One of the coolest things about covering the minor leagues is getting to watch players “grow up” and being able to say you knew them when. In fact, I don’t think that particular delight is limited to just those of us who write about the game for a living … I am sure it’s also true for all of the fans who come out to minor league games around the country and “discover” players that no one has heard of, see something special, and find a special place in their baseball hearts for those guys.
When I made my first trip to see the West Virginia Power back in 2006, during my first season working for MLB.com, our primary purpose was to do a video feature for the website about Power fan extraordinaire Rod Blackstone, the deputy mayor of Charleston W.Va. by day and “The Toastman” by night..
But while we were there I also got a chance to do a story on Milwaukee Brewers outfield prospect Lorenzo Cain..
Cain, just 20 at the time, was a lanky youngster who had won the short-season Arizona League batting crown the previous summer when he hit .356 after signing as a draft-and-follow pick. A virtual newcomer to baseball having just started the sport in high school, his God-given talent and physical prowess was evident, as he hit .307 with 60 RBIs and 34 steals at West Virginia in his first full season.
But what also impressed me was how sweet and humble he was, admitting to me that our interview was pretty much his first one, at least on anything that resembled a “national” scale.
I continued to follow his career and was thrilled when I found out he’d be playing in the Arizona Fall League this past autumn because I was looking forward to catching up with him.
What I found was a young man who had truly blossomed physically, no longer a willow but a serious tree of a guy. But that sweet smile and engaging personality was still very much there.
“Lo-Cain” as his friends and teammates call him (the nickname came from his former coach Ed Sedar) opened a lot of eyes in the league. I can say without giving away any trade secrets that several scouts mentioned him as one of the players who most impressed them as he hit .333 with five home runs, 11 RBIs and a .635 slugging percentage after getting a late start as he completed his rehab from a strained hamstring that sidelined him since mid-August.
However, if his 2009 season is anything like his ’08 campaign, when he hit .287 in 80 games at Advanced A Brevard County, .277 at Double-A Huntsville after a mid-season promotion, saw a few games at Triple-A Nashville to boot and combined for 11 homers, 61 RBIs and 25 steals all at age 22, he could find himself in the big leagues before long.
GotMiLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
Cain: Finishing high school. That made my mom really happy because most people in my family didn’t finish school. So doing that and being able to come out and play this great game of baseball.
GotMiLB: Complete this sentence: It would surprise people to know that …
Cain: I started playing baseball when I was in 10th grade.
GotMiLB: Do you have other hobbies or creative outlets aside from baseball?
Cain: I mostly play video games and try to relax. I’m a Madden Football 09 fan.
GotMiLB: What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
Cain: I’d have to say during the season when we get to go see the kids in the hospital. That’s so exciting to me because their faces light up whenever we come.
GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why?
Cain: In my eyes, the grind. You’re grinding every day. And it’s tough being away from home. A lot of people don’t know what really goes on inside the locker room or the work we put in. Going from city to city traveling has been especially tough for me.
GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors has surprised you the most, in comparison to what you might have imagined before you turned pro?
Cain: I never thought I’d be playing baseball right now. It’s all still amazing and shocking to me that I’m here.
GotMiLB: What is the biggest misperception that people outside of baseball have about life in the minors?
Cain: They all think I’m rich and that’s not true.
GotMiLB: Who is the most unusual character you’ve met in your pro baseball career?
Cain: A guy named Freddy Parejo. He’s hilarious, the way he goes about his business and the way he knows how to have fun with the game. He’s just different.
GotMiLB: What is the one question you hope you never hear again?
Cain: How does it feel being in the spotlight, because a lot of people think I’m in the spotlight but I’m not a spotlight guy. I like to just sit back and relax and let the other guys have the attention.
GotMiLB: If you were commissioner for a day, which one rule would you change?
Cain: I see they’ve put new instant replay in the game now and I’m more of a “just let the game happen” guy.
GotMiLB: Where have you played in the Minors?
Cain: Arizona; Helena, Montana; Charleston, W.Va.; Brevard Co., Fla.; Huntsville, Ala.; and Nashville, Tenn.
GotMiLB: On your current or most recent club (Huntsville), what was your favorite thing about playing there? And is there anything you would change?
Cain: I wish more people would come to the games there because I like having a crowd there but you have to deal with it.
GotMiLB: What is the best minor league promotion or visiting act you’ve seen?
Cain: The Famous Chicken. It’s so cute with the little chicks. He’s hilarious.