Monday, September 7, 2015

Greg Pirkl, New Position - 14

Originally published Sept. 18, 2011
Playing pitcher and first base in high school, Greg Pirkl's coach suggested a new position, catcher, The Los Angeles Times wrote.

Helping him learn his new position, The Times wrote, was the owner of a local sporting goods store named Sheldon Rocha.

"I wanted to become a better player and sometimes would get frustrated playing a new position," Pirkl told The Times in June 1988. "Whenever I got down, Sheldon kept me up. He was always there."

Pirkl learned his new position well enough to be taken in the second round of the draft that year by the Mariners. He also learned it well enough to play in parts of four major league seasons.

But, after a trip to Japan, Pirkl came back and attempted a return to one of his old positions, that of pitcher. The switch, though, didn't go as well as his earlier one to catcher.

Pirkl's career began that year in 1988, taken by the Mariners out of Los Alamitos High. He played that first year and the next at short-season Bellingham. He hit .240 his first year and .257 the second.

He hit high-A San Bernardino in 1990, staying in high-A for 1991. In 1990, Pirkl was also still just 19 years old. And he hit .295.

"He's ahead of most 19-year-olds in the country," San Bernardino manager Keith Bodie told The Times in June 1990. "It's not hard to project Greg Pirkl as a major league player, not hard at all."

In 1992, Pirkl made AA Jacksonville, then AAA Calgary. In 1993, he returned to Calgary, hitting .308, with 21 home runs. He also hit major league Seattle.

Pirkl debuted with Seattle in August, getting into seven games. He got four hits in 23 at bats. He also hit his first major league home run, doing that Aug. 14, in his second major league game.

"It was a 2-1 fastball," Pirkl told The Times afterwards of that home run. "I had a pretty good idea it was gone, but now that I was in the majors I wasn't sure of anything."

After that brief look at Seattle in 1993, Pirkl returned for another 19 games in 1994. He hit .264, with six home runs.

Though he was hitting well, the Mariners needed a pitcher and Pirkl was a position player, The Times wrote. Pirkl tried to keep his brief success that year in perspective.

"Yeah, I was hitting OK up there, but I don't think you prove yourself until you do it over an entire season," Pirkl told The Times. "Who knows what would have happened? I could have gone 0 for 50 or 50 for 50. It could have gone either way."

Pirkl, though, never got to prove himself over an entire season. His 19 games in 1994 were followed by just 10 more in 1995, then nine in 1996. Then his major league career was done.

His final two games came in August 1996, taken off waivers by the Red Sox. Then came talk started of moving Pirkl to pitching. The team realized Pirkl threw 94 mph in a bullpen session, The Hartford Courant wrote.

But Pirkl stayed hitting, and went to Japan for 1997 with the Daiei Hawks. Back stateside for 1998, Pirkl made the switch back to pitcher, signing with the Indians. He started at single-A Columbus, moving mid-year up to high-A Kinston.

Pirkl told The Charleston Post and Courier that June his experience had been great. The team respected him and he respected them.

"(Manager) Eric Wedge and the coaches have gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable," Pirkl told The Post and Courier. "Any time you have good people behind you, that's a big lift."

Pirkl, though, lasted just one more season, six outings in 1999 back at high-A Kinston, ending his attempt to switch positions and his professional career.

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