Plenty of Northern League players have spent time in the majors, but few have a resumé, or Wikipedia page, like that of Gary SouthShore RailCats starting pitcher Brad Halsey.
The 29-year-old lefty from Texas has been the staff ace on a Texas Longhorn team that won a College World Series and taken the mound in pinstripes at Yankee Stadium against the Boston Red Sox, yet whether he likes it or not, he's still better recognized for one errant fastball than his 14 Major League wins.
That pitch was hit by Barry Bonds over the outfield wall of McAfee Coliseum on May 20, 2006 to tie Babe Ruth on the all-time career home run list with 714 dingers.
At the time, the sports media joked about Halsey being on the wrong side of history, forever a footnote to a major moment in baseball history, but he simply downplayed the moment. "It's another day at the ballpark," he said in a post-game press conference. "I left a fastball over the middle of the plate and he punished me for it."
Four years on, he's still a bit miffed about all the attention. "It was really more (Bonds's) deal, the home run," he said during batting practice at Canwest Park on Tuesday, a few hours before the Railcats and Winnipeg Goldeyes were set to clash.
"The only thing I take out of it is that at least I also struck him out." (Bonds took a third strike from Halsey only an inning later)
His encounter with Bonds wouldn't be the last time his career was a tangent to baseball history. While with the Oakland Athletics' Triple-A affiliate Sacramento in 2007, he was held out of a start under the presumption he was about to be called up to replace injured starter Rich Harden. Ultimately, the club passed him over in favour of his then-unknown teammate, Dallas Braden, who has since gone on to throw major league baseball's 19th perfect game.
Halsey was furious about being overlooked, believing he wasn't chosen because the A's wouldn't want to pay for an MRI on his sore arm. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, he said it was "(messed up) the way they treat people they employ."
The club's decision proved to be a fork in the road of both players' careers. Halsey's sore arm was diagnosed as a torn labrum, a severe shoulder injury requiring surgery, that kept him out of baseball for a year. Meanwhile, Braden has gone on to Major League fame, not only throwing the perfect game but also calling out Yankees all-star Alex Rodriguez for crossing his pitcher's mound.
"It doesn't surprise me," said Halsey about his former teammate's success. "I said in the (Chronicle) article, 'He's a great pitcher and I'm sure he's going to do well.' He really is (great), and I recognized that at the time."
"And the thing with A-Rod doesn't necessarily surprise me. You could just tell, he's a guy who had that competitive fire... And as far as guys crossing the mound, that's kind of a personal space thing."
The shoulder surgery was a significant set-back, as Halsey fell out of organized baseball completely, playing last year with the independent Long Island Ducks and signing this spring with the RailCats. While he still doesn't feel the A's handled his injury -- and career -- properly, he spends more time working on getting his arm back in shape than dwelling on how he went from starting in the majors to battling in the independent leagues in only four years.
"It (the NL) is a great place to play, but you do want to work to improve your game and eventually get out of here," he said.
Riding the roller coaster
June 22, 2002: Wins College World Series with Texas Longhorns
June 19, 2004: Earns spot in New York Yankees' rotation
Jan 6, 2005: Traded to Arizona Diamondbacks as part of package for future Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson
May 20, 2006: Gives up homer 714 to Barry Bonds
Spring 2009: Released by Los Angeles Dodgers, signs with Long Island Ducks of eight-team Atlantic League
April 27, 2010: Signs with Gary SouthShore RailCats