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Walraven in the Midst of Stellar Rookie Campaign

07/11/2019 2:06 PM -

CONTACT: Max Thoma

ROSEMONT, ILL. - Tom Walraven signed his first professional baseball contract with the Gary SouthShore RailCats on Oct. 30, 2018. But right after signing, he became conscious of the fact that come the spring there was no assurance he’d be on the opening day roster.

“It was awesome, it’s something I’d been working towards for a long time,” Walraven said. “However it was bittersweet because I knew nothing was guaranteed, I was going to have to work hard to stay here. But it was a step in the right direction.”

Work hard; he did. Stay here; he did. Step in the right direction? I’ll say.

Walraven not only made the opening day roster but has thrived at the plate all season long. Entering today’s action, the 24 year old leads the team with a .303 batting average and a .406 OBP. He even leads the team with 30 singles. Walraven hasn’t just proven he can compete at this level; he’s blossomed into a real threat offensively and people are well aware.

“Other teams are taking notice,” said RailCats manager Greg Tagert. “I know they are. He’s a player that people will come up and ask me, ‘hey where’d you get this Walraven guy at?’ So it’s not like he’s flying under the radar anymore.”

And he shouldn’t be. From May 22, just one week into the season, all the way up until last Sunday, June 6, the rookie reached base safely in every game he played. 29 straigt. His OBP hasn’t dipped below .400 since May 30 and at many points in June his OBP led the league, peaking at .463 on June 3. He’s drawn just about as many walks (20) this year as he has strikeouts (22), and he’ll be the first to tell you reaching base for him is a priority, but never once was he thinking about continuing his streak.

“No, no, no,” was Tom’s response when asked if he thought about his streak during his trips up to the plate. “First and foremost, I’m trying to get on-base to help us win games. That’s the only thing I’m thinking of.”

This team-first mentality is one that Walraven picked up living in a household full of ballplayers. In fact, among his siblings, Tom is the only one who didn’t play at the Division I level. Tom’s siblings, who are six and seven years older than him, consist of Michael, who played baseball at Iona and Hofstra, and his twin sisters Andrianna and Kristina, who played at Albany and Manhattan respectively. Baseball represented a big part of his childhood, but it didn’t just stop with his brothers and sisters.

Walraven’s father, also named Tom, was his high school baseball coach at Pine Bush High School in New York. His dad coached the baseball team for 32 years. The RailCats utility infielder stressed that his dad was always there any time he wanted to take grounders or hit some balls in the cage, and while it wasn’t always easy, it was certainly an enjoyable experience playing for him.

“It was tough,” Walraven said. “But it was also a lot of fun. He taught me a whole lot of things and it was really great to go to the field every day with my day and to do something that I love, and that he loves, and to do it together.”

The 5-foot-9-inch kid from Pine Bush, N.Y., said his dad never made him or anyone of his siblings play baseball or softball, it just happened to be a game they grew up around a lot and all enjoyed. In fact, when Walraven was 13 he said he thought about not playing baseball and skipping the season. His dad didn’t pressure him and told him that whatever he wanted to do was just fine by him.

Walraven played that season. And he’s played every season since.

Now in the middle of his first year in the American Association, the rookie is making waves and you can’t help but wonder what may lie ahead. He was the RailCats player of the month in June and with the All-Star game approaching his name is definitely one to look out for when the lineups are announced. After today’s ballgame against the Chicago Dogs, Gary will be exactly halfway through this 100-game season and you can’t help but wonder if Walraven can maintain this success and be right there at the end of the season on the short list of those deserving the Rookie of the Year crown.

As Tagert put it, “With Tommy’s unique versatility and bat, to play in our league and do what he’s done… in the most challenging of circumstances, if there’s a better rookie playing in this league I’d be hard pressed to look around the league and find one.”

Much of what we try to accomplish in life requires consistency; baseball is certainly no exception. With such a lengthy and grueling schedule, especially for the RailCats who after today will have played 20 of their last 23 games on the road, the trick is not getting too high or too low and focusing on what has gotten you to this point.

For Walraven that starts with keeping his approach the same at the plate. “He does a really good job mentally understanding what his plan is night in and night out,” said assistant coach Lee Fischer, who’s primarily working with hitters this season. “[Walraven] understands the zone very very well and doesn’t get outside of that. The key for his continued success is sticking to that game plan and staying strong to who he is.”

Grinding through the upwards of 18-hour bus rides and two 10-game road trips in the span of 23 games can take its toll. But for a man who had to scratch and claw to make the 23-man roster, who before spring training was a substitute teacher in New Haven, Conn., his mindset is simple. It comes down to three words he always uses to describe how he’s gotten to Gary, and how he’ll dictate where he ends up next.

“Win the day.”

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