Perserverance has never been a problem for Blake Gailen.
The Chico Outlaws (Golden) outfielder’s career has seen him travel all around the country, through three different independent leagues in less than three years, in hopes of attracting the attention of an affiliated team. And just when he was putting together the kind of season that couldn’t be ignored, he literally ran into a wall.
In a late June game against Edmonton, Cliff Brumbaugh hit a fly ball to deep center field, over the head of Gailen, who was playing center field for Chico. Gailen took off and caught up to the ball at the wall, robbing Brumbaugh of extra bases. He held on to the ball through the collision with the fence, then threw the ball back in. At the time, it just looked like a great play.
But a couple of innings later, Gailen found that he couldn’t focus his eyes. Eventually he had to leave the game. The team sent him to the hospital, where doctors diagnosed a concussion. Gailen’s head had not hit the wall, but the whiplash effect had given him a concussion anyway.
At the time, the doctors told Gailen that he needed to sit out a week. That quickly turned into two weeks. He started to feel better and came back for two games but the symptoms returned. In early August he was still waiting for the all clear to return to the field.
“It’s been a brand new expeirence. I don’t think I’ve ever missed a game because of an injury before. I feel incredibly helpless and frustrated because I can’t play,” he said.
At the time of his injury, Gailen was hitting .426/.507/.680. For the 25-year-old Gailen, the concussion has derailed what was shaping up to be a dream season in a career that has covered the country. Gailen had a solid career at Nevada-Las Vegas but went undrafted as a college senior, partly because he’s short and doesn’t have the power to profile as a corner outfielder.
So Gailen signed with the South Coast League’s Anderson Joes. He hit .365/.455/.521 but found himself out of a job when the league folded at the end of the 2007 season. He jumped to the American Association’s Wichita Wingnuts and played a season there, but when the new manager told him he would likely be a fourth outfielder behind three veterans in 2009, Gailen asked for a trade.
He got his wish and was sent to Yuma. That job quickly disappeared when the Golden League turned the squad into a Colombian development team the week before the season. Gailen was shipped to Chico—his fourth team in a year and a half. (He also played in the now-defunct Florida Winter Basebal League and the Arizona Winter League, where he won the batting title).
In Chico, Gailen has finally found a landing spot. He hit .355/.447/.484 for the Outlaws last year and was named to the Baseball America’s Independent League All-Star team. But his production didn’t attract the attention of scouts because the concerns about his profile remained. As a short outfielder without much power, he doesn’t fit what teams are looking for in a left or right fielder.
Gailen heard the criticism and decided he would do something about it. He asked to play center field this year, then spent the offseason working on getting faster (and stronger). “I know it’s my best option to get out of there. I told (Chico manager) Garry (Templeton) I need to play center field,” Gailen said. “That’s how he saw me too. He wanted me to play center field.”
Gailen’s work in center field has been solid this year. He’s not a speedster (he’s a 6.8-second runner in a 60-yard dash, though he’s faster than that from home to first), but he gets good jumps and positions himself and the other outfielders to take advantage of hitters’ tendencies. Being a center fielder also helps his profile as a top-of-the-order hitter, although he has shown improved power this year as well.
Add it all up, and Gailen is making a case to follow in former Chico outfielder Daniel Nava’s footsteps. But for now he just has to wait to get back onto the field.
• The Pensacola Pelicans finished the first half of their season in third place in the American Association’s Southern Division 91â"2 games out of first place. But they’re doing a good job of having a different finish in the second half. After winning the final two games of the first half, the Pelicans rolled off 13 consecutive wins to begin the second half before finally losing to Shreveport-Bossier on July 20. The 15 straight wins is an American Association record and gave the Pelicans a comfortable six-game lead in the division just 14 games into the second half.
• The Lake County Fielders (Northern) have been welcomed home. The Fielders’ new stadium will not be fully completed until the 2011 season, but even the temporary home was not ready until early July. The team played its first game there on July 2 in front of more than 6,000 fans. In late July the team had received approval to use temporary lights to allow the team to play night games for the first time.
• There are so many players signed out of the Atlantic League that it’s hard to keep track, but keep an eye on recent Phillies signee Derrick Loop. The lefthander had a successful career with the Red Sox after being signed out of the Golden League, eventually reaching Triple-A. But he failed to stick with the Padres after signing with them as a six-year free agent so he went back to indy ball. Loop was an all-star for Camden this season, going 0-1, 1.72 in 31 innings. The lefty features a 90-92 mph fastball that he pairs with an excellent cutter.