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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Interview Part 3 of 3: Mike DeButch, Hardest Part

Mike DeButch with a mural in the Chicago Heights Parks District gym. DeButch oversees several sports programs with the parks district, including basketball.

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

When Mike DeButch made it to AA and then AAA, the thinking always was that he would eventually make the majors.

As a player, he had to think that way.

"You always got to look at it that way," DeButch told The Greatest 21 Days recently. "You've always got to think there's a chance. You've always got to. Otherwise, it's time to walk away when you say 'OK, I've got no shot.'"

When he got called up to AAA that first time in 1989, DeButch still fully believed his major league shot was coming.

Injury and illness, though, would conspire to ensure that big league shot never came.

DeButch sat down with The Greatest 21 Days recently at his Chicago Heights office, where he has served as athletic director for the city's parks district for nearly two decades.

Getting called up to AAA, though, was a highlight of his career.

He earned that shot beginning in spring training. He'd had a good spring, but still got sent back to AA Jackson.

The box score from Mike DeButch's first spring training game. The box score sits on a shelf in DeButch's Chicago Heights office.

A box score from DeButch's first spring training game sits in his office, the Mets against the Orioles. "The first ground ball hit to me was by Cal Ripken," DeButch said. "I'll remember it forever."

Orioles shortstop Ripken went 0 for 3, according to the box score. The Mets' shortstop, DeButch, went 1 for 4.

After his good spring in 1989, and after an injury at the Mets' AAA club, the Mets remembered DeButch. They brought him to Tidwater. And he ended up staying.

"It was great," DeButch said of the move to AAA. "You're now flying to places. You're not taking 18-hour bus rides."

The players are also all good, DeButch recalled. They're also more mature, players who have been around longer. "You're knocking on the door, looking for your break at that point," DeButch said.

The Diamond in Richmond, Va., in 2011. Mike DeButch played at The Diamond as a member of the visiting Tidewater Tides in 1989 and 1990.

Major leaguers would also come down for rehab, DeButch recalled. One major leaguer he recalled was Gary Carter.

Carter figured into one of DeButch's memorable game moments. Carter played five games at Tidewater in 1989.

In one of them, DeButch, playing shortstop, made a good play, threw the runner out at first and tagged another runner trying for third. "Gary Carter was like a little kid, 'that was great,' giving me a high-five," DeButch recalled. "I remember that moment."

DeButch returned to Tidewater in 1990, playing in 82 games. He hit .239, but DeButch recalled there being talk he might get called up. Then, in Denver, he woke up and it was evident that something was wrong. It turned out he had a cracked vertebrae.

He missed the rest of the year. That off-season, though, DeButch was well enough to serve as a coach for a team in Taiwan. He tried to go someplace every off-season.

The team played in Taiwan and in mainland China. "It was a fascinating experience," DeButch said.

But he also contracted a blood disorder, likely from something he picked up at a roadside stand. The disorder lingered long enough for him to miss much of 1991. He'd signed with a new team, his hometown White Sox, but he only was able to get into two games at AAA Vancouver.

Then came his final year, in 1992. DeButch signed with the Tigers, and was sent back to AA, at London.

He played 95 games with London, hitting .267. But his back problems from two seasons earlier continued to flare up.

"You don't want to admit it," DeButch said. "But you know when it's time.

"The hardest part is, you walk away from the game and you lose that identity as a baseball guy, a baseball player."

"But, you know what?" DeButch added, "I adapted. I started here and I enjoy what I do. I'm working with kids. I enjoy that a lot."

DeButch started with the parks district the year after he left the game. The baseball program was struggling and DeButch was asked to come back and help. He was soon offered the job that he still has, athletic director.

A framed still photo up in Mike DeButch's office. The still photo is of DeButch's daughter Aislinn DeButch, from a McDonald's Happy Meal commercial.

In that time, DeButch also got married, to his wife Michelle. They've been married a good 14 years and have one daughter, 12-year-old Aislinn DeButch.

Aislinn hasn't been interested much in sports, but she has been interested in acting. Always animated, the DeButches took Aislinn to a casting call in Chicago once and that turned into work in commercials and even a movie role.

Aislinn has appeared in commercials for Wal-Mart and McDonald's. She also appeared in the 2010 movie "Trust." She's even written a book on KidPub Press, The Things You Don't See.

"We're very proud of her," the father said.

At the parks district, Mike DeButch oversees the district's sports programs, baseball, basketball, soccer and others. He also works on the business side.

The Chicago Heights Parks District headquarters.

He also coaches with the baseball program, helping the kids have fun playing the game he once played.

"Here, we try to stress that winning isn't everything," DeButch said. "It's about playing, learning and developing, where other organizations, winning is the only thing that matters.

"It's a tough thing to compel a 7-year-old that 'you've got to win at all cost,'" DeButch said. "Enjoy the game, have fun and they'll continue. That's the kind of approach we take here."

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

1 comment:

  1. Loved watching Mike play at Met park in Norfolk. He threw a frozen rope and played as hard as anyone could. My wife and I even ahd dinner with Mike. He was a quiet and focused ball player.
    DeMand DeBest DeButch.