|Atlantic League is a destination, not part of the journey, for Revolution's Hake
|A former 27th round draft choice by the Milwaukee Brewers, Travis Hake found his comfort zone in the Atlantic League.
By Chuck King
The Atlantic League, widely considered one of the two best independent baseball leagues, revels in its tradition of seeing players return to Major League Baseball.
Travis Hake, a former Milwaukee Brewers farmhand who never made it higher than Single-A, delights in proving those who say he doesn’t belong in the Atlantic League wrong.
Hake returns to the Atlantic League for the third year, this time with the expansion York Revolution, when the decade-old league opens its season tonight.
“I knew this league was good and I knew there were good players in it, but I knew I was pretty good too, and I knew I could compete if I got the chance,” said Hake. “That was the hardest thing was to get the chance.”
Unlike the numerous former big leaguers’ whose names dot the rosters of the eight Atlantic League teams, Hake says he isn’t using the league as a gateway to return to affiliated baseball. He’s had his fill of that.
Originally drafted by Milwaukee in 2001, Hake hit .310 for Ogden in his rookie season; then walked away from the organization the following season after finding himself buried on the depth chart.
“If an organization doesn’t really want you, you have to fight and claw somebody to get somewhere,” said Hake, who managed just 15 at-bats in 2002 for Beloit. “If you’re a first rounder, they want you. If you are a Top 10 prospect, they want you. If you’re a guy like me, they don’t want me.”
For three years Hake worked at landfills, lawn services and gave baseball lessons before finally deciding to get back into professional baseball.
“It was just burning inside me all the time,” Hake said. “I’d go down to Camden Yards and watch them play and I thought, man, I wonder of I could just go play somewhere.”
A fresh start in the Atlantic League
In 2005, he bought a plane ticket to the Atlantic League’s spring training in Florida, eventually landing a spot with the Lancaster Barnstormers. Hake’s performance that season didn’t suggest such a long layoff from baseball.
He says it also annoyed some of the league’s upper management.
“I think they thought I made the league look bad – a guy who took three years off from playing and never played above A-ball and he comes in here and hits around .300, steals 42 bags and gets co-MVP of the team,” Hake said. “They would rather see a former big league guy do that.”
Four former major leaguers will take the field with Hake tonight, though none of them have the star power of former big leaguers and Atlantic League alumni Rickey Henderson and Juan Gonzales. Tike Redman is perhaps the biggest name on the York roster.
Atlantic League Executive Director Joe Klein disagrees with Hake’s assertion that the league only cares about big-name players.
“We’ve had a number of players in the league who have been A-ball players only, who’ve led the league in hitting and led the league in pitching,” said Klein who’s seen the league send 39 players to the major leagues and more than 350 into affiliated baseball in its first nine seasons. “The Atlantic league is not for everybody. The by product of the league is that eventually some players returned to the big leagues.”
Baseball’s still a game
Hake, now 30 years old, says he isn’t in the league to show he can make it in major league baseball. He’s playing for the joy of being on a baseball diamond.
It’s an attitude that tends to rub off on his teammates.
“You’ve got to have some guys like that who are just willing to play and do what it takes to win,” said Ryan Minor, Hake’s former teammate with Lancaster and now one of his coaches with York. “It makes it more enjoyable when you have guys who just want to win and have fun because it kind of leaks onto everybody else.”
After missing much of last season with an elbow injury, Hake enters this season intent on proving he still belongs in the league. He’ll have plenty of people routing for him.
A native of Brogue, Pa, which is about 30 minutes from York’s ballpark, he expects plenty of friends and family members to be among the numerous sold out crowds in York this summer.
“Just to play in front of a packed house every night, to feel the energy from the fans, that’s my favorite thing – even though it makes you nervous sometimes,” Hake said. “That’s why if I could ever play in the big leagues I’m sure I’d do well because the more fans there are, I think I step up my game more.”
Check out my blog for more on The Atlantic League, the York Revolution and minor league baseball.