Published in Sports on July 4, 2004 7:22 AM
For Craig Hurba, waiting through the Major League Baseball Draft was the stressful part. Once he got the phone call he was waiting for, the fun part began.
Hurba, a two-time all-region and all-conference catcher at Mount Olive College, was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 38th round of the 2004 Major League Baseball Draft in early June. He is currently playing for the Rangers' Arizona Rookie League team in Surprise, Arizona, just outside Phoenix. After a week of training, the team began league play June 22. The team's 58-game schedule runs through August 31.
Hurba says he was stressing out, not just on draft day, but during the days before the draft.
"I'm usually on a strict schedule as far as eating and working out," said Hurba. "Prior to the draft, I wasn't sleeping, I wasn't eating. It was tough. It was a stressful time."
Hurba felt that if he could get drafted, he could make an impression on the team who drafted him. While he's confident in his abilities, he admits his style of play isn't the type that makes immediate first impressions, which is why he was so anxious about the draft.
"I've always told people that the hardest part for me is getting drafted," said Hurba. "In a showcase environment, I don't have the tools that will make scouts drool over me. I just get the job done. There are guys that throw 96 miles per hour or hit the ball 800 feet. I've never been one of those guys."
In Arizona, Hurba roomed with different players. He decided to get his own apartment and rent a car so he could get back on his own schedule and his own routine, which includes doing his own cooking.
Because of the Arizona heat, the practice day starts early. The temperature will rise well above 100 during the daytime, but at 7:30 in the morning, the temperature usually is down to 95 degrees.
After a 6:30 a.m. breakfast, Hurba and his teammates stretch and work out, then throw, work on fundamentals (such as bunt coverage), take batting practice and work on base running. By 12:30, they're off the field and inside lifting weights and watching video. Hurba generally arrives early and stays late.
"I usually stay a while, talk to the coaches, watch video and go to the cage and hit," said Hurba.
One of Hurba's coaches is Brook Jacoby, who spent 11 years in the big leagues, mostly with the Cleveland Indians. A two-time All-Star, Jacoby's best season came in 1987 when he hit .300 with 32 home runs and 26 doubles.
In his first game as a member of the Rangers' Rookie League team, Hurba also got the opportunity to work with another Major League player. Hurba caught for pitcher Chan Ho Park in a simulation game. Park was placed on the disabled list in late May and is in Arizona rehabbing from an injury.
Park is in his 11th year in the majors and his third year with the Rangers. He played in the 2001 Major League All-Star Game while he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers and had back-to-back seasons of 200-plus strikeouts in 2000 and 2001.
Hurba says catching for Park has been a tremendous learning experience, as well as a genuine thrill.
"That was a blast. It was fun catching for Chan Ho Park," said Hurba. "I had to block one ball, and that was it. He gave me pointers on calling pitches and he was great about helping me out. Every half-inning, he talked about what he threw and why he threw it."
In Hurba's first game, he went 0-for-3 with a walk batting third in the lineup. He caught all nine innings and threw out one of two runners attempting to steal. Even though he didn't get a hit, Hurba felt good about his performance because he hit the ball hard each time. He lined out to short and third, and hit a hard groundout on a back-hand stab by the third baseman.
The Rangers are one of nine teams in the Arizona League. The Rangers share a facility with the Royals, although the two teams play at separate fields.
Hurba says that the experience of being drafted and playing baseball for a Major League affiliate has not yet sunk in and probably won't until after the summer.
"I don"t think it's sunk in, but I don't think I've had time to let it sink in," said Hurba. "I've been busy every day since draft day. When I come back to Mount Olive in the fall, that's when it will probably sink in."
Hurba says he is looking forward to returning to Mount Olive, where he will complete his sports management degree.
"I can"t wait to come back there," said Hurba. "Mount Olive has done a lot for me. I like everyone at the college and I love being around (head baseball) Coach (Carl) Lancaster."
Hurba knows that other 38th-round picks have made it to and are currently playing in the big leagues. But even without that knowledge, Hurba has always felt confident that if he was drafted, he had as good a chance as anyone to go to the next level, no matter what round he or anyone else was picked.
To Hurba, the draft was the toughest part. Now it's just a matter of showing the Texas Rangers what he can do. To appreciate Hurba's skills is to watch him work day in, day out.
"If you're around me long enough, you'll see what I can do," said Hurba. "I'm a hard worker, I do whatever it takes, and I hope the coaches see that."
For more information, go to Minor League Baseball.com and click "Arizona League" from the drop-down menu. (Currently, rosters and schedules have not been updated for the 2004 season.)
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