The Grit and Success of Sam Haggerty

Observing Sam Haggerty on the field, there is a look of fierce determination, a scowl, that suggests he will do anything to defeat his opponent. As an observer of ball players you might describe him as tough, determined, or scrappy. That would be accurate, but incomplete.

The 5’11”, 175 lb. second baseman is the first High-A Lynchburg player of 2017 to win a Carolina League Player of the Week award. Originally drafted by Cleveland in the 24th round of 2015, this is Haggerty’s second full season assignment in the Tribe organization. He got into 100 games with Low-A Lake County last year, and played briefly with the Rookie level Mahoning Valley team after signing.

Haggerty was born in Phoenix, but moved to Grand Junction Colorado when he was three or four years old. Baseball has been part of the family as long as anyone can remember.

“My grandpa played baseball, my dad played college ball, and my uncle played professional baseball for a year or maybe two,” he said.

Grand Junction is home to the Junior College World Series, and Haggerty got many opportunities to be involved in the baseball surrounding that event.

“JUCO was big in my family,” he said. “My grandpa was a part of it. I was always around it, getting to meet players and I was a bat boy for a couple of teams.”

Always being around baseball was motivating for Haggerty. It led him to the University of New Mexico, where he was primarily a shortstop for the Lobos. In his three years in Albuquerque, the Lobos won the conference finals in his first and last years. He also had the thrill of advancing to the College World Series during his freshman season.

“I enjoyed it a lot,” he said about his time at New Mexico. “I still have some great friendships with my teammates. It’s college baseball, so it had its downsides, but I loved the camaraderie and the friendships you make playing for a championship.”

He learned to polish his hard-nosed style and gained a sense of how far he had to go to reach a professional level of play during his summer stints, first in the Northwoods League and then in the Cape Cod League.

In the Northwoods League, the schedule is very similar to the demands of a minor league season.

“They play a lot of baseball,” said Haggerty about his summer with the Eau Claire Express. “I wasn’t ready for it, I was only 18 years old.”

It was the following summer, in the prestigious Cape Cod League, that he realized he had the talent and determination to move on and play baseball at the professional level.

“Cape Cod was phenomenal. The players there were great, they took care of us,” said Haggerty.

He had always dreamt about becoming a professional ballplayer as a kid. “I got talked to a little bit out of high school, but I really didn’t understand the whole process. I didn’t know about myself. I was probably too small and underdeveloped at the time. It became a real possibility in the Cape Cod League. Behind the plate each game in the Cape there are 40 scouts who watch you every day.”

This spring, he had the opportunity to play in four games with Cleveland, coming over from the minor league complex to work out with the team. He got three at-bats and scored a run on a walk.

“I think it helped me a lot,” said Haggerty. “It was fun to be around those guys. I got to play in two games at Chase Field [spring site for the Diamondbacks] where we got to take batting practice. Around those guys you realize they are not so glorified, that you’re not so far away being in High-A. I really enjoyed it.”

This year for the Hillcats, he has gotten off to a hot start, winning the Carolina League Player of the Week award for the week of April 24-30. At the time he led the Carolina League in triples (6), extra-base hits (13), and slugging percentage (.606).

Usually batting leadoff and wearing uniform #1, Haggerty leads the Hillcats with nine stolen bases. More impressive he has achieved this in 23 games played, where most of his Carolina League competitors with nine or more steals have played in 30 games or more.

On Friday, April 28th against the Myrtle Beach club, Haggerty led off the game with a walk. On an infield grounder, Pelicans second baseman Bryant Flete thought he would be able to turn two, getting Haggerty at second. As Flete turned to make the short flip to the shortstop covering the bag, he realized Haggerty was already sliding in safely and was forced to turn and only get a single out at first base. Haggerty promptly stole third base.

Asked about whether he has deceptive speed, he said, “I think so, until they realize I’m fast. I feel like I can run. I’ve always been able to run. It’s just learning how to use it on a baseball field.”

As a hitter, Haggerty is a team leader. He leads the Hillcats in batting with a .333 average, runs scored with 19, a .412 OBP, and nine stolen bases. His six triples lead the Carolina League by a margin of one.

“My biggest goal is to try and control things that I can control,” he says about his approach at bat. “Swing at strikes, and be on time for the fastball. There are times you’ll hit it really good and they catch it, and other times you don’t hit it good and they don’t catch it. Ultimately you can’t control that.”

For the season, his principle goal is finish the year without any regrets. “Numbers are great,” he says, “but I don’t think they tell the whole story. I want to be on a winning team, I want to win the Carolina League. You want to finish the year knowing you gave it everything you had.”

In old school baseball lingo, Haggerty would be called a gamer. He has that throwback swagger about him. So the next time you are at the ballpark and you hear the Dazz Bands ‘Let It Whip’ crank up at the start of the game, it will be Sam Haggerty coming to bat. You know he is going to do everything in his power to get on base and help his team to win.

Photo: Lathan Goumas/The News and Advance

David Freier was born in Brooklyn New York in 1966 less than a decade after the Dodgers had departed the very same borough. His first professional baseball game was at Yankee stadium and to this day he and his father still argue over who started for the Orioles that day (his father says Mike Cuellar, while he insists it was Jim Palmer). Being a lover of underdogs he naturally became a Mets fan. He grew up in Montclair New Jersey which had the advantage of being home to two baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, as well as having a local college which regularly held baseball card conventions that fed his baseball card hobby. While attending college at the University of Richmond he and some of his friends attended a Richmond Braves game in the then (1985) brand new Diamond stadium, and now home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. This began what has become a passion for the minor leagues of baseball. During his 10 years as a Richmond resident he and his future wife developed an affinity for the Braves, especially when Richmond fan favorite Francisco Cabrera scored the winning run to knock the Pirates from contention and vault the Braves into the World Series of 1991. During extensive travels he has rooted for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis Loons, St. Paul Saints, Iowa Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Erie Sea Wolves, Berkshire Bears and of course the Lynchburg Hillcats. To date he has visited over 110 different baseball parks in which he has seen a game. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2000 and has been a member ever since, where he participates on the Biographical and Minor Leagues committees when time permits. In his day job he is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at Lynchburg College in Virginia.

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