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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Interview: Joe Xavier missed first ML 'X,' then missed game

The sun setting behind the outfield wall at Bakersfield's Sam Lynn Ballpark in July 2012. Joe Xavier played at Sam Lynn in 1986 as a member of the visiting Modesto A's. (G21D Photo)

Joe Xavier autographed 1990 Denver Zephyrs cardIt was probably one of the biggest disappointments of his whole minor league career, Joe Xavier recalled.

Coming off a season at AA Huntsville where he led the organization in multiple offensive categories, Xavier didn't make the 40-man roster and he didn't even get an invite to big league spring training the next spring, he recalled.

But, once he got on the field, Xavier recalled, that disappointment faded.

"You forget about all that when the game starts," Xavier told The Greatest 21 Days recently, "because you're playing a game and that's what you want to do. So really, on the field, everything goes away."

While he didn't make the 40-man roster, or big league spring training, Xavier did make the Athletics' AAA club in Tacoma that year in 1988.

For Xavier, though, AAA would be as high as he would get.

Xavier met up with The Greatest 21 Days in late July with his wife Patti at a Starbucks in Fowler, Ca., near his hometown of Selma.
The Stockton Ports playing the Bakersfield Blaze at Sam Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield in July 2012. Joe Xavier played at Sam Lynn in 1986 with the Modesto A's. (G21D Photo)

Xavier went to high school in Selma and college just north of Selma, in Fresno. Out of Fresno, Xavier was taken by the Athletics in the 13th round of the 1985 draft.

Playing most of his first season in rookie ball, in Idaho, Xavier got a 6-game look at single-A Modesto that year. The next year, he returned to Modesto.

Xavier recalled liking the California League, but he never liked visiting the Fresno, then with a Cal League team. It wasn't that he didn't like seeing family and friends. But that wasn't what he was there for. He was there to play.

Part 1: First Love | Part 2: On the Field

"As far as baseball is concerned, I liked being away because there's no distractions, you're just playing baseball," Xavier recalled, adding a short time later, "You're getting pulled by so many people it takes away from you trying to concentrate and play the game.

"I couldn't wait come to Fresno and play," Xavier said, "and when I got there, I couldn't wait to leave."

Xavier hit .276 that year, moving to AA Huntsville the next season. It was at Huntsville, about halfway through the year, Xavier recalled, that that he started to believe he could play in the big leagues.

As Xavier progressed, others started to notice, namely Baseball America.

The closer Xavier got to the big leagues, the closer he also got to adding his unique name to the baseball record book, just by making it to the bigs. No one in baseball history to that point, or since, has had a last name that started with the letter "X."
Recreation Park in Visalia, Ca., in July 2012. Joe Xavier played at Recreation Park in 1986 as a member of the visiting Modesto A's. (G21D Photo)

Baseball America began following his progress, printing regular updates. Xavier said he thought the whole thing was a lot of fun. He'd always been interested in baseball history himself and he liked the idea of possibly being a part of it.

"I never felt any added pressure from that to make it," Xavier said, "but it was a good time."

As he progressed, though, Xavier never seemed to progress enough to break through. In 1988, at Tacoma, Xavier hit .282 in 87 games, without seeing Oakland.

Then he was traded to the Brewers. He went from an organization where he thought he might still get a shot as a big league utility player, to one that had a glut of infielders, infielders that Milwaukee was familiar with and had investments in.

With that glut, Xavier referred to the move to the Brewers system as the "kiss of death."

"I went from an organization where I felt like I had a chance to one where I had no chance," Xavier recalled.

Xavier hit .262 for AAA Denver that year in 84 games. He knocked in just 17. He returned to Denver to start 1990. He only stayed for 38 games.

Perhaps his frustrations showed in that year's team photo shoot, the one that made it onto his 1990 CMC card. Xavier, a left-handed hitter, recalled getting mad at that photographer for taking too long. Xavier's solution: Hold the bat like a right-hander. "I thought it was funny," Xavier said.

By mid-year, Xavier was in a new organization, with the Braves. He was also back at AA, at Greenville. Between Denver and Greenville, he hit .233.

Xavier recalled simply losing focus that year.

"I didn't have enough talent to lose focus," Xavier said. "When my focus was good, when it was baseball and I was concentrating on that, then everything was good. But I wasn't that type of talent to worry about this, worry about that and then go out and get two hits. I wasn't that good."

"I could compete when I did that, but once I lost that, really, I lost track of getting to the big leagues."
Joe Xavier and his wife Patti in Fowler, Ca., in July 2012. (G21D Photo)
After that, Xavier and his wife Patti went to Italy for a year, Xavier playing there. When they came back, Xavier had opportunities for a couple AAA clubs.

"I looked into a job here at home and we had a couple kids already, and it was good job with benefits all that," Xavier said, "and we decide 'we'll stay home.'"

Xavier, 49, still lives in Selma, with his wife Patti. The two will mark their 28th anniversary in December. They have three children, two off to college and one soon to be. Joey Xavier, 22, is at St. Catherine College in Kentucky, a first baseman/outfielder. Natalie, 21, is at Azuza Pacific, and Anthony, 17, is an a junior at Selma.

Xavier is also still at the same job he took, ending his playing career, driving for Pacific Gas and Electric.

As far as leaving the game to go back to regular life, Xavier said he doesn't miss the business side of the game. He also doesn't miss the travel, the bus trips or the plane rides.

"That part I never missed," Xavier said of the travel. "But I missed the game itself, and then the friends you make along the way that you play with. Those are two things that I've always missed."

Part 1: First Love | Part 2: On the Field

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