GENEVA – Michael Hamann wears a figurative badge of honor for the sequence that stalled his first summer of professional baseball.
“It was probably the best defensive play that I’ve ever made,” the Cougars’ right-hander said.
Pitching in relief for Short-A Boise in the parent Cubs’ system in July 2012, Hamann darted from the mound and sprawled headlong to snare a popped-up bunt.
Thanking adrenaline, he doubled a runner off second base after that and remained in the game to complete a scoreless inning.
A bone bruise and ankle sprain hobbled Hamann as he headed to the dugout, but he completed the subsequent rehab in a few weeks and felt able to finish the season. The Cubs felt otherwise, being cautious and shutting him down.
It has all left Hamann itching to catch up.
Of course, waiting accompanies Hamann’s baseball experience these days. A weekend starter for three seasons at Toledo, Hamann made a team-high 14 starts for the Rockets in 2012 before the Cubs drafted him as a junior in the 16th round.
“I was used to being able to prep myself before a game and know every Friday or Saturday, whenever it was, that I was going to pitch,” Hamann said. “The bullpen’s a little bit different, but since last year I’ve adapted pretty quickly, I think.”
Hamann, 22, speaks with confidence after waiting nearly a year to show his stuff again. He began the season in extended spring training and remained there until Boise’s season opened in mid-June.
The Cubs promoted him two weeks later after Hamann recorded 72/3 scoreless innings over six appearances, striking out nine and recording three saves.
Cougars manager Mark Johnson, who guided Boise to the Northwest League Championship Series in 2012, was especially excited to see Hamann when he joined the club in Wisconsin.
“If he wouldn’t have done that [with his ankle],” Johnson said, “he would have been with us for the playoffs and would have played a huge part in it.”
The Cougars, 4-15 in the second half entering Friday, still are searching for the jolt they hope propels them toward a postseason spot. Seeing more of Hamann, the team’s de facto closer, would seem to suggest the team is faring better.
While Hamann feels secure in his stamina, he also understands he and teammates are in the game of player development.
He went six days between his first and second outings as a Cougar but showed no signs of rust, combining for 21/3 innings of scoreless ball while relying on his slider to record two strikeouts.
A boyhood Cleveland Indians fan growing up in Port Clinton, Ohio, Hamann opted for college even after Cleveland drafted him out of high school in the 24th round in 2009. He was lanky then and remains so now – his Twitter handle of @hamann_cheese notwithstanding.
The Cougars list Hamann at 6-foot-3 and 165 pounds, but he has since eclipsed 180 and is pushing to add more muscle.
Pitching in DeKalb against Northern Illinois on a Sunday in late April 2012, Hamann worked seven strong innings to get the win and secure a series sweep.
Less than two months later, he was a Cubs farmhand, and immediately researched the organization and its minor league stops. Kane County stood out for its fan base and location.
“Everybody would be lying to you if they didn’t set out goals or [thought] this is where they wanted to be,” Hamann said. “So I mean, I was going through and was like, ‘Yeah, this would be pretty nice to go there.’ ”
Now that he’s arrived, Hamann doesn’t want to waste time, even as protocol calls for him to wait several innings or games to take the ball again.
“I just prepare myself for the bullpen every day to be ready,” he said. “I feel my arm is able to bounce back day after day, so I always have my cleats on, and once it gets toward the end of the game, I’m getting ready, prepared.”
If he has to dive for a bunt again, so be it. So much of baseball is about repitition, and Hamann could get used to the active side of that equation.