013 [9 favorites]

Didn't know this was about baseball til I clicked inside.
posted by jiawen at 8:29 PM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Lemme just say: Go Blue! And the Toledo Mud Hens rule.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:30 PM on June 27, 2013

Baseball is interesting, in part, because of its unique talent curve. There are players who contribute into their forties (rare, but they exist). There are players who are terrible in their early twenties and bloom when they get near thirty. There are hyped-up "future stars" who flame out like nobody's business; and because it's so unpredictable, the teams maintain an incredibly deep minor league system.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:32 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great article and story. What a great kid! I bet, if he wants, he can have a job in some form in baseball for as long as he wants. And Norwich isn't such a bad town, c'mon. He is in Toledo now.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:44 PM on June 27, 2013

Yeah, I didn't read it as a tragic story, more there's a point about 25-30 where you start figuring out you're probably not going to be a rock star or a leading light in your field of choice so...what then? Do you just accept that you're pretty good, not great (though admittedly being a minor league lifer still means you're better at baseball than 99.5% of everyone on the frickin' planet, a life in the bus leagues isn't exactly what you pined for in Little League) and keep doing what you know how to do and trained for or do you bail and settle into a normal job and life? That's honestly why I kept the baseball down to a minimum in the blurb, because I think underneath it there's the very real story a lot of us go through.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:07 PM on June 27, 2013 [18 favorites]

The last bit about playing good every night in Triple-A, because shit happens, is totally true. On the radio today about the Mariners, there was discussion about just blowing up the team, making a bunch of trades and calling up Triple-A players as placeholders in the second half of the season. That's gold to someone like Cervenak.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:56 PM on June 27, 2013

My baseball dreams ended after a week with the minor league camp of an organization. I'm pretty happy how my life turned out, but am sometimes quite jealous of guys like Matt's uncle, let alone those that made the show. Some of whom I trained and stretched with.
posted by scottymac at 10:28 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just can't imagine what it would be like to hear that your team is leaving a town you hate to live in, only to find out that you'd been traded to a different team that was moving to that same town that you hate to live in.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:30 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Baseball is interesting, in part, because of its unique talent curve.

It is also one of the reasons that NCAA football is huge and NCAA baseball is not. There's no mandatory period of university slavery for baseball players. Promising young high school baseball players go straight to the professional minor leagues.
posted by three blind mice at 2:59 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

nice article. I'm a recent, late in life convert to the church of baseball and I enjoyed reading this.

Cool Papa Bell - if they want to blow up the Mariners just tell them that the Nats fans would love to have Mike Morse back....
posted by Thistledown at 4:19 AM on June 28, 2013

Really enjoyed this article. Thanks for posting.
posted by josher71 at 6:14 AM on June 28, 2013

He may not be a prospect, but damn - he's got at least one new fan.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:20 AM on June 28, 2013

... more valuable for his reliability than his potential. He would be a tough guy to lose but not a particularly hard guy to replace. He is organizational depth.

Man, that could describe me at my desk job and hundreds of people I've worked with over the years.
posted by Longtime Listener at 6:46 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't seem to find it online, but I once read a great Chicago Tribue profile of then newly called up Cub Ryan Theriot. It talked about his (longish) career in the minors, the moving around, the uncertainty, the travel, what he gave up to follow his dream of playing in the big leagues some day... Which seemed like a story with a happy "ending" at the time, since he was playing well for the Cubs and was kind of a rising star a the time (not so much any more -- there are few real endings in life.)

But what was most poignant to me was the interview with his wife, who gave up her career to move around the country with him, to take on that financial uncertainty, to enable his dream. I'm not sure whether that kind of sacrifice is a beautiful example of true love, or a terrible example of the unfair expectations men, and society in general, put on women. I do think it is much more unusual with the roles reversed, anyway.

Either way, I found them both very likable and very gutsy and hope they're doing well now.
posted by OnceUponATime at 10:34 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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