The transition from college baseball to the minor leagues is a difficult one, as two former Ball State University standouts learned last year.
With Opening Day for the Minor Leagues today, center fielder Jeremy Hazelbaker will return to the Boston Red Sox Class A affiliate in Greenville, S.C., and shortstop Dean Anna will open the year with San Diego Padres' Class A team in Fort Wayne.
Four other former Cardinals are also playing in the minor leagues, including former first round draft picks Bryan Bullington and Brad Snyder, who are in AAA.
After an All-American junior season, Hazelbaker was taken in the fourth round by the Red Sox. He was assigned to Greenville, where he slumped. Hazelbaker hit just .167 with the Drive after hitting .429 for Ball State in his senior year.
"Going from college ball to pro ball, it's a big change, not just baseball wise," he said. "At Ball State, you're not playing in front of too big of a crowd, but you go to these games and there are seven, eight thousand people. It's a lot different atmosphere."
Anna was drafted in the 26th round in 2008 by San Diego. Last year, he was given a shot in Fort Wayne, but only hit .200 in 17 games. He played much better after he was sent down to Eugene, Ore., a short-season Class A team.
Anna said he benefitted from getting more chances in Eugene than he was with Fort Wayne.
"Last year's Fort Wayne team was a great team," he said. "I wasn't getting as many at bats as I should have."
Now, both Hazelbaker and Anna are trying to move up in their teams' systems.
Hazelbaker has already started his progression to Boston. He participated in Instructional League and was named the top hitter there, which helped his confidence. Then in Spring Training, he played in five big league games, finding himself in lineups with all-stars like Kevin Youklis and Dustin Pedroia.
"Walking into the clubhouse and seeing my name on the list with the big guys, it was a different feeling," Hazelbaker said. "It was very good, but crazy to have that happen."
Hazelbaker went 3-for-11 in his time with the Red Sox. The most important thing he took away from those experiences was about being a good teammate.
"They're around each other every day for the whole season, and you learn to like everybody," Hazelbaker said. "It's definitely a family. Everybody was real close messing around, joking around with everybody."
Anna said his biggest lesson came from his struggles last year.
"When you're in full season, you obviously want to stay away from slumps, but you also don't want to get too high on yourself when you're doing well," he said. "I'm trying to be more even-keyed."
Both will renew their quest to reach the Major Leagues when the Minor League season begins today. Hazelbaker is ready to get back to meaningful baseball after spending two months in Fort Myers, Fla., for Spring Training.
"I know what I'm getting into," Hazelbaker said. "There are thousands of fans and people screaming, and going from Spring Training to that, I'm really excited to get started."