With 14 years of Major League Baseball pitching experience under his belt, it was a no brainer for San Diego’s AA affiliate in San Antonio to call on Tim Worrell to fill the shoes of former Missions’ pitching coach Jimmy Jones, who was summoned to become the new Padres bullpen. Hired by the parent-club San Diego Padres in 2010, Worrell had been working in Peoria, Arizona with the organization’s players in extended spring training and on rehab assignment prior to reporting to the Texas League team. Having to leave his wife and six boys back home in Phoenix to take on pitching coach duties in San Antonio, it wouldn’t be long before Worrell would be adopted by his new baseball family of international pitchers led by Aussie Hayden Beard.
Hayden “Big Dog” Beard came off a strong 2011 campaign after pitching for Team Australia during
the Baseball World Cup in Panama as well as for
the Australian Baseball League’s Canberra Cavalry. During the 2011-12 Cavalry season, he earned himself ABL Player of the Week honours and a team-leading five wins with a 2.82 ERA. Heading into 2012 Padres Spring Training Camp, Beard looked radiant and as confident as ever. After leading High-A Lake Elsinore Storm to a 2011 Cal League Championship, it was natural for the right-handed hurler to saddle up for a promotion to Double-A San Antonio Missions. Although there were a few bumps in the road during the seemingly rough ride, the Aussie pitcher finished strong with a 6-5 record in just over 119 innings of work. Starting in 19 games, Beard gave his team a chance to win every outing. However, he relished after the All-Star break in his 12 bullpen appearances during which his strikeout totals accelerated to 69.
We caught up with family man Tim Worrell in the San Antonio Missions’ dugout recently and discussed how Padres pitching prospect Hayden Beard’s best years may have yet to come.
Roberto: 27-year-old Aussie pitcher Hayden Beard is a late bloomer because he had to sit out for three years due to nerve damage in his arm. The Padres obviously have faith in him by sending him your way in Double-A San Antonio. Having said that you reached the prime of your career at age 31, do you see some parallels between the two of you in showing him that there is light at the end of the tunnel?
Tim Worrell: Yeah, sure. Again, I never try to tell these guys where their careers could finish at. I’d be a dummy to tell them that. First off, he’s got a great live arm and great movement on his pitches. Sometimes he struggles a little bit with control and that obviously puts us in trouble. When we’re behind in the count regularly, it puts the hitters in hitter’s counts. But he’s definitely starting to get some of these approaches knowing that is an area he needs to work on. And that in itself ends up helping to control some of the results that end up happening to us. (You) can’t always control them all, but it does put us in a better position. And he is still working on fine-tuning his game. It wasn’t long ago that we sped him up a little quicker to the plate without giving up quality of stuff so that he could hold runners on first better. So there are definitely physical things we need to do and he needs to do to make his game better. But a lot of it is just believing and trusting his stuff.
Roberto: Watching his roommate Miles Mikolas get the call-up to the Padres, rubbing shoulders with last year’s surprise in the San Diego bullpen, Erik Hamren, and this year’s sensation, Nick Vincent, must have been inspirational for Hayden with the realization that he could be next. Having watched him pitch in Australia and in Lake Elsinore, the fact remains is that Hayden Beard is a great competitor. Now that he is paired up with you in San Antonio, I think it’s an awesome combination. I’m really happy that you guys are really able to work together in developing his craft.
Tim Worrell: Yep. And you brought up probably his number one attribute and that’s his competitiveness, which is probably the most important thing. Because a true competitor never gives in. We have to remind ourselves at times maybe that we are that. But they don’t give in, and they are always looking to get better and always looking to get the job done.
Since starting a baseball program from scratch over a decade ago when Southern California’s Capo Unified School District opened the doors of Tesoro High School in Las Flores, Varsity Baseball Manager Rick Brail has successfully prepared athletes with dreams and aspirations of playing professionally in Major League Baseball. When 2005 Tesoro graduate Erik Hamrenmade his MLB debut for the San Diego Padres in 2011, Coach Brail was so proud of his protégé that the school retired Hamren’s jersey #25 at a ceremony during half-time of a Tesoro basketball game in January.
Former San Clemente High School baseball star and veteran Tesoro Manager Rick Brail said, “Erik was in the first four-year class at Tesoro High School. He and his family have not only been a part of a baseball program from day one but also a big part of the school’s establishment. Retiring his jersey was a great thing to do because he has and always will be a part of our Tesoro family. It also felt great to recognize a player who was one of hardest workers and always put the team and school before himself. Our school, the community, and baseball program could not be more proud of Erik’s accomplishments on the field and the man he has become out in society.” Having earned three letters in both varsity baseball and football, Hamren perfected his game with every year of experience. He tipped off his athleticism and talent early on in his Tesoro Titan baseball career when he was named to the 2003 North Orange Country Classic All-Tournament Team. The Coto de Caza native followed it up in 2004 with a roster spot on the Southern Cal Cup II – Orange County All-Stars. Hamren finished the 2005 season with three home runs and a .452 batting average, which earned him the Pacific Coast League Co-MVP with Tesoro teammate Nick Nelson. Erik Hamren was a rising star and was heavily recruited to play college ball. He decided to stay in California and attend University of the Pacific.
Coach Brail added, “Erik always had a ton of talent on the baseball field, but it wasn’t until his senior year that he finally put it all together. He fully committed himself to baseball, (his studies) in the classroom, and physical fitness. After that the game came easy for him, and he was named MVP of our league his senior year as an outfielder and part-time pitcher. His transition to a full-time pitcher happened in college like many players. He was struggling at the plate and decided to convert to a full-time pitcher. It was seamless because he could throw 90 mph plus. It was just a matter of gaining confidence and experience.” After only nine at-bats at Pacific in his first year, Hamren returned home to pitch for Saddleback College and lend a helping hand to Coach Brail’s elite Tesoro Titans baseball team.A converted pitcher who had been picked up in the 37th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Chicago Cubs after the team liked what it saw during a tryout, Hamren didn’t sign his first professional contract until after making 15 pitching appearances in the Northwoods League for the Mankato MoonDogs during the summer of 2008. With one win, six saves and a
2.04 ERA in 17 2/3 innings of work under his belt, he then opted to sign with the Cubs. Hamren made three stops in the Chicago Cubs farm system in 2008 and 2009. Hamren had less than two full seasons of pitching experience when he was released by the Cubbies after the 2009 season with Single-A Midwest League Peoria, where he had a 5.98 ERA in 38 games. Determined not to give up on his dream of making it in the Bigs, Erik chose to play in the Independent League to develop his craft in 2010. He pitched in the Indy Northern League in 2010 and put together an 0-2 record with a 3.39 ERA in 44 games playing for the Kansas City T-Bones and Joliet JackHammers. Joliet acquired Hamren in late August for the stretch run in a trade with the Kansas City T-Bones. The right-hander was dominant in seven games for the 2010 JackHammers by posting a 0.84 ERA in 10.2 innings of work, striking out 16 and holding opponents to a .262 batting average. Hamren appeared to have finally felt comfortable pitching and was ready for redemption.
Major League veteran pitcher Tom House was critical in Erik’s transformation and revamping his approach prior to pitching at a MLB tryout camp in November 2010. After seeing the renaissance man in action, the San Diego Padres signed Erik to a minor league contract. Hamren believes it was a full season of independent baseball and working with former Major Leaguer Tom House that helped him reach MLB. Erik said, “Indy ball was the best thing that could have happened to me. It put things in perspective. You have it, and then you lose it. But I got innings, and I got to work. It’s kind of hard to grasp what has happened.” Hamren admitted that he struggled with his command during the first half of the 2010 season, but a ‘House call’ visit with the pro at the All-Star break made all the difference. “House synched me up,” Hamren said. “He kept me really focused and made me really confident. The first half of the season, there were still command issues. Strikes would come and go. But I worked with him and got a little confidence off that.”Coach Brail commented, “Erik was blessed with a ton of baseball ability. He had all five of the major baseball tools. It was just a matter of maturity and trusting himself on the field. Once he learned to relax and focus on the things he had control over, the game got easier for him. I’m a Erik Hamren believer and fan. He has overcome adversity his whole career and with his tremendous work ethic. I know nobody will out work him, and he is only going to get better.” Coach Brail knows that it will be an uphill battle for Hamren to return back to the Big Leagues from his current post at San Diego Padres Double-A affiliate San Antonio Missions. It’s the same place where he was when he received a Big League call-up at 1:30 in the morning on July 31, 2011 after the Padres traded relief pitcher Mike Adams to the Texas Rangers. Hamren made his splash into Major League Baseball at PETCO Park the next day on August 1st against Southern California National League West rival Los Angeles Dodgers.
The six-foot-one, 195-pound righty pitched a scoreless
ninth inning in San Diego’s 6-2 loss but also ended his
MLB debut memorably by striking out Dodger speedster Dee Gordon. The Orange County homegrown hero deserved the opportunity after being named 2011 Texas League
Mid-Season All-Star and compiling a stellar 5-0 record with
a 0.98 ERA in 48 games with the Lake Elsinore Storm and San Antonio Missions. During his shortened 2011 minor league campaign in 65 2/3 innings of work, Hamren was relentless. He surrendered a mere 46 hits, while walking
14 and striking out 69. The 25-year-old posted a 4.38 ERA
in 12 1/3 MLB innings last season with the Padres pitching middle relief. “He’s a great story,” said Jason McLeod, the Padres’ vice president and assistant general manager. “He
has a low-90s boring fastball with a swing-and-miss slider.”
Hamren had high hopes that a successful run at 2012 Padres Spring Training would warrant a slot in the San Diego opening day bullpen. Unfortunately, he was designated for assignment on April 5th by the Padres.
To the delight of Southern California Friar faithful in keeping Hamren a Padre, Hamren cleared waivers and was assigned to Double-A San Antonio. So far in his 13 innings pitched out of the Mission bullpen (0-1, 2.08 ERA with one save and four holds), Erik has surrendered only 6 hits while striking out 19 and holding opponents to a .154 batting average. With continued success in the minor leagues, it is just a matter of time for the South Orange County pitcher to return to PETCO Park.
Hamren’s journey to Major League Baseball was relatively short, especially considering that he
was pitching in the Independent League in 2010. He possesses what it takes to become a solid contributer to the Padres bullpen and is itching to remain a staple on the San Diego roster. Should the Padres use closer Huston Street as a half-season rental AKA trade bait before the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, then Hamren will be right on schedule for his annual pilgrimage to PETCO. However, one would expect that at the very latest Erik will rejoin the Padres when active rosters increase from 25 to 40 on September 1st. In the meantime, the trek from Mission San Juan Capistrano to the San Antonio Missions will have to suffice. Just as the swallows return every year to this legendary South Orange County landmark, fireman Erik Hamren will faithfully make his miraculous comeback to MLB in San Diego.