Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Liles' baseball career gets new lease on life

Ex-Giants farmhand looks like good fit for Fish

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NO one can deny this fact: Nick Liles has chased his baseball dream. Chased it from his home town of Laurinburg, N.C., to Western Carolina University, from Augusta to Fresno to San Jose to Richmond and a hundred places in between.

And so imagine how absolutely soul crushing it is to have a member of the San Franciso Giants -- the team that drafted him and had him bounce around their system from rookie ball to triple- A -- summon him into an office and unceremoniously declare the dream is dead, at least with their organization.

"I'll tell you what, it definitely sucks," said Liles Wednesday. "The day I got released I was in complete panic mode. It was like, 'Man, where do I go? What's next?' Your whole life is baseball and when that changes it's like, 'What am I going to do now?' You start thinking ahead and trying to figure out what the next step is. Is it moving on in life or moving on to the next opportunity? It's tough.

'He's what I expected. He's a scrappy player, he plays hard and he handles the bat well. He uses the whole field, he's not going to be a power guy that knocks walls down or hit it over. But he's going to put the ball into play and make some things happen'

-- Goldeyes manager Rick Forney, discussing Nick Liles

"I was at the point where it was, 'Do I really want to keep playing baseball?' That's what was going through my head. I talked to my family and tried to determine what the next step was to take."

Ultimately that next step -- or series of them -- brought the 25-year-old to Winnipeg. It turns out the Goldeyes had sent him an email not long after he was released by the Giants. And Liles followed up that nibble by calling a couple of current Goldeyes he knew from their days in the Giants system: Josh Mazzola and Kaohi Downing.

Two things Liles' fact-finding mission told him: 1. The Goldeyes, Winnipeg and the American Association looked to be a solid fit and; 2. Independent baseball is stocked with guys who rekindled their love for the game.

"I talked to Mazz a lot," said Liles. "He said it was one of those things where he found the joy of baseball again. At a certain point you can lose that because it becomes a job. You put so much pressure on yourself and there's all those other things around you that you can't control, you forget what you are out here for: just to play baseball.

"Mazz told me it's fun. The travel is the same, the baseball is the same, it's just that it's fun again. That was part of the sales pitch. And you're not constantly wondering why one guy is moving up (in the organization) and you're not."

Goldeyes manager Rick Forney is intrigued by Liles' versatility: He was drafted as a second baseman, has played some shortstop, was converted to the outfield by the Giants and one season even played every spot but behind the plate.

He doesn't have dynamite in his bat, but is a guy who can hit and run, bunt and swipe the odd base -- the classic get-'em-over, get-'em-in hitter.

Goldeyes fans have already seen some evidence of that through two exhibition games. Hitting from the No. 2 spot, Liles has gone 4-for-9 and driven in three runs as the Fish have gone 1-1.

"He's what I expected," said Forney. "He's a scrappy player, he plays hard and he handles the bat well. He uses the whole field, he's not going to be a power guy that knocks walls down or hit it over. But he's going to put the ball into play and make some things happen."

Liles would be thrilled to hear that from his skipper. But he was all smiles Wednesday for a simpler reason than what the boxscore says: his baseball dream is still alive.

"All I can say is to go from all that uncertainty a while back to this... I'm just so thankful for the Winnipeg Goldeyes to give me another opportunity to play baseball."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 9, 2013 D4

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