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Pete Hartmann: Have Arm, Will Travel

The Odyssey of a Baseball Journeyman

Stops along the Way: Taiwan, Mexico, Arizona MSBL

By David Krival

Pete Hartmann pitching for the Carolina Mudcats AA team in 2004. Hartmann said playing in the Arizona MSBL in 2003 helped him refine his sidearm delivery and get signed to a minor league contract.

(This article appeared in the Holiday 2004 issue of HardBall Magazine)

Pete Hartmann is a journeyman Minor League ballplayer. In August, 2004, after twelve years persevering through injury and disappointment in the Minor Leagues and foreign professional baseball, the thirty-two year-old left-handed relief pitcher was a member of the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Florida Marlins farm club in the AAA-level Pacific Coast League.

Some might call twelve years in the bushes a hard luck story, but Hartmann felt lucky to be with the Isotopes, or anywhere in organized ball. After all, like every other AAA-level player, Hartmann had a chance to climb the final rung of the professional baseball ladder in September, when the Major League clubs expand their rosters.

 In 2003, Hartmann’s career might have been over, had he not finally yielded to the repeated urgings of a co-worker and joined the Arizona MSBLin mid-summer. In the low-pressure environment of MSBL competition, Hartmann experimented with a new delivery. Within months, he made the almost unimaginable jump from recreational baseball to the highest level of the Minor Leagues.

Ups and Downs

Pete had climbed this far up the ladder before. After three years in the Ranger system, he landed in the Brewers’ organization in 1996. Released due to an arm injury, he spent 1997 in an independent Minor League. In 1998, Pete’s agent got him what looked like a handsome deal to play in Taiwan. For reasons bordering upon bizarre, it was not a good career move.

 Pete’s luck seemed to change in 1999, when he signed with Baltimore and advanced rapidly to Rochester, the Orioles’ AAA franchise, but another injury sidetracked him. In 2000, his agent found Pete steady employment in the Mexican League. He spent the next three years south of the border, loving the experience, but going nowhere professionally.

Hartmann’s Travels

"I enjoyed Mexico,” Hartmann said. He played a year each with Nuevo Laredo, Oaxacaand Union Laguna. "The fans are great. The money is decent, especially considering how cheaply you can live. The competition is excellent. I speak enough Spanish to communicate with my teammates and I love Mexican food. In the Yucatan, there’s tropical fruit everywhere. For a buck, the bat boy would bring us mangos, papayas, pineapples. It’s a nice life.”

"Everything is casual and relaxed,” he continued. "Organized Baseball considers the Mexican League comparable to AA or AAA ball. In the States, AAA players travel in slacks and the team sports coat. In Mexico, it’s Hawaiian shirts, shorts and sandals. On long road trips, the veterans fly, while the rookies and bat boys ride the team bus with the equipment.”

"Some stadiums don’t have locker rooms, so you change in the hotel. After the game, you toss your dirty uniform in the hall. Next day, you go over to the bat boy’s room to pick up your clean stuff.”

The Vegas of the Orient

Hartmann pitched for the Taipei Brother Elephants in 1998. "Gambling is the Taiwanese national obsession,” he said. "Everyone gambles all the time: grandmothers, six-year-old kids. Taiwanese gangsters run all sports, including baseball, because so much money is wagered on every game, every batter. You can gamble on strikes and balls on every pitch,” Hartmann claimed. "Even umpires are on the take. My first game, first batter, I threw four straight fastballs right down the middle. Ball One, Ball Two, Ball Three, Ball Four. Some gangster must have bet big money that the new import would walk his first batter.”

"There’s a neighborhood in Taiwan called Tien Mu with a lot of American restaurants and stores,” Hartmann continued. "All the imports hang out in Tien Mu. So the gangsters make their move on you there. These scary guys in expensive suits come up to your table with an envelope stuffed with $100 bills. It’s $50,000 cash just to join up.” For some players at the end of their careers the money is too good to turn down.

"If you don’t take the money, they leave you alone,” Hartmann said. "I guess they figure you’re too dumb to bother with.”

"Once you’re on the payroll, you get even more money when you follow orders well. But you can’t work for them a while and then decide to play it straight. A guy who tried that was pistol-whipped in his hotel room. He went home on the next plane.”

"I was pitching with runners on second and third and two out. The batter pops up to third. At the last minute, my third baseman shies away from the ball and the runners score. Said he lost it in the lights. Maybe he did. You don’t know which guys are on the take. It’s not baseball. It’s more like a Las Vegas show.”

"But it’s a different world,” Hartmann continued. "In Taipei, you’d see a family of four riding on one moped. When you cross the street, run don’t walk. You do not want to get caught in the crosswalk when the traffic light changes and a thousand mopeds go screaming into the intersection.”

Did Not Play

In August, 2004, www.albuquerquebaseball.com displayed Hartmann’s stats on its Roster page. In his stat line, the letters "DNP” appeared in the last box on the right, meaning that Pete Did Not Play organized baseball in 2003.

When the 2003 baseball season began, Hartmann was struggling to recover from the dissolution of his marriage and what he believed to be the end of his baseball career. In May, when his divorce became final, he still believed he was through with baseball.

But baseball wasn’t through with him. Working for a mortgage broker in Phoenix, Hartmann got a side job giving pitching lessons at an instructional facility called World of Baseball. One of his students was the son of Lou McAnany, President of the Arizona MSBL. Rudy Poterson, another member of the Arizona MSBL, is a hitting instructor at World of Baseball. Rudy urged him repeatedly to join his team, the Scottsdale Mudcats.

"I kept hearing about this adult league. Rudy kept saying that I’d enjoy it, that I needed to keep my head in the game, that I needed to have some fun, all that kind of thing,” Pete said. But Rudy’s words fell on deaf ears. "He was talking, but I wasn’t really hearing him.”

The Light Goes On

Believing that Pete would eventually give in, Rudy told manager Hal Nurkka about this great left-handed pitcher he met at work. Going on faith, Nurkka added Hartmann to his roster weeks before meeting him.

When Hartmann changed his mind, it was only partly due to Poterson’s persistence. In his spare time, Pete began to throw at the instructional facility. Throughout his career, he had thrown four basic pitches: four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curve and change-up, all with a straight overhand delivery. One day, for no particular reason, he began to experiment with the sidearm delivery.

"I just started to fool around throwing sidearm,” Hartmann said. "My velocity was decent and I really liked the movement with the cutter. I started working on a slider, which moved so much I had trouble controlling it. It was exciting. There is always a demand for sidearm left-handers in the Major Leagues. I wanted to start pitching in game situations.” Rudy’s invitation suddenly became very appealing.

Reinventing Himself

Upon joining the Mudcats, Hartmann did not immediately discard his habitual overhand delivery and start throwing exclusively from the side. "The first couple of games, he was throwing mostly over the top,” said Nurkka. "But he worked in more and more sidearm pitches until he was throwing that way all the time. He was effective either way, so we had no problem with him working on his delivery with us.”

"The MSBL was perfect for me at that time,” Hartmann said. "In the pros, there’s too much at stake for a pitcher to change his delivery during the season. The MSBL was a safe place to experiment. But don’t get me wrong. I’m very competitive. I always play to win.”

"Our best pitcher from the year before was gone, so Pete fit in perfectly,” Nurkka said. It turned out that Hartmann’s Minor League teammate Adam Rodriguez, was the brother of Mudcat second baseman Conrad Rodriguez. "As he got used to his new style, he became very tough to hit. We use wood bats, so people weren’t getting cheap hits. Pete was the reason we won our league.”

The Series

At the 2003 MSBL World Series, Hartmann threw a complete game to beat Dallas, 4-3, in 28+ National Division round robin play. "He walked some people in the first inning and they scored two runs,” Nurkka said. "After that he shut them down.”

For the second year in a row, the Mudcats were in the 28+ National championship game. Hartmann started, and lost to Atlanta. The box score says he got hit pretty hard. On the plus side, he struck out six in four innings. His photo appears on page 27 of the Winter 2003-04 Issue of HardBall, clearly throwing sidearm. In his interview with HardBall in September, 2004, Pete calmly claimed to have no memory of the game.

"Atlanta got some solid hits off Pete,” Nurkka said. "They also got some hits that would have been outs with wood bats. If I remember right, his control was a little off.”

Team Support

Even before the Series, the Mudcats encouraged Pete to try to get back into organized baseball. "They kept telling me to give it another shot,” Hartmann said. "As a sidearm lefty, someone might look at me. Every Major League team needs at least one left-handed short reliever who can get good left-handed hitters out.”

The left-handed short reliever is such a valuable specialist that Hartmann’s age is not a serious drawback. Jesse Orosco lasted 23 seasons in the Majors and holds the all-time record for appearances.

Confidence restored, Hartmann contacted old friend Dan Meek, head scout for the Marlins organization. Meek agreed to a tryout, liked what he saw and signed Pete to a Minor League contract in November, 2003.

"I’m grateful to Hal and Rudy and Mike Webber,” Hartmann said. "I didn’t even want to play until Rudy finally talked me into it. I’m impressed with the MSBL as a whole. Seeing guys in their forties and fifties playing competitive baseball really got my attention. These guys love and respect the game. They play to win and take pride in what they’re doing.”

Back in the Game

In March, 2004, Hartmann reported to the Marlins Minor League camp in Jupiter, Florida. Impressing his coaches with his new sidearm delivery, he was assigned to the AA-level Carolina Mudcats. With Carolina, Hartmann appeared in five games with a won-lost record of 1-0 and a 1.17 ERA. He struck out 12 and walked 3 in 7.2 innings, earning a quick promotion to Albuquerque.

"We’re jealous as hell!” said Nurkka. More MSBL members than would care to admit it have daydreamed about being discovered by a Big League scout and soaring miraculously across the unbridgeable gap between weekend recreational baseball and the Pros. Before Hartmann, it had never been done.*

At Albuquerque

Soon after arriving at Albuquerque an injury to the muscles of his rib cage set Pete back considerably. Nonetheless, "Pete has started to establish himself as an effective left-handed short reliever,” said Tracy Woodson, the Isotopes’ manager.

Woodson, a reserve with the World Champion Dodgers in 1988, said that Hartmann’s stuff was effective. "He’s very tough on left-handers. He’s got a cut fastball in the 87-91 mph range, a nasty slider and a very good change-up,” Woodson said. "Last night, Pete had his first bad outing in quite a while,” Woodson continued. "His control, not his stuff, got him in trouble.”

As of this report, Hartmann had struck out 25 and walked 10 in 25 innings. His ERA is deceptively high, due to a few bad games while his ribs were sore.

Woodson could not predict whether Hartmann would be called up by the Marlins in September. "Pete was not in the Big League camp this Spring, so the Marlins did not go into the season with plans to bring him up,” Woodson said. "But he works hard and he’s focused. If Pete doesn’t reach the Majors, it won’t be for lack of effort.”

On August 1, Albuquerque was 4 ½ games behind in their division, and Hartmann was focusing on that. "We’re in a pennant race,” he said. "If I’m going to help the team, I have to finish strong.”

One More Town

As the 2004 Pacific Coast League season drew to a close, however, the Isotopes began to use Hartmann less frequently. Pete asked Albuquerque management for permission to contact other organizations who might be looking for a sidearm left-handed relief specialist.

 As the season ended, Pete signed with AAA-level Louisville Bats in the Cincinnatiorganization. Although he did not see much action, the Reds have invited Pete to Spring Training in 2005. "My agent is also looking at some other offers, but if the Reds invite me to their Major League camp, I’ll probably go,” Pete told HardBall in October.

Vaya con Dios, Amigo

You can’t help liking and respecting Pete Hartmann, a baseball-playing man who has never given up on himself. Twelve years in the Minors, Taiwan, Mexico, amateur baseball, and here he is, working on his new delivery in Scottsdale over the winter, preparing for another hopeful Spring. Like the itinerant masons of medieval Europe, Hartmann has plied his trade wherever he could find employment. He’s slept in castles of steel and glass, and cabanas of adobe and thatch.

 A latter-day knight-errant, Hartmann thirsts for a special kind of glory, something more than the proverbial cup of coffee. Pete Hartmann still wants to achieve what has always been his goal, to be a successful pitcher in the Major Leagues. In October, 2004, after one more year of dusty roads and muddy waters, he remains hopeful and cheerful. "I’m looking forward to Spring,” he said.

 *In 1990, a 35-year-old left-handed pitcher named Danny Boone, who had made 57 appearances with the San Diego Padresin 1981-82, was playing semi-pro ball in San Diego. In the early summer of 1990, he signed with the short-lived, Florida-based Senior Professional Baseball League. Before the Senior League folded later that summer, Boone caught the eye of a Baltimore scout and signed with AAA-level Rochester. In September, 1990, Danny Boone pitched in four games with the Orioles, making him the only man who has ever played, or ever will play, semi-professional baseball, the Senior Pro League, the Minor Leagues and the Majors in one season. Although his stats were not bad, Boone never played another Major League game after 1990. Later in the 1990’s, Danny competed in several MSBL World Series.- DKed.

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