Monday, December 5, 2011

Interview Part 1 of 3: Mike DeButch, New Opportunities

A young Mike DeButch with Hall of Famer Goose Gossage during spring training with the Padres.

Part 1: New Opportunities | Part 2: Big Adjustments | Part 3: Hardest Part

CHICAGO HEIGHTS, IL - Mike DeButch had just been traded. As DeButch saw it, he'd also gotten a new opportunity.

In his fifth professional season, DeButch was in his third with time at AA in the Padres system.

"It's all about opportunities," DeButch told The Greatest 21 Days recently, adding sometimes players can get stuck behind others. "You're playing, hopefully, to get traded where there could be an opportunity to climb the ladder."

With his new organization, DeButch eventually got the opportunity to move up to AAA. But he never got the opportunity to play in the majors, injuries and illness helping to see to that.

For nearly two decades now, DeButch has taken advantage of a different kind of opportunity, one in his hometown of Chicago Heights.

With the city's parks district, DeButch serves as athletic director, coaching young Chicago Heights children in baseball and overseeing the city's other athletic programs, all in his hometown.

DeButch spoke with The Greatest 21 Days in his parks district office, an office that included some photos from his playing days and photos of his family.

Prominent in his family photos is his daughter, Aislinn DeButch, who has worked to make a name for herself as an actress. The 12-year-old has taken advantage of opportunities, appearing in commercials for Wal-Mart and McDonalds, as well as winning a role in the 2010 David Schwimmer drama "Trust."

In all, Mike DeButch spent nine seasons as a pro, starting at short-season Spokane, getting to AAA Tidewater and ending at AA London.

A young Mike DeButch shown on a pin in DeButch's Chicago Heights office.

Along the way, DeButch adjusted to the wood bat, spent a season struggling as a switch-hitter, and, finally saw a reoccurring back injury and illness contracted while coaching overseas in Taiwan finally signal the end of his career.

He also won a championship, in 1987 with the Wichita Pilots, posting a .291 average on the year. It was a win DeButch called probably the highlight of his career, up there with his call-up to AAA.

Born and raised in Chicago Heights, DeButch attended Bloom High School, down the road from where he now works. DeButch recalled always loving the game, playing since he was 4 years old.

Playing at Bloom, DeButch recalled playing well enough to get a tryout out of high school with Kansas City. While he didn't get signed, DeButch did hit a home run, showing surprising power for his size.

DeButch had always been small. He finally topped out at 5 feet, 10 inches by college, at Bradley University in Peoria. Despite his size, though, DeButch attended Bradley on a full scholarship.

"I was always smaller, so I always thought I got to work a little harder, because I not as big as the other guys," DeButch said.

The former Vonachen Stadium in Peoria, Ill., now the Bradley University soccer stadium. Mike DeButch played at Vonachen when it was home to Bradley's baseball team.

At Bradley, DeButch did well enough to get drafted after his junior year. When draft day came, though, DeButch wasn't sure if he would get drafted.

But he did get drafted, the Padres selected him in the eighth round.

"You get the call and you're all excited," DeButch said, "because it's something you've been doing all your life and you get the opportunity to actually get paid for something you'd do anyway."

Then DeButch had to decide whether to sign, or come back for his senior season at Bradley. The first offer came and DeButch turned it down.

It wasn't that he didn't want to turn pro. He just knew how the game worked.

"I knew some of the insiders," DeButch said. "They try to get you to go for that lesser amount, but they've got so much wiggle room."

Another offer came and DeButch signed.

Then he just had to adjust to the pro game.

Go to Part 2: Big Adjustments

Part 1: New Opportunities | Part 2: Big Adjustments | Part 3: Hardest Part

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