The Journey to Land on Indy Ball Island

Long bus rides, grueling schedules, host families and run down hotels all for only $600 a month sounds anything but glamorous.  Unfortunately, this is the reality of independent league baseball.  Is it worth it in the end? For some guys it is… for others, it’s not always so kind.

One wouldn’t think that there are thousands of guys begging to live this lifestyle, but the truth is, there are. Why would someone want to try so hard to get into this situation? The answer is simple: for love of the game and the chance to keep pursuing your childhood dream.

If a guy plays all the way through college and isn’t drafted by an MLB team after graduation, it can still be hard for him to just let it go.  Those guys turn to independent ball to keep the dream alive. They believe that if they just get that one chance with a professional team, a better opportunity might arise.

Often times people view indy ball as the beginning for a player, but there is so much more than meets the eye.  It may be the beginning of a player’s pro career, but what you can’t see is the hard work and the struggle that goes into reaching even the lowest level of professional baseball.

Baseball is a true commitment that can include focusing more on the sport than on any type of social life while growing up. Baseball practice is chosen over birthday parties. It’s full of grueling training and long hours.  Later on, the commitment only gets stronger. The fun side of college life is often given up in exchange for extra hours in the gym, practice, and games.  But players are willing to trade it all for that one chance to fulfill their childhood dream, to go against the odds and to prove everyone wrong. They just want to be in that 0.5% that makes it to the pros.

One player who understands the commitment and has experienced the struggles is Javy Marticorena.  He is currently looking to continue his career after college and land on indy ball island, but he knows that he still has a lot to prove.

Javy’s story starts out like many players around the country.  He first picked up a bat when he was five years old and played in his first organized game when he was seven.  It was love at first hit.  From then on, he knew that he wanted to be a professional baseball player when he grew up.  Baseball was where excelled and had the most fun.

Being from Miami didn’t hurt either. He was able to play and get better year-round. He was consistently named tournament MVP in youth league and become the Pony League World Series Home Run Derby champion after blasting 17 home runs when he was 13 years old.

He was also a standout on his high school team and started to turn some heads in the baseball world. During his senior year, he was named the Florida 6A Player of the Year after hitting .574 with 8 HR in 30 games. That year, he also led his team to state runner-up and played against Manny Machado which helped scouts recognize him.

There was only one problem that held the scouts back:  they believed he was too short to be successful at the professional level.  At 5’9″, he just wasn’t expected to stick around and continue his success against bigger competition.

“It was disappointing, but I didn’t let it stop me. I used it as a reason to keep going” said Javy. “I knew I had to work harder than the bigger guys because I really have to stand out to get noticed.”

He stayed in Miami and played college ball for St. Thomas University his freshman year going up against the top ranked junior colleges in the nation. He ended the season batting .333 with 2 HR and 18 RBIs in just 15 games.  Due to his lack of playing time, he decided to transfer to Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA.  Their program was improving, and he loved the idea of being on the team that turned it around.

However, he experienced his biggest obstacle to date during his sophomore year.  36 games into the season, he tore his ACL and meniscus.  After rushing back for his junior year, Javy continued to struggle.

“It took me a while to bounce back from my injury. I was messing around a lot with my mechanics and approach. I never got comfortable with what I was doing. My knee was really starting to bother me, and I began compensating for it.  If there was one thing I learned from my injury, it is that I can never take this game for granted. It owes me nothing.”

He returned to Point Park for his senior year, where everything started to click again. He felt comfortable on the field and at the plate. He bounced back from his injury and put up respectable numbers.

“I didn’t have the year that I wanted, but I still had a much better year than my junior season. I knew I wasn’t ready to hang up my cleats just yet. I wanted to play at least one more summer.”

Javy spent this summer playing for the Weyburn Beavers of the Western Major Baseball League, Canada’s premier collegiate summer league. With college in his rear view mirror, he just wanted to get back to the game he loved.

“There’s always a certain feeling to starting a new season that’s a big relief; to just start fresh again. I knew I was going to have a great summer. I thought it was going to be my last chance to play ball after not getting drafted from high school or college, so I played more relaxed and simply for the fun and love of the game.  I got rid of all the pressure I felt in college and that’s when I played my best.”

After putting up great numbers and leading his team in batting average (.364) and RBIs (38) and finishing 2nd in home runs with 5 (becoming the only player to be in the top three of each category), the every day outfielder realized that he needed to make a position change in order to make it further.

“After the summer in Canada, I decided to make a transition to become a catcher.This move will hopefully give me a better shot at playing at the next level, and I’m working at it every day.  I’m spending more time lifting as well and still playing league games every Sunday to stay in shape. I feel great and confident with the progress I’ve made and how fast I’m learning the toughest position on the field.”

Javy has been attending tryouts and has more lined up for the off season.  He has the heart and determination to make it in indy ball and beyond. He’s just hoping for a chance, and he’ll keep working at it until he does. Because if there’s one thing this underdog likes, it is the chance to prove everyone wrong.

Pecos League Standout Omar Artsen Gets Opportunity with Marlins

Omar Artsen was almost about to give up.  After playing college baseball at three different schools (ASA junior college, Missouri Baptist University, and Brewton Parker College), he wasn’t sure that baseball was in his future after graduation. Ultimately, he ended up at a day job working in finance in New York. It was here that the 24 year old changed his life and reinvented himself.

“Being around successful people all the time kinda shows you how their minds work… how positive they are and how they manifest their own luck and success. They even gave me a couple of books to read, and I realized that mindset was the missing link to my game. After I read those books, I packed my bags and gave it another go” Artsen explains.

With his friends and family’s encouragement, he headed south to train in Florida knowing that this could be his last chance to make something happen.  He spent the winter months in Florida training with minor league coach Benny Castillo. Artsen was working out alongside guys who were as young as 17, but that never discouraged him.  All it meant was that he had to work harder to prove to everyone that he still had what it takes to play.

After four months, Artsen once again packed his bags and hit the road. This time, he ended up in Santa Fe with the Fuegos of the Pecos League.  With a new mindset and outlook on life and baseball, Artsen came into his own as the starting 2nd baseman in Santa Fe. He was named to the mid-season All-Star team and was an integral part in helping the Fuegos win the championship.  He finished the season batting .397 and set a new Pecos League stolen base record with 52.

When asked about his time in the Pecos League, Artsen replied that “the Pecos lives up to its reputation… but it’s still pro ball, and you still get the opportunity to get to the next level. When you keep that in mind, the Pecos can be a fun place to play.”

And he sure did have fun while making the most of the opportunity given to him.  Artsen quickly became a fan favorite. On the field, he dazzled with his base running, but off the field he became a star as well. He was always the first guy to sign up for volunteer activities in the community and loved being around kids.

His manager, Bill Moore, talked fondly of watching him play. “I love him to death. He’s just a fun guy to be around. Omar is a risk-taker, but it pays off more times than not.  He just puts out everything he’s got. He’s a very exciting guy to watch play. Wherever he ends up playing next season, fans are going to love him.”

This time his risk-taking really did pay off.  After the season, Artsen was signed to a minor league contract with the Miami Marlins; however he was one of the last ones to know that they were interested in signing him. He didn’t have a cell phone at the time, so his friend sent him a message through Facebook and told him to call ASAP.  As it turns out, many people within the Pecos League already knew about the offer and were all trying to get in contact with him.

This is a very big deal for the Pecos League as a whole.  In all of 2014, 41 players were promoted to higher leagues.  Of those 41, only 4 of them were given contracts by an MLB organization.

In February Artsen will once again pack his bags and head south to Florida, but this time he will be going as a professional baseball player.

“I’m looking forward to competing with the best players in the world and pushing my game forward. Every part of my game has to improve. I’m not just trying to survive in affiliated ball. I’m trying get to ‘The Show'” Artsen stated.

He knows that he has a long road ahead, but he is confident in his abilities and is ready for whatever comes his way next. “I know that I work hard, and I’m as mentally strong as they come… I’m just going to keep improving to get where I want to go.”

Omar Artsen is not taking this new opportunity for granted.  The sky is the limit for this hard working 24 year old who is out to prove everyone wrong and beat the odds.

Writing and sharing stories about Independent Baseball.