Getting Paid To Play, At Last

Bobby Curran
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Friday - April 30, 2005
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For most of us, the idea of playing professional sports would best be described as a fantasy. A smaller number can upgrade that obscure object of desire to the status of a dream, usually petering out by the time we are in our late teens. Keeping the dream alive through the rigors of daily life into one’s 20s takes a special personality.

Former Kaiser High School baseball player Lance Rankin, now 25, has beaten the odds and is a week away from fulfilling that dream, As you might expect, the journey has been neither easy nor direct.

After playing baseball for four years at Kaiser, the 1998 graduate had only one season as a varsity starter. In his senior season he was the regular catcher, hitting .440 and making the OIA East second team. He decided to follow his father’s footsteps and went off to college at the Virginia Military Institute. Life at VMI for plebes (freshmen) is stern and regimented. Rankin played fall baseball, and was doing well, but by Christmas decided that the military life was not for him. He put baseball on hold, finished the year and transferred out.

The following year he enrolled at Northeastern Junior College in Colorado where he served as the DH. He was barred from playing a second year because of the year at VMI, so he put baseball on the shelf a second time and got an associate’s degree. Next it was on to the University of Northern Colorado where his baseball career again showed promise. Rankin was the starting catcher and hit an impressive .365, anticipating a big season as a senior. It never happened.

“ I started lifting heavily and put on about 20 pounds of muscle, but it changed my swing. We got a new head coach and I made a terrible first impression,” Rankin says. The hoped-for breakout year become a bust.

“I graduated and went to work,” Rankin says, “but I watched guys I played with or against getting drafted, and I kept thinking I was better than a lot of them.”

While working in Greeley as a youth counselor, Rankin searched the web for open tryouts and found one in Denver for the Baltimore Orioles. After an impressive workout, Rankin was told to expect a call and a contract in a couple of days.

“I never heard from them again,” Rankin sighs. “And I couldn’t get a hold of the scout.”

Rankin entered grad school and was moving on with life when he saw an open tryout being held in Fort Worth, Texas, for the Central League, an eight team independent league that plays at a level corresponding to high A or AA.

“There were more than 300 players, most of whom had some professional experience,” says Rankin. “First day I threw well in drills and got a hit in my only at bat. Made the first cut.”

The second day he was good behind the dish and then hit a tape measure home run.

“They held a draft at the end of the second day,” Rankin says. “I heard my name called, and I was the only catcher of the 22 who turned out to be selected.” He was given a contract and told he was now a member of the Coastal Bend Aviators of Robstown, Texas. A 96-game schedule commences on May 5 and Rankin is scheduled to be the regular catcher.

“It’s almost unbelievable that someone is going to pay me to play baseball,” Rankin laughs.

But what about the long bus rides in the heat of summer?

“I’ve already had real jobs,” Rankin says with a smile. “Long bus rides are nothing.”

A small price to pay to keep the dream alive.

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