Decker's long journey reaches its goal

Notes on Myers, Shields, Spangenberg

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

Some baseball stories are worth remembering and repeating.

Cody Decker's is one.

After 761 minor league games and 2,929 plate appearances in seven seasons in the Padres minor league system, Cody Decker reached the Major Leagues Monday night.

It has been a long journey since the now 27-year-old Decker was drafted in the 22nd round out of UCLA in 2009. He was not your prototypical draft pick. The right-handed hitting infielder was 5-foot-11 and 225 poouds.

As a senior, Decker led the Pac-10 in home runs and was an all-conference selection. But there was the rub. He was a senior. Most legitimate college prospects come out after their junior seasons.

I remember asking a member of the Padres front office about Decker in the days after he was draft. "We like the bat," was the report. "He can hit for power."

And that Decker has done as he climbed rung-by-rung through the Padres system. The only spot he missed was short-season Single-A, which is where most college players launch their professional careers. Decker started in the Arizona Rookie League, which he paced in homers (15) and RBIs (63) in 52 games in the summer of '09.

Up the ladder he climbed -- Low Single-A Fort Wayne, High Single-A Lake Elsinore, Double-A San Antonio and finally Triple-A. He reached the Padres then Triple-A affiliate in Tucson at the end of 2012. And there he languished for three seasons in a minor league purgatory some refer to as 4A - good enough to play at baseball's penultimate level but unable to reach the ultimate step.

Along the steep trail, Decker hit .265 with 154 minor league homers --including 21 this season for Triple-A El Paso - and 504 RBIs.

The home run count is the highest ever by a player in the Padres' minor league system -- and the most by any player in the 2009 draft class. Of course, some of those 2009 classmates had reached the Major Leagues while others had fallen by the wayside.

Honestly, Decker thought his days were numbered. During a pre-game interview with 1090's Bob Scanlan Monday, Decker said he was contemplating a future without baseball when he was officially promoted to the Padres. In fact, he had just arrived back in Los Angeles after El Paso's season ended.

After the Chihuahuas were eliminated from the Pacific Coast League playoffs Saturday night, Decker returned to the Southwest University Park playing field to pose for pictures with fans and give-away most of his batting gloves and hats plus a set of his cleats.

For, after seven seasons, Decker was still not on the Padres' 40-man roster until Monday. He had been passed over three times by every other Major League team in the Rule 5 minor league draft.

So his was more than a career. It was a journey. And it reached its pinnacle Monday in Arizona as Decker approached a Major League batter's box for the first time to the chant of "We Want Decker" from a hearty group of Padres fans behind San Diego's dugout.

Alas, Cody Decker popped out in his first Major League at-bat. But that was an insignificant footnote to the much greater story. Cody Decker had reached the Major Leagues. He had won.

FROM THE SCORECARD:

-- At the All-Star break, I half-facetiously named Wil Myers my first-half Padre Most Valuable Player because of what his absence meant to the ballclub. Given what he is doing upon his return, I might not have been far off. Myers opened Monday's game in Arizona with a home run and added a three-run double later to equal his career, single-game best of four RBIs. Since his return on Sept. 4, Myers is 9-for-37 with two doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and five runs scored in 10 games. In 45 games this season, Myers is hitting .270 with 12 doubles, a triple, seven homers, 25 RBIs and 35 runs scored in 45 games. That is a 162-game pace of 43 doubles, 25 homers, 90 RBIs and 126 runs scored.

-- Right-hander James Shields is 4-1 with a 3.44 earned run average over his last six starts. Shields also reached the 200-strikeout plateau for the third time in his career while becoming only the seventh pitcher in Padres' history to reach the 200-strikeout mark (Ian Kennedy did it last year when he finished with 207). With three more scheduled starts this season, Shields could rise to as high as fourth on the Padres' single-season strikeout list. The top three are Kevin Brown (257, 1998), Jake Peavy (240, 2007) and Clay Kirby (231, 1971).

-- With the addition of first baseman Yonder Alonso to the 60-day disabled list, the Padres now have four on that list. But they might not to create roster spots for their return after the season. Right-handed pitchers Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow will be free agents. And Alonso and left-handed pitcher Cory Luebke will move into slots likely vacated by free agents Ian Kennedy and Joaquin Benoit.

-- Infielder Cory Spangenberg has hit safely in five of the last six games, going 6-for-18 with two doubles and Monday's three RBIs. He has also scored four runs with a stolen base.