WAPPINGERS FALLS, N.Y. – It takes a positive attitude to achieve positive results.
It’s a simple mantra, really, but one that nobody could have blamed Hudson Valley Renegades first baseman Eric Wagaman for had he strayed from it earlier this season.
If his name sounds familiar to Somerset Patriots fans, well, it should. After all, the 24-year-old began the year on the Double-A roster. Well, sort of.
When “break camp” rosters were posted in Tampa at the end of spring training, Wagaman’s name was on Somerset’s, and he reported there, expecting to contribute right away off the bench in what would have been his first taste of a new level. Instead, manager Dan Fiorito had some different news to relay from the Yankees organization just one day into the start of the season, with a move being needed to accommodate adding another player on April 9.
A kinder way of saying “inactive.”
“I was pretty upset at first,” Wagaman recalled. “I mean, I was pretty upset the whole time. But, at the same time, I can’t just like stop playing or stop trying to get better. I can’t just sit here and do nothing. He called me in and was like, ‘This sucks, but this is how it’s going to be right now, just try and keep your head up and wait for your turn.’”
But the Mission Viejo, California native did more than just that. He put in the work to earn that turn. Every day, taking extra ground balls. Every day, taking batting practice in the last group. Every day, making sure he wasn’t going to be forgotten about.
“I feel like I knew myself, and I knew the work that I put in in the offseason, and I knew I how I did in spring training,” he said. “I felt like I did a really good job in spring training, and it was very unfortunate being put on the development list, but at the same time, I felt like something was going to happen at some point and I knew when I got my shot, I was going to be able to capitalize. I looked at it as, ‘This sucks, but it’s going to change at some point.’ I just had to take advantage of opportunities that I did get. The whole time, I was just looking forward those opportunities.”
A relatively new thing in Minor League Baseball, the Development List is both a blessing and a curse; it’s better than the alternative of being simply released or being sent to extended spring training at the team’s spring training complex but is essentially the organization telling you they like you enough to keep you around, they just don’t have anything for you right now.
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For a competitor like Wagaman – every bit of a 6-foot-4, 210-pound gentle giant whose intensity level changes once he steps between the white lines – he simply took it as another challenge, but one that he could approach with that positive attitude.
After a 17-day wait, Wagaman was rewarded for it, with the Yankees assigning him back to High-A Hudson Valley, where he’d finished last season after having slowly, but surely, climbed the ladder through the system as a 13th round pick out of Orange Coast College in 2017.
All he’s done since then is play some of the best baseball of his pro career; in his first 15 games with the Renegades, he’s hitting .271 with three homers and seven RBI, with a .956 OPS, albeit in a smaller sample size, on pace for the best production of his six-year stint in the organization.
“I’ve known ‘Wags’ now for a while, he’s been in the organization for some time, and he’s just a fantastic dude,” said Hudson Valley manager Tyson Blaser. “Good attitude, and he’s ready to go at any point. He was excited to actually be down here. We had a conversation, and he was like, ‘Hey, I’m excited to be here and to be able to play.’ He’s getting that opportunity, he’s putting good at-bats together for us, and he’s a veteran guy, so he’s out here and he knows the role. He’s setting a good example for some of these younger guys.”
He’s also set himself up to earn a promotion back to Bridgewater sooner rather than later, where he’d be reunited with a group he seemed to have really fit in with during his short stay at TD Bank Ballpark.
“It was tough leaving, because most of those guys, I’d been playing with the past few years, and they’re some of my really good friends,” Wagaman said.
“I’m glad I’m here because I’m playing, and I really do like this group of guys too. It was tough leaving them (in Somerset), and the goal is to get back there and be with them. But this year, my main thing is just to be where your feet are. You can only control what you can control, and you’ve got to worry about yourself and worry about performing. That’s what it ultimately comes down to. I feel more mature than I was last year or the previous year. I just look at it as more of a process now. So, if they don’t think I’m ready for Double-A, then I’m not ready for Double-A … hopefully at some point, I can get back up there, but if that doesn’t happen, I’ll do my best here and see what happens.”
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: New York Yankees: Eric Wagaman making most of second chance at High-A