Minor League baseball: Wade Moore back home
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS — Some of the weight of the world disappeared from Wade Moore’s broad shoulders as he circled the bases on Sunday night after walloping his first home run of the season.
The blast at Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium, a venue roughly 25 miles from the old-school farm where Moore grew up in Cleveland, came in Moore’s 36th game as a Hagerstown Sun, and manager Brian Daubach, the former Red Sox slugger, practically hugged him as he rounded third and headed for home.
“We all love the kid,” Daubach said. “He’s very talented, but he’s just so darned hard on himself. He’s just got to relax and play.”
A flock of teammates emerged from the dugout to bump fists with Moore, thrilled to see something good finally happen for the 23-year-old left fielder.
On his first at-bat, Moore fell into an 0-2 hole against big Kannapolis right-hander Dexter Carter and struck out on a 1-2 offering out of the strike zone, trying desperately to check his swing with two teammates on base.
When Moore led off the fourth, he was greeted by scattered applause from folks who had watched him dominate two sports at West Rowan. A dozen or so down the left-field line wore the familiar light blue garb of the Falcons.
The electronic scoreboard’s greeting wasn’t as warm: “Wade Moore, 0 homers, eight RBIs, .167.”
But then the lefty hitter pulled Carter’s first pitch, a get-ahead fastball that got too much of the plate, on a soaring arc over the right-field wall.
Moore’s fourth career pro homer didn’t come against chopped liver. Carter led the minor league in strikeouts in 2009 and once was swapped for Jake Peavy.
“I just went up there looking for a fastball early in the count,” Moore said. “I barreled it up, and by God’s grace it went out. A lot of family and friends were here to see me and really wanted me to do well, and it was nice to do something for them. I was actually a little nervous, but I’ve had some luck here.”
Moore had played at FCS in an AAU tournament when he was 12, and he’d returned with the Rowan County American Legion team to battle Garrett Sherrill and the Kannapolis Legion squad in 2006.
Daubach said it wasn’t unusual for a player to experience homecoming success.
“I know that’s how it was for me,” said Daubach, an Illinois native who crushed 35 homers as a Charlotte Knight in 1998. “You get a little homecooking and see a few friendly faces in the seats. It can help you play your best.”
Daubach appeared genuinely fascinated with hearing about Moore’s background and wasn’t surprised that Moore had been a gridiron terror in high school.
“A running back, was he?” Daubach said. “I can see that. He plays baseball with a football mentality.”
Moore rushed for 4,256 yards and scored 54 TDs in three varsity seasons at West as an I-formation tailback, school and county records before K.P. Parks came along.
College recruiters saw him as a safety or receiver at the next level, which is one of the reasons Moore chose college baseball.
The other reason was he got ACC scholarship offers in baseball — North Carolina and N.C. State were the finalists — after a four-year career at West that included 104 runs scored, 37 extra-base hits, 54 steals and a 24-6 record with 263 strikeouts on the mound.
In one seven-inning Rowan Legion game, Moore had two homers and nine RBIs.
Moore chose N.C. State. It didn’t work out in Raleigh, largely because of two severe hamstring injuries, but he salvaged his baseball career by returning home to Catawba for his senior year and putting up an All-America season in Division II — .410, 16 homers, 77 RBIs, 29 steals.
Drafted in the 19th round by the Washington Nationals last June, he had a strong season at Vermont in short-season A ball — .287 batting average, .394 on-base percentage, 17-for-19 on stolen bases.
But his 2011 season in the South Atlantic League has been a serious challenge.
“You know I want to hit .350 because I always have,” Moore said. “I know what I can do, but the league is tough. It’s my first full season of pro ball, and you just try to grind it out, make adjustments and keep an open mind to what the coaches are telling you.”
Moore is all-out, all-the-time, so a 140-game schedule takes a toll. It has to be impossible for him to focus on every at-bat.
How tough is it? Hagerstown players got a 5 a.m. walkup call Sunday morning after a Saturday doubleheader, boarded a bus at 6 and started the long trek from Maryland to North Carolina. Trying to get into their hotel was an adventure on a racing weekend in Concord, and then they dragged themselves to FCS to face the Intimidators at 5:05.
Exhausted Hagerstown lost twice to the Intimidators on Memorial Day. Moore had one hit, inching his average up to .168.
But he also started slowly at Vermont last summer. He batted .220 in June, was decent in July, then tore it up in August.
“I’ve stayed positive because we’re in first place, and we’ve got a great group of guys in this clubhouse,” Moore said. “My teammates aren’t just acquaintances, they’re roommates and friends.”
The Nationals haven’t given up on him, and neither has Daubach.
“When Wade looks up there at the scoreboard right now, the numbers obviously aren’t what he wants to see,” Daubach said. “But that home run could get him going, and there’s a lot of season left.”