Before the St. Louis Cardinals home opener on Monday, rookie Jeremy Hazelbaker couldn’t even describe his excitement at not only being on the 25-man roster to experience the event, but to be batting second in the starting lineup.
“A lot of emotions, a lot of excitement, a lot of nerves,” he said. “You’ve just got to follow suit with all these guys that have been here that have gone through it before. That’s what’s great about this team–there’s a lot of guys that have done this a lot of times. You just follow their lead and jump on in.”
Hazelbaker jumped in with both feet–smashing a triple in the 1st inning and followed that with three more hits. He’s now batting .556 (10-18) over the last six games.
Just over a year ago, though, things weren’t quite so happy.
Fourteen games into the 2015 season, Hazelbaker was hitting .245 for the Tulsa Drillers (AA) and he was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The phone didn’t immediately ring with contract offers–or even a spot on the 40-man roster.
“I was home about a week and a half and hadn’t heard anything from any teams,” shared Hazelbaker. “At that point, I was starting to think what am I going to do now? What’s next? What’s my next step, really? I was thinking past baseball, which that’s something I never wanted to do but it’s going to be a reality for us one day. But that was in my mind then.”
“He waited a while to sign,” added Mozeliak. “He and his agent were hoping for that 40-man spot. The irony is, he ended up kind of getting it–so it worked out for both.”
But Hazelbaker did wind up signing with the Cardinals and began to show what he could do. He hit .308 in 40 games at Springfield (AA) and then .333 with 10 home runs and 46 RBIs in 58 games at Memphis (AAA).
“He’s a great player,” said Stephen Piscotty, who was one of his teammates in Memphis. “We’d all joke about watching him be the best player we’d ever seen. He’s got a special talent. He’s putting it together in big spots when the pressure’s on and that’s when it matters most. It’s pretty impressive. It’s fun to be in the dugout while that’s going on.”
And so after 751 minor league games, the whirlwind of this past week in the big leagues is still something the 28-year old outfielder is still trying to fully digest.
“There are a lot of emotions going through me,” Hazelbaker shared. “It was a lot to take in. Really, just this whole journey. This whole road–there’s been a lot of hills, ups and downs. A lot of stuff is going through my mind. I can’t really say I remember much of what I was thinking or how I was feeling. There was just a lot going on.”
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he continued. “It’s hard to describe it really. A lot of things I never expected to happen were happening. A lot of phone calls, a lot of messages, a lot of just talking to people. I never thought I’d be in a big league clubhouse on Opening Day, in the starting lineup and that’s the reality now. So I’m here and I just gotta keep going, keep pushing.”
“He’s always been a toolsy player,” said Mozeliak. “He has those sort of survival tools–in other words, there’s not just one thing he does that he has to do to stay around. In other words, very good defensive player, has speed. From an offensive standpoint, can be someone that can hit the ball out of the ballpark but can also get down the bunt. So he has a lot of flexibility in his game and when you play like that, that’s really easy for a manager to find use for you.”
With his performance on Monday, Hazelbaker becomes just the 12th Cardinals player to record four hits in one of his first seven games with St. Louis.
photo credits: Bill Greenblatt/UPI