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Monday, December 12, 2011

Interview Part 1 of 3: Paul Noce, The Deal

Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Mass., in August 2011. It was at Wahconah Park in 1986, as a member of the AA Pittsfield Cubs, that Paul Noce revived his career.

Part 1: The Deal | Part 2: Most Exciting 
Part 3: Right There | Part 4: Card Story

HILLSDALE, MI - The Cubs needed a shortstop and Paul Noce was the guy they believed could fill in.

Problem was, they needed the shortstop at AA Pittsfield, not major league Chicago. With a season already behind him at AAA, Noce was, perhaps understandably, reluctant to go.

With the offer from the Cubs' farm director, though, came the promise of regular playing time, something he wasn't getting at Iowa.

"I said, 'here's the deal,'" Noce recalled to The Greatest 21 Days recently of his conversation with then-Cubs farm director Jim Snyder, " 'I'm playing every day. I play every day, regardless. That's the deal, or I'm not going.' "

The decision wasn't a light one. Noce was in his sixth professional season. Time was passing and he wasn't in the majors. "I said, 'this will be my last shot,' " Noce recalled telling himself, "to see if I can ever make it to the big leagues."

Noce went down to AA, played every day, and had a career year. He hit .307 with 56 RBIs and 32 stolen bases.

The next year, Noce was in the majors.

Noce sat down with The Greatest 21 Days recently at a Wendy's near his home in Michigan. Noce has spent much of the last two decades as a coach in college, at Hillsdale College in southern Michigan.

Paul Noce with the single-A Miami Marlins in 1983, a photo from Noce's personal collection.

Before that coaching career came a playing career that spanned 11 seasons, a career where Noce saw time in 71 major league games, 70 of those coming with the Cubs in 1987, the year after Pittsfield.

That year, Noce got his first major league hit and his first major league home run. He ended up with 41 total hits that year and three home runs.

His 71st and final game didn't come until three seasons later, with the Reds in 1990. In his only at bat, Noce got his final major league hit.

Noce's overall career in the game has spanned more than three decades. It's a career that began in California, growing up in a baseball family, son of a college coach.

Noce's father, John Noce, spent three decades himself as coach at San Mateo Junior College, ultimately becoming the winningest junior college coach in California. Before that, John Noce spent time as a player in the California League.

A team photo of the 1983 single-A Miami Marlins. Noce, center, split time that year between Miami and single-A Reno.

John Noce also coached in the Olympics, for Italy. Paul Noce followed his father there after his junior year in high school, playing baseball there.

"It's all we did," Noce said. "I have four brothers, almost all of them played. It's kind of what I always wanted to do and I was fortunate enough to do it, for a little bit. And I'm still fortunate enough now."

Noce played well enough in high school to be taken in the draft, in the 25th round by the Padres. But an offer of $500 a month sent Noce off to Washington State on scholarship.

Noce said he figured he got drafted once, he'd get drafted again. "I might as well go play and see if I get drafted higher," he said.

Noce did get drafted higher, after his junior year in 1981. He was again taken by the Padres, this time in the 14th round. This time, he signed.

An old newspaper photo of former Reno Padre Paul Noce, from Noce's collection. Noce played at single-A Reno for parts of four seasons.

Sent to short-season Walla Walla, Noce rapidly moved up to single-A Reno. He actually only spent a day at Walla Walla. An injury at Reno prompted Noce's move up.

Noce's stay at Reno, though, would be much longer, parts of three seasons.

Noce hit .269 his first year, .226 his second and .289 his third. His second year, he split time between Reno and single-A Salem. In his third, he split time between Reno and single-A Miami.

In his fourth season, Noce started again at Reno.

"I didn't really know what to think," Noce said of his stall at Reno. "I knew I was putting up decent numbers and I'm not moving."

The prospects were moving, though, Noce noticed. But he also recognized that was what happened with prospects. Noce wasn't a prospect.

"I always had to work extra hard," Noce said, "get some breaks. And I got a break."

That break came with getting noticed by a scout for the Cubs. (Go to Part 2)

Go to Part 2: Paul Noce, Most Exciting

Part 1: The Deal | Part 2: Most Exciting 
Part 3: Right There | Part 4: Card Story

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