Former Piedmont catcher has had two stints in Triple A
Unlike football and basketball, where we often see college stars make an almost seamless transition to the NFL or NBA, most Major League Baseball players spend years in the minors polishing their craft.
Making it to the Big Leagues includes a minimum annual salary of $490,000 a year, according to mlb.com, and the average MLB salary for 2012 was just over $3.2 million.
Those numbers are in sharp contrast to the minors.
The most experienced players in minor league baseball cap out at $2,700 a month — and that's only for the six months they're in season. The pay drops to roughly $1,200 a month for rookies starting out at the lowest level.
The income is meager, but if a young man who has played baseball his whole life gets drafted, it's hard to turn down the minor league opportunity.
Three Union County baseball players who went on to stand out in college have been drafted in recent years, including Piedmont High graduates Dallas Tarleton and Rob Lyerly and Sun Valley's AJ Davidiuk.
Tarleton, who turns 26 on Aug. 5, is now in his fifth minor league season with a career batting average of .248. A right-handed catcher who bats from the left side, Tarleton has played four games with the Rockies' Triple A affiliate in Colorado Springs this season, and is currently with Double A Tulsa.
"There's a lot of ups and downs in minor league baseball," Tarleton told The Enquirer-Journal by telephone last Saturday. "You're in a different city every three or four days. You're riding in buses with your teammates. But it's been a blast. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. This isn't our final goal, but most guys embrace the experience."
Tarleton spent two seasons at Lenoir-Rhyne College and two more at Elon University before being drafted in the 20th round by the Colorado Rockies in 2009.
Lyerly, who played at Campbell University before transferring to UNC Charlotte, was taken in the sixth round by the New York Yankees and signed a $125,000 signing bonus in 2009.
He retired from baseball after four seasons in the minors with a .292 career average in 288 games.
An infielder who played the corners, Lyerly spent parts of two seasons at Double A Trenton but never reached Triple A.
Davidiuk, a shortstop/second baseman, was drafted in the 29th round by the San Diego Padres out of Furman University in 2006.
Davidiuk, who is now completing his studies to become a urologist, gave minor league baseball just one year before retiring as a competitive athlete at the age of 22.
He batted .243, mostly at the Rookie League level, and was fast-tracked up to the Triple A Portland club for his final two games. He was 0-for-5 in Portland.
Tarleton, who batted .300 in nine games at the Triple A level in 2012, says he hasn't thought much about retirement. The median age for Triple A baseball players is 26.
Tarleton gives lessons in the offseason, and might coach one day. He said he needs two more classes to earn his degree in economics from Elon, and plans to finish after his baseball career ends.
Tarleton went through the same process that so many Union County baseball players do, playing year round to get as many repetitions as possible.
He's impressed with the way high school baseball has exploded in Union County since he graduated in 2005.
Union County won two of the four state championships in 2013, including Weddington at the 3A level and his alma mater, Piedmont, in 2A.
He was a two-year varsity starter for Milt Flow, who won his first state title as a coach this season after 16 years in charge of the program.
"I'm happy for Flow," Tarleton said. "He's one of the hardest-working guys in high school baseball. I enjoyed my time there playing for him."
Even players who earn a scholarship in baseball have a less than 1 percent chance of making it to the Majors, but more than 1,000 prospects sign up to chase those long odds every year.
Tarleton's advice for young players is to focus on what you do well and polish it as much as you can.
"You have to find out what works for you and trust it," he said. "There's such a broad spectrum of what they're looking for. Different colleges look for different things and the pros are the same way. You have to find an organization that likes your style of play. You just have to keep running and try to find the right fit."
He recommends playing for the best travel team possible.
"When you play in a country-type setting, it does you good to get out and see a different level of baseball," he said. "At a smaller school you have a couple horses. You get out there in travel ball where they gather players from a larger area and you're playing with a lot more talent. You see better pitching and it makes you realize you have to work harder."