published Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Wiedmer: Fabry plays for the love of the game

"You got Triple-A, Double-A, Single-A ... then you get down to independent ball ... then you get down to the Pecos League ... where you get paid a dollar-nineteen ..."

That was Fox Sports One's teaser for its recent six-part reality show on the Pecos League, reportedly the lowest of the lows when it comes to somewhat professional baseball.

"I made $47 a week," said 27-year-old Jacob Fabry, a Red Bank High School and 2009 East Tennessee State graduate prominently featured on the show. "And it cost me about $70 to fill up my [Chevrolet] Tahoe. If it weren't for my parents, I couldn't do this."

Said his father, Marvin, a BlueCross employee for 29 years: "I just wanted him to have a chance to chase his dream. It's been a lot of fun. And we've picked up a lot of 'Pecos League' fans at BlueCross."

Fabry is no longer chasing his dreams with the Trinidad (Colo.) Triggers, for whom he played in both 2012 and 2013, when he became the team's captain.

"That's one reason I needed so much gas for my Tahoe," said Fabry, who's currently batting .327 for the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings of the United Baseball League. "If you watched the show you know we traveled to road games in a school bus with no air conditioning that was probably built in the 1950s. I don't think it ever got above 45 miles per hour. Sometimes I just had to take my own car. I needed the air conditioning."

He also knows he needs to be discovered soon by a big-league team. This is Fabry's fifth season toiling in baseball's outback after batting .316 with 28 RBIs and 24 stolen bases during his final year at ETSU. Though his pay had more than quadrupled with the WhiteWings -- "I now make $500 every two weeks," he said -- he's already experienced the dark side of hitting his mid-20s without so much as a single night spent on a Class A roster.

In one of the more gripping moments in the somewhat campy Pecos series, Fabry is caught on camera recalling a major league scout's sincere interest in his talent. Then the scout asked his age. When Fabry told him he was 25, the scout turned and walked away without so much as a goodbye.

Said Fabry on camera during the show: "You still have that spark in your heart. To have someone tell you you're too old, that breaks it."

Thursday, his parents having come to Harlingen, Texas, for a weeklong visit, young Fabry added: "I'm a realist. If I don't move up [to a higher league] after this season, this is probably it. But I've also had some good contacts with the [Baltimore] Orioles, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed."

And the WhiteWings would seem a good starting point. The team's been around for 20 years. Unlike Trinidad -- a tumbleweed town of 6,000 with such water-shortage problems that Marvin Fabry joked, "They told Jacob he needed to try to limit showers to 30 seconds; he's used to 30 minutes at home" -- Harlingen has more than 66,000 residents and averages around 2,000 fans a game.

On one episode of "Pecos," one of the players was seen counting all the fans in the stands. He stopped at 36.

Yet some of the stories are similar. During a recent WhiteWings home game a bucket was passed around to raise a little bonus money for the team's pitcher, who had thrown a fine game.

"He got $35, which isn't bad," Fabry said. "But that same night they passed around a bucket for the mascot, which is basically a duck in a baseball uniform. The mascot made about $200."

And despite the occasional touching moments in "Pecos League" -- such as when a bat boy cries after one player is released -- its overall tone was far more "Bull Durham and "Major League" than "The Natural" and "Field of Dreams."

Merely consider that Triggers manager J.D. Droddy flew 44 combat missions in Vietnam, earned a law degree from Harvard and has written three plays that have been performed on stage. The team's radio color commentator was a convicted felon whose first allowed trip out of state in 10 years was for the league All-Star game in New Mexico, in which Fabry starred. The team's weekly television show was produced in the basement of a funeral parlor, where the hosts often pleaded with the players not to curse so much.

As Triggers pitcher John Sullivan observed during one episode: "You can put up great stats and still wind up getting traded for a bucket of balls."

Added Fabry with a chuckle: "There was a lot of material to work with, that's for sure."

Yet at its best, whether it's your kid's T-ball team, the major leagues or the Triggers, baseball is also about fellowship, teamwork, camaraderie.

Whatever else Fabry thought of his two summers in hot, dry Trinidad before moving to hotter, dryer south Texas, the friendships formed on the Triggers while being shadowed by Fox One's cameras remain strong.

"This is my fifth year doing this," he said. "And on all the other teams I've played on -- winter ball, summer ball, doesn't matter -- you're lucky to hear from one or two guys. But not the Triggers. I probably hear from three-quarters of the guys multiple times a week through a phone call or social media. Those guys are like my brothers."

What the television show hasn't done is bring a lot of attention from the opposite sex, as often happens in these situations.

"I've actually probably had responses be 80-20 males," Fabry said. "But that's probably been a good thing. I don't need those distractions right now."

Some would say he needs a break, if not from the Orioles, then someone, anyone with a direct tie to the major leagues. Otherwise, he may be back in the Scenic City trying to find a way to help Signal Mountain High School baseball coach Bumper Reese full time rather than in his spare time, an abrupt end to a long and winding semi-career.

But Fabry doesn't see it that way.

"For most of my life, the stars have aligned for me to play baseball," he said. "And I'm still pouring my heart into it every day. I'm not going down without a fight. But I've also always believed that when it's time to quit, I'll know. And I kind of have that peace now."

You can almost see Fabry's Tahoe riding into the sunset as he speaks. Or maybe it's a sunrise, semi-pro baseball's loss about to become high school baseball's gain.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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