Dave Sappelt is playing independent baseball, but still believes he has big league talent.
Sappelt, a 31-year old outfielder signed by the Winnipeg Goldeyes on Tuesday, played 95 games in the major leagues from 2011-13 with the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs.
Despite playing the majority of the past five seasons in the Mexican League, Sappelt believes he has the same skills as the younger version of himself — a guy who managed hits against MLB all-stars such as Cliff Lee, Dallas Keuchel, Madison Bumgarner and Aroldis Chapman during his three years in the bigs.
"I believe I would’ve been there for a long time if it wasn’t for injuries," said Sappelt, who was given another shot in 2015 when the Boston Red Sox signed him to a minor league contract.
"Believe it or not, in 2015 with the Red Sox, I had a really good shot at going back up, but I had a terrible leg injury, so that set me back."
Sappelt had some notable injuries while he was trying to stick in the majors, as the Buffalo, N.Y., native suffered a torn oblique, broken wrist and a torn ACL.
"I’ve still been able to play pretty well, but I’m trying to get back to where I was before by strengthening my legs, I’ve been working a lot on my legs," Sappelt told the Free Press before Wednesday night’s game versus the Gary SouthShore RailCats.
"Once I get that, I know I could still play up there. I still have all the intangibles I had before. My speed and defence are still pretty good, and I can still swing the bat just as fast."
Sappelt, in his 11th season of professional baseball, joins the Fish after being released from the Atlantic League’s Southern Maryland Blue Crabs after seven games.
The 5-9 veteran realizes with big league experience comes big expectations, but he feels he didn’t get a fair shot in the Atlantic League, where he had five hits in 27 at-bats.
"(Southern Maryland) expected me to carry the team from day one," Sappelt said. "I hadn’t played since September, I didn’t have a spring training or anything. If you give me 50 at-bats, I’ll start taking off and start catching other players in the league in stats."
But Sappelt isn’t bitter about his release, because when the Goldeyes came calling, he felt it was a perfect fit. It also helped that Sappelt was familiar with a couple veterans on the team from his days in Mexico — Josh Mazzola and Reggie Abercrombie.
"I’m like Kevin Durant, I like to win championships," Sappelt said. "I’ve seen the (Goldeyes) won the last two years and have a winning record this year, so I’m thinking the philosophy of the team here is to win. I hate playing for teams that just go through the motions — I like to win."
The Goldeyes have been struggling on offence this season and Sappelt — as well as infielders Eric Aguilera and Tucker Nathans, who were also signed Tuesday — were brought in to provide a boost. After 24 games, the Fish were tied for sixth in the 12-team league in runs scored, 112, and hits, 208, and had a team batting average of .267.
Sappelt, a career .291 hitter with 1,193 hits in 1,073 games, wants to help the team not only with his bat but also his veteran presence.
"I’m not the guy who is too arrogant to talk to people," Sappelt said after his first practice with the team. "I like to help people. I know I could be a good coach, I talked to a couple guys today about hitting and the mental side of it."
Sappelt doesn’t know where his career will take him next or how much longer he’ll play, but for now, he’s happy with where he’s at — playing baseball for a team with a winning record and in a ballpark that’s near the top of the league in attendance.
"I like this place, this wouldn’t be a bad place at all to play," Sappelt said on his future. "You know you’d be coming home to this greatness and hey, that’s not bad at all."