Sports

Fuld gets a change of scenery with the Oakland Athletics

 

Sam Fuld always read, or heard, that he was too short, or not strong enough, to play major league baseball. He just never paid any attention to it.

Instead, he kept working hard at a sport he loved, dedicating himself to doing anything and everything he could to make himself valuable to a club.

A four-year starter at Stanford, Fuld more than held his own on teams that also included future major leaguers Ryan Garko, Carlos Quentin, Chris Carter, Danny Putnam, Jeremy Guthrie, Jed Lowrie, John Mayberry, Jr., John Hester and Greg Reynolds, among others.

Guthrie, Quentin, Mayberry, Putnam, Lowrie and Reynolds were drafted in the first round. Fuld was drafted in the 24th round following his junior season and 10th following his senior season.

Fuld set a single-season record for hits and finished with 356 overall, second only to John Gall, who played with the St. Louis Cardinals and played for Team USA at the 2008 Olympics.

Fuld also tops the charts with 1,071 at-bats, one of two players -- with Gall -- to reach 1,000 at- bats. He's second in games played (260) behind only Paul Carey and tied for third with 16 career triples.

Fuld signed a minor league deal with the Oakland Athletics in January and was invited to spring training as a non-roster play. It's just another challenge and Fuld (listed as 5-foot-10 but more like 5-8) has never backed down from one.

"I'm not the strongest guy around and I'm shorter than most ballplayers," Fuld said. "But I always felt there was hope for me. All it took was to see guys shorter than me playing in the majors."

Fuld said it's all about perseverance and the willingness to do the little things that help win a ballgame. It's an attitude respected by A's manager Bob Melvin, a graduate of Menlo-Atherton High, who watched Fuld from the opposing bench the past two years.

"He's a smart player who knows how to play as a role player," Melvin said. "He plays defense all-out and to bring in new guys who fits our style can only add to our success."

Fuld can play all three outfield spots, be used as a defensive replacement, a pinch-hitter or pinch- runner and showed, with the Rays, he could be an everyday player, too.

"The only way to get to this level is to persevere," Fuld said. "Everybody here plays with confidence. You have to work hard and do the little things to help a team win. You can overcome anything with enough confidence."

Fuld returns to the Bay Area, where he's reunited with Lowrie, the A's shortstop. Fellow outfielder Michael Taylor is also a former Cardinal.

"It's exciting any time you're in a new environment," Fuld said. "The players make it easier to transition to a place like this. I've always admired what this team has been about over the years."

Challenges are nothing new for the 32-year-old outfielder, who appeared in 268 games with the Tampa Bay Rays the previous three seasons, batting .230 with 21 doubles, five home runs and 49 RBI.

Fuld was diagnosed with childhood diabetes when he was 10 and continues to struggle with the disease. He was raised in New Hampshire, not exactly a gold mine for major league baseball players -- he's one of 37 from the state who have reached the big leagues.

He called the move from New Hampshire to Stanford his biggest adjustment.

"It was a huge change for me," said Fuld, who left the school four years later as its all-time runs- scored leader. "I wanted to challenge myself and that was definitely a challenge."

Fuld was originally drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 24th round of the 2003 First-Year Player but returned to Stanford for his senior year. Drafted in the 10th round in 2004, Fuld worked his way to the majors in 2007. He played 98 total games with Chicago in a four-year span.

"I've always had to overcome long odds," he said.

Lowrie is coming off his most successful season as a major-leaguer. Staying healthy for the whole season helped. He appeared in 154 games, reaching career highs in average (.290), RBI (75), hits (175), runs (80) and doubles (45).

Taylor, entering his fifth season in the A's organization, is a .135 hitter in 81 plate appearances in the big leagues. But he didn't fare so well in his first season as a professional, hitting .227 in a low Class A league.

Taylor is a career .292 hitter in the minors, .278 at the Triple-A level. He hit 18 home runs and drove in 85 runs with the Sacramento RiverCats last year.

He's never gotten more than 30 at-bats in a season with Oakland and his time could be running out with the A's. The outfield is full and both Fuld and recently signed Craig Gentry could take a few more at-bats away from Taylor.

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