Hattig on long, long road to Majors

Hattig on long, long road to Majors

Syracuse, N.Y., is a long way from home for most Minor Leaguers. Now try to think of how far away it is if you're from Guam, a little speck of land in the South Pacific.

You'd better hope that you have a good calling plan if that's the case.

For Syracuse SkyChiefs third baseman John Hattig, this is exactly the case. But with Hattig, where he's from means both a little and a lot to him.

Australia is almost 2,000 miles further from the United States than Guam is, but has sent 16 players to the Major Leagues. And Japan has sent dozens of its stars from the other side of the Pacific.

Guam, however, has yet to send one of its own sons to the big leagues. But the way Hattig has been playing could change that fact in the near future.

"Making it to the bigs is very important to him," Blue Jays Director of Player Development Dick Scott said. "He takes a lot of pride from where he comes from and what he might be able to do."

"I feel like I'm just like anyone else who is trying to be 'The First' from somewhere," a laid-back Hattig said. "Just like someone who is trying to be the first player from a certain town or school, I want to make my home proud of me and what I've done."

The slugging third baseman has certainly been doing that over the past two years. The switch-hitter launched 22 home runs in his first full year at Double-A in 2004, starting out with the Portland Sea Dogs before being dealt just before the trading deadline to the Toronto organization. The deal didn't phase Hattig at all, as he helped the New Hampshire Fisher Cats -- Portland's closest geographic rival -- to the Eastern League's Northern Division title, hitting .296 with 10 homers and 30 RBIs in 40 games.

Now getting his first taste of Triple-A with the SkyChiefs, Hattig has only improved his game. Though he hasn't generated runs like most people expected, Hattig was hitting a career-best .325 before pulling his hamstring in mid-June. The 25 year-old has also shown a keen eye, going down on strikes just 13 times through 80 at-bats.

While scouts are fawning over his abilities, most people are amazed that he is even playing this sport once they hear where he's from.

"People say 'They even know what baseball is down there?' a lot," Hattig said. "Baseball is -- or at least was -- the most popular sport there, just ahead of soccer, while I was in high school.

"I got into it, just following my uncle (a former Angels Minor Leaguer) and my dad around, shagging fly balls in the outfield, throwing the ball around and watching some of the Japanese players down there. A few teams come down there for preseason, so that got me interested, too."

And the Red Sox were pretty interested in Hattig, drafting him in the 25th round of the 1998 First-Year Player Draft, making him the first player from Guam to ever be drafted. But while being the first player from Guam is nice, it certainly isn't all Hattig wants to accomplish, either.

Along with the drastic improvements at the plate, Scott says Hattig's defensive abilities have gotten better, too, noting that his feet are a little quicker and that he has increased his range at the hot corner. Combine that with his switch-hitting abilities and his pennant-race track record, and that last big jump might not be too far away.

"I can't wait to get [to the Major Leagues]," Hattig said. "Hopefully I'll be able to get a lot of my family to see the first game, but definitely my uncle and my dad. They're definitely going to be there."

For Hattig's sake, let's also hope there are definitely some good air-fare rates, too.

Michael Echan is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.