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The Brutal Business of Professional Baseball

This is the tale of a trio of former 'Bama baseball players in the professional ranks. I also happen to be extremely close to all three, and their families.

Tommy Hunter recorded a save in his first appearance as a Chicago Cub
Tommy Hunter recorded a save in his first appearance as a Chicago Cub
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy Hunter,Josh Rutledge,Taylor Dugas: large,medium and small, all at different points in their careers. One is 29 (Hunter), one is 26 (Rutledge) and Dugas is 25. Hunter is 6'3' and 260 pounds with a powerful right arm that throws fastballs up to 100 mph. Rutledge is 6'1, 195 pounds, and runs like a gazelle. Dugas is 5'8" 180 pounds and is known in baseball circles as a "grinder" in the mode of Dustin Pedroia.

Hunter is an established big leaguer who has spent all or part of the last eight seasons in the Major Leagues. Rutledge has been up and down between AAA and the Majors over the past four seasons. Dugas went pro after the 2012 season and has gradually been working his way up the ladder with the New York Yankees. All three got to experience the tough end of the baseball business in July.

Hunter, an Indianapolis native, was drafted in the first round after his 2007 season at Alabama as a draft eligible sophomore by the Texas Rangers. He quickly rose through the ranks and made two starts for the Rangers in the 2008 season, getting his feet wet at the highest level. In 2009 Hunter started in the minor leagues and after 13 games was called up and inserted in the Ranger rotation. He acquitted himself quite well, posting a 9-6 record with a 4.10 ERA in 19 starts. The 2010 season was Hunter's best so far in his career, posting a 13-4 record with a 3.73 ERA, after starting the season 8-0.

In 2011 Hunter was traded along with Chris Davis to the Baltimore Orioles, and continued as a starter, but struggled through the rest of the season and the beginning of the 2012 season, before being moved to the bullpen. The big right hander adapted well and became a late inning stalwart for an Oriole team that rediscovered winning after a long dormant period. Pitching only one or two innings at a time Hunter is able to air out his fastball and has hit over 100 mph on numerous occasions, while consistently throwing in the high 90's.

Hunter is a great club house guy with a personalty as big as he is. He is described as a big teddy bear, and is known for pulling pranks and keeping the other players loose both in the clubhouse and in the bullpen. The Orioles have a special chemistry that most teams can only hope to obtain. That is why the events of July 31st were such a surprise. July 31st is the trade deadline for Major League teams, with several teams maneuvering deals for the stretch run of the pennant races.

With just minutes left until the deadline, Hunter was preparing to start tossing with teammate Darren O'Day in the outfield when pitching coach Dave Wallace called him over to inform him of a trade to the Chicago Cubs that had just been completed. Hunter had to return to the clubhouse, strip out of his uniform, and tell his teammates good bye, which may have been easier than the trip home to tell his wife, Ellen.

Tommy and Ellen have been married since January of 2014, and are expecting their first child in October. The couple was established in Baltimore with a house, a dog and clients for Ellen, an Occupational Therapist. With the trade completed Hunter had one day to pack his bags and get to Milwaukee to meet his new team, while Ellen stayed behind in Baltimore.

Now it is hard to feel sorry for Hunter, after all he is being paid 4.6 million dollars this season, and is set to be a free agent at the end of the year. The impending free agency led the Orioles to make the deal, to insure that they got a player in return instead of receiving nothing if Hunter signed with another team. Theoretically Hunter could resign with Baltimore in the off season,and would be open to the idea of doing so.

Rutledge was a third round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies in 2010 after his junior season at 'Bama. In a year and a half he was making his major league debut, as Troy Tulowitzki had his seemingly yearly trip to the disabled list. The Cullman native set the league on its ear for the first month with a batting average well over .300, before finishing at .274 with eight home runs, 20 doubles and five triples in only 277 at bats. The future looked bright.

With Tulowitzki returning for the 2013 season the Rockies planned on Rutledge being their second baseman of the future. After a slow start at the plate Rutledge was returned to AAA reportedly to "learn the position." After 38 games, and a .371 batting average the infielder returned to the big leagues,playing sporadically, and his average fell to .235 for the season. Rutledge began the 2014 season in AAA, but when Tulowitzki once again was injured, returned to play shortstop and had a solid season, hitting .269 in 300 plus at bats with 16 doubles and seven triples.

The Rockies traded Rutledge in the off season to the Los Angeles Angels, with the thought of him being their every day second baseman for the 2015 season. Rutledge was battling three other players for the starting spot and eventually lost out to Johnny Giavotella, but should have made the team as the utility infielder. However the Angels chose to keep Taylor Featherston (who is hitting a robust .133 in 65 games) and sent Rutledge to AAA Salt Lake City.

Rutledge struggled early with injuries but came on strong and was hitting .274 through July 28th, when he got the call for his second trade in less than in a year. The Boston Red Sox had traded Shane Victorino to the Angels for Rutledge, and the infielder was back in the big leagues where he belongs,this time as a utility infielder that can play shortstop as well as second and third base.

For Rutledge the move was a good one, getting him out of the minor leagues, and closer to home and his wife of almost two years. Laura Rutledge is a former Miss Florida (2012) and a University of Florida graduate, who is a reporter for CNN, ESPN and the SEC Network. She is stationed in Atlanta where the couple lives during Josh's off season. Laura Rutledge can be seen on the sidelines at NCAA football games, court side at basketball games and on the field for baseball games.

Rutledge hopes to stick with the Red Sox for the rest of the season, and make the team out of spring training next season. Dustin Pedroia is on the disabled list right now, and if-when he becomes healthy the BoSox will have to make a roster move. Rutledge had signed a $527,000 contract with the Angels, just above the MLB minimum of $500,000.

Dugas, the all time leader in singles, doubles, triples and hits at Alabama, was drafted in the eighth round by the Chicago Cubs in 2011. After much deliberation the LaFayette LA native decided to return to the Tide for his senior season, and was drafted in the eighth round again, this time by his favorite team - the New York Yankees.

In 2012 the outfielder hit .306 in his short season for Staten Island in 209 at bats. The 2013 season brought a promotion to Charleston in the low A league where he was hitting .250 after 58 games and was promoted to High A Tampa. In Tampa the lefty swinger hit an impressive .321 and drew twice as many walks as he had strikeouts. 2014 saw another double promotion season, as Dugas started in AA Trenton, where he hit .294 in 54 games before getting promoted to AAA, Scranton. His hot hitting continued, and he had a .305 average in 175 at bats, setting the table for a trip to the big leagues in 2015.

This is where the journey goes off track. After expecting (and deserving) an invitation to big league spring training, Dugas was sent to minor league camp. Despite a good spring, including playing a few games with the big club, Dugas was sent not to AAA, but back down to AA. To compound the disappointment he was also returned as the fourth outfielder, not guaranteed to play every day. The Yankees have a plethora of young outfielders that they drafted early, and invested a lot of money in.

With sporadic playing time the player that could fall out of bed and hit a line drive struggled at the plate. Playing a game here and there made it hard for Dugas to get in a rhythm. A serious of injuries at the big league level and at the AAA level led to a short stint in Scranton. After a short time Dugas was returned to AA and continued to not play every day.

The circumstances made the call he received around midnight on June 30th all the more surprising. Dugas and his roommates were sitting on the coach playing video games when he received "the call" that all kids that have ever played baseball have waited on. The big club needed an extra outfielder and he was going to "the show." All he had to do was drive to Philadelphia to catch a plane to Los Angels to meet the team. He did, then took a red-eye flight and arrived in time for the Wednesday night game with the Angels.

With friends and family watching nervously, waiting for him to possibly enter the game, he didn't play that night. After the game the team flew all night to return to New York, where they had an off day on Thursday before hosting the Tampa Rays on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That was just enough time for Dugas parents, David and Dona, to book a flight from New Orleans and to secure a room in NYC. My wife Sherry and I did the same, booking a flight out of Birmingham on that Friday morning.

Dugas was put up in a Hotel by the team, and had all day Thursday to rest up from his two cross country flights before readying for (hopefully) his Major League debut over the weekend. About the time we all landed in New York and were able to get our text messages, we received the message that the Yankees had sent Taylor down to AAA  and recalled someone else up to replace him. The upside of being up for at least the one day was he was put on the all important 40 man roster,and received big league pay for three days. ( Three days pay is higher than his normal monthly minor league salary.) Also after being sent back down, his minor league salary increased to a level that is at least a living wage.

Dugas shook off the disappointment and quickly went 8-18 in his next four games for Scranton, when the next punch came. Facing a roster crunch the Yankees placed him on the designated for assignment list, meaning any team could claim him for the next three days. When no team claimed him the Yankees resigned him and returned him to AA Trenton, again as the fourth outfielder, where he has continued to be hot, but is still not playing every day like he needs to. As of this writing Dugas has reached base in 12 straight games and 17 of 18 games since his short stint in the Major Leagues.

Of the three players Rutledge came out best, by being able to return to the Major Leagues. Hunter has already paid dividends for the Cubs as he recorded a save on his first day with the team. The Orioles had not used Hunter in as many high leverage situations his last month or so in Baltimore, and it appears that the Cubs will, which should lead to a better chance at a good contract in the off season. The best thing for Dugas would be a trade to a team that will appreciate his talents as a lead off hitter, and on base percentage ability. I know I am somewhat biased, but Dugas is a big league talent that could start for several MLB teams, in my opinion.

These three fine young men continue the long run of 'Bama players having success in professional baseball. David Robertson, Alex Avila, Jimmy Nelson and Adam Morgan are all important parts of their teams this season. Several other Tiders are having success at the minor league level, and look to join the 70 former Alabama players that have played in the Major Leagues.

'Bama Baseball Fever, Catch It!

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