Hiser jukes around obstacles for chance to make majors

April 30, 2006|By BOB PARASILITI

Right now, dreams are a major part of P.J. Hiser's life.

The dream is something in him. It was a drive that started simmering when he was a youngster growing up in Washington County.

It carried him through high school and college.

And now, all that dreaming is showing a hint of reality. And yet, the dream is not over.

It is just starting.

P.J. Hiser stands today, doing what he always hoped - playing professional baseball with the Lake County Captains, the Cleveland Indians Class A affiliate in the South Atlantic League. And yet, he's so far away, because he wants to play in the major leagues.

"Everybody has a dream as a kid to play pro baseball," Hiser said Monday at Municipal Stadium as the Captains prepared to face the Hagerstown Suns. "It is sort of surreal to be playing pro baseball. But there is pro ball and there is pro ball."


Where Hiser is now is great but he knows, with a lot of work, things have a chance to be a whole lot better.

And, there, lies the little box that Hiser's dream for the future lies. He has paid his dues and honed his talent, playing anywhere and everywhere he could: Little League, high school, American Legion, Blue Ridge Adult League, Hagerstown Community College and for the University of Pittsburgh in the Big East Conference.

It is a dream come true.

"Everything is good," Hiser said. "I was coming out of Pitt and I wasn't expecting to be drafted real high because I was a senior and I went in the middle of the pack."

With his 29th round selection in the 2005 draft, the first phase of the dream was completed. The work only started as Hiser found out there is anxiety, even in dreams.

The advent of professional baseball brought a whole new set of circumstances for Hiser.

He left Pitt as the Big East's player of the year by hitting .354 with 21 homers and 67 RBI while working as a pitcher and outfielder. The Panthers won 38 games in Hiser's senior year, the most since 1995, and went to the Big East Championships for the first time in four seasons.

With the Indians and in the pros, it all changed.

Hiser, like every other player, was forced to change from aluminum to wood bats.

"At first, my power numbers went down during half-season ball," Hiser said. "The bat is heavier. You have to be more selective with the wood bat because you can get away with a lot with aluminum.

"You can't be afraid. The key is finding a bat that you are comfortable with and then let your talent take over."

Then came the battle with injuries and all the questions that crop up when you are sitting and watching everyone else play.

Hiser tore the rotator cuff in his throwing arm during his half-season tenure. It led to offseason surgery and all the rehabilitation - and questions - that go with the comeback.

Add to the mix a change of position. Cleveland added playing first base to Hiser's plate. It was a lot more work, but it opened up so many opportunities with the Captains for the South Hagerstown graduate.

"I was used to playing the corner outfield positions, left field and right field," Hiser said. "But first base took some time to get used to. I think I made the transition well. It took a lot of work to get it down, but now I enjoy playing first. I have to be more in the game there because there is a lot of action where you tend to stand around a lot while playing in the outfield."

Now, Hiser had options. He could play two outfield positions, first base and could be used as a designated hitter. But Lake County's team is stacked with talented prospects and returning players from last season which has forced Hiser to share time.

Then, a recent nagging soreness in his surgically repaired shoulder has sidelined him. He has only played eight games, hitting .111 with one home run and four RBI while striking out 14 times.

Hiser is watching and rehabilitating while everyone else with the same dream - his dream - plays on in front of him.

"This is just a precaution we are taking now to make sure it doesn't get worse later in the season," Hiser said of the injury downtime. "You have to prove yourself at every level. You can't go out there and take a day off. That's what is irritating right now. I'm trying to prove myself here.

"I went back last year because of the shoulder, but now I made a full season club. I proved myself at the last level. Full season is a long season. Everyone has to sit for time off. I needed this time now. As long as I produce, I'll keep moving up."

Producing. Moving up. The competition for playing time. Trying to get noticed while playing with teammates who were selected higher in the draft. It all adds to the motivation for the 6-foot-1, 195-pound kid from Williamsport to keep plugging away.

"I enjoy not being that talented as the rest of those guys," Hiser said. "It makes me work harder. In the offseason, I hit the weightroom harder to improve more because I don't fit the stereotype."

Those are the times when Hiser can call on his past and his dreams to help him move on.

"I knew I had a chance when I graduated from high school because people were talking to me," he said. "I went to HCC knowing I had the chance and I worked harder. I knew I had a chance because I have had a lot of good mentors along the way. Obviously, there is some natural ability there, but I also have some of the instincts, too."

Apparently, living a dream means you never have to say your sorry.

"I think I have the potential. I think I can make it (to the majors). If I didn't, I'd just be wasting my time," Hiser said. "I have been hard-nosed my entire life. I plan to play that way as long as I'm playing. That way, if the time comes that I do get released, at least I can move on knowing I gave it my all."

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