BRADENTON -- Growing up in a state bereft of a Major League Baseball team, Alex Presley found inspiration elsewhere.
He began rooting for the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers and pulling for players such as the Cubs’ Mark Grace and the Seattle Mariners’ Ken Griffey Jr.
Last year, however, it was Presley who provided the inspiration.
This time last spring, he was just another non-roster invitee to Pittsburgh Pirates camp.
Then everything clicked.
Now the 25-year-old Louisiana native is hoping to join the big team when spring training breaks in about three weeks.
And unlike last season, the idea doesn’t sound outlandish at all.
Why should it? Presley was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2010 -- not bad for an eighth-round draft pick who prior to last summer had never played above high Single-A.
“I found out what worked for me and stuck with it all year,” Presley said Saturday before he walked twice and scored a run during an 11-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. “It was a great year, but I’m trying to move toward this year and work toward some of my goals.”
Armed with a chance to make an Opening Day roster for the first time, Presley’s desire to move forward has merit. But what he did in 2010 shouldn’t be left in the dust, either.
Though he hit 56 points higher in Double-A Altoona than Triple-A Indianapolis (.350 to .294), Presley didn’t tail off much once he got promoted June 27. He had 86 hits in Altoona, 80 in Indianapolis; scored 42 runs in Altoona, 44 in Indianapolis; and hit six home runs at both stops.
All this came after he batted .257 in Single-A Lynchburg the year before. Consequently, he was called up to Pittsburgh on Sept. 7 and hit .261 in 19 games.
“Alex’s maturation and hard work,” general manager Neal Hungtington told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last season, “put him in a position to be called up.”
“It was unreal,” Presley said. “I had come a long way in a short amount of time, and it was like it wasn’t even real.”
Unexpected as it was, Presley’s path to Pittsburgh wasn’t the result of major tinkering to his swing. Instead, he learned to remain even-keeled and leave a bad game in the past.
“I didn’t get down when things got bad, or let it ruin a week. That’s kind of how I was before,” Presley said. “I eased up on myself. ... There’s not always something wrong if you have a bad game – sometimes, you just have a bad game.”
The most successful year of his professional life resulted in some offseason changes, too. Rather than trying to improve everything, Presley worked on his base running and throwing. And while he had two hits in 15 at-bats entering Saturday, Presley said he felt he has put some good swings on the ball and hopes to get into more of a rhythm as he gets more at-bats.
Ultimately, what he really wants is a spot on the 25-man roster.
After last summer, anything is possible.
“I always knew I could play. That was never a question in my mind,” Presley said. “When I’d get it together for short periods of time, I could see I could really do some things. ... I found a way to stay comfortable and keeping doing what I was doing for longer periods of time.”