For the longest time, I had been wanting to write a story about a player who came so, so close to reaching the majors – but never got the call.
It had to be the right kind of story. If I had to choreograph it, I wanted someone who:
As luck would have it, a couple weeks ago – thanks to social media – I reconnected with Ty Wright, a former Cubs minor league outfielder/current Cubs minor league hitting coach.
Out of the blue (I’ll call it cosmic karma), Wright invited me to connect with him through Facebook. He was just the type of player I was thinking of profiling when – just a couple days later – I received a Facebook message telling me that it was Ty’s birthday.
Obviously, some higher being – a Facebook higher-up, no doubt – was on the same page as me. Here’s your guy. Tell his story.
I sent Ty a message wishing him a Happy Birthday. I also asked if we could talk.
First off, a little background.
Ty Wright was drafted by the Cubs in the seventh round of the 2007 amateur draft after a stellar four-year collegiate career at Oklahoma State University. Wright was a three-time all-Big 12 Conference selection and was the most recent .400 hitter in school history – batting .405 as a senior. He was inducted into the Oklahoma State Cowboys Baseball Hall of Fame this January.
He spent seven years in the Cubs’ minor league system, and if you take a glimpse at his statistics, the numbers look pretty good: A career .292 average with a .352 on-base percentage and a .429 slugging percentage. He had a high contact rate, striking out only 369 times in nearly 2,800 plate appearances. And then there’s the info that really stood out: Appreciable time at Triple-A Iowa (58 games in 2010 … 46 in 2011 … 68 in 2012 … 66 in 2013). It’s less than a five-hour car ride from Des Moines to Chicago – and it’s a car ride Wright was never asked to make.
The truth is, this story is quite the norm. The heavy majority of minor league players will never get the call. But the majority don’t spend parts of four years at Triple-A, either.
Wright saw action in 238 games at that level from 2010-2013 … never got the call … and never complained.
“It’s a very interesting story when you think about it. Maybe some people can grasp it, but some people can’t,” Wright said. “When I look back, I know you have to take the good with the good and the bad with the bad … and move on.”
Sometimes, you’re not swinging the bat well when the major league club is looking for a bat.
Sometimes, you’re swinging a hot bat, but so are the players at the big league level.
Sometimes, an injury at the big league level doesn’t happen, or a trade doesn’t take place. For a player evolving into a career minor leaguer, it’s all in the timing – and the forces just never aligned for him.
“Did I ever think I was getting called up? Maybe in my last year (in the minors),” Wright said. “I never really thought ‘I’m so good, I think I should be called up.’ Obviously, I didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes. I could only control what I was doing and what I was thinking. All the years I played, it was always the chase. It was always the drive.
“There was a point my last year when I was doing really well and there was an injury to a Cubs outfielder. Everybody knew they were going to call up an outfielder. I was hitting the ball really well, I was playing good defense, I was doing everything that I possibly felt I could do to put my name in the running to possibly get that call – and it was not my name that got called up. I know for me, right then and there, that’s when the doubt came in a little bit. ‘Why was it not me? What did I do wrong?’
“But I never felt sorry for myself. I just tried to push myself to be the best baseball player I could be in every phase of the game. I didn’t get called up. It happens. I think it’s something a lot of minor leaguers have to face eventually. Even though that little bit of self-doubt came in there, when I was on the field – just like anything you do in life that you really enjoy and love – sometimes all the bad goes away when you stepped foot on the field. I just kept thinking, ‘Alright, it didn’t happen now. You just have to keep going. We’ll see what happens.’ You just go out and enjoy playing the game that you love.”
What happened next was a year of Independent ball, playing for the Somerset Patriots in the Atlantic League. It was still baseball, but it also was the real world. The salary was low, and when you’re playing Indy ball, you’re also responsible for your own insurance. He and his wife, Maggie, had a 2-year-old son. The realities of life were weighing heavily on him.
The playing chapter in his life was about to close. The next chapter was about to begin.
Halfway through his season in Somerset, Wright received a text message from Marty Pevey – the Iowa Cubs manager.
Pevey texted him a message along the lines of, “Hey, are you interested in coaching? The Cubs are going to have several openings for next year. I think you’d be great. I think you’d really love it. There’s a lot of people who thought you would be a coach when you’re done. It’s a great opportunity if that’s something you’d want to do.”
Wright talked to Pevey, then visited with his former Triple-A skipper after both of their seasons had come to a close.
“On his way home from Independent ball, he swung through Atlanta and we talked,” Pevey said. “He was a guy that, as a player, he wanted to help young guys. I knew that – with his experience and knowledge and education and baseball acumen – he would be a guy that would help us become a championship organization.
“As a player, first and foremost, Ty was a great teammate. And he was not greedy at all. He was a guy who was a giver. He was great in the clubhouse. He was always there for the young guys. When I had Ty, he was an older player, and I appreciated that. I appreciated the guy that … sure, he wanted to play in the big leagues, but he also wanted to be a Cub. We had a rapport, and he was a guy that I could always count on. I felt that he was a guy we needed to keep in the organization.”
Wright returned home, and he and Maggie discussed the future. While she was happily entrenched as a middle school teacher and coach, he was – for the first time – mentally preparing himself for what was next after playing the game of baseball. “After talking to my wife and kind of thinking about it, I was like, ‘You know what, if the opportunity comes for me to be able to go back to the Cubs organization and coach, that is definitely something I want to do.’ And then I had to wait.”
In November, he got the call. It wasn’t “The Call” all minor league players dream about, but it was one he gladly accepted.
Wright was offered a job as a minor league coach, and he was heading back to his original organization.
“I haven’t looked back. I’ve enjoyed the ride since then,” he said. “I think for me, it became really, really intriguing after I got hired – and I went to my first organizational meeting. You always had this idea of what a coach is really like. I played football, basketball, baseball and track in high school. I had a ton of different coaches. And then obviously, coaches in college and professional ball. All of us – we’ve had a ton of coaches, so we have this idea of what a coach is.
“But when I went to the organizational meetings my first year and Joe Maddon – who was in his first year with the Cubs – when he talked, and he talked for about 45 minutes, my mind was absolutely blown. I remember telling Maggie after listening to him that I am absolutely going to love this job. Ever since that day, I’ve been in pursuit of everything he was talking about.
“Joe Maddon absolutely is somebody I look up to. Not just because he is my organizational manager, but because he didn’t make it to the big leagues (as a player). Maybe there’s a little piece of him that drove him in coaching to get to the big leagues … I don’t know. But I think that anytime you have somebody that maybe has gone through what you’re going through – and we’re all in this together – that’s somebody that you admire. And you study their ways and study the way they do things.”
At the ripe old age of 32, Wright is now starting his third season as a minor league coach – progressing to Single-A Myrtle Beach this year.
He arrived in Mesa last week, leaving Maggie and sons Cal (5 years old) and Clyde (1) behind until Maggie’s middle school goes on spring break.
It’s part of the life of being a coach, “but I absolutely love where I’m at with the Cubs right now, and I love being part of the organization,” he said.
For the one-time outfielder/present-day coach, saying hello to the new season meant saying goodbye to a whirlwind stretch that started with being part of a World Series championship and culminated with his induction into the Oklahoma State Hall of Fame. And right in the middle: Returning to his college campus to get his degree in University Studies.
“I wore a cap and gown – and Cal got to see it. That was really cool,” Wright said. “My wife really stamped that in my brain. At first, I did not want to go up to Stillwater and walk the stage to get my diploma; I just wanted to graduate and be done with it. But that was something my wife and my mom wanted me to do. And my wife wanted me to do that so that Cal might remember seeing his dad walk across the stage to get his college degree.
“You know, this whole offseason was incredible … World Series, Hall of Fame, college degree. What a lot of people don’t really know is I’ve been a serious Cubs fan since I was a little kid. My grandpa (Mike Mills) was from Chicago, and he brought me up as a Cub fan. I’ve been a fan since I was a little kid. I’ve shed some tears, like many people have.”
He’s not kidding. I looked up Wright’s Oklahoma State media guide bio from his senior year. In the personal section, it reads “dream job is to play for the Chicago Cubs.”
While he didn’t get to play in Cubs pinstripes on Wrigley Field, Wright has been able to keep it all in perspective.
“In many ways, I’m living my dream – first as a player and now as a coach,” he said. “You can package it all together.”