By: Christian J. Stewart
Canadian Baseball Network
Peoria, AZ (ISN) - Depending on which route you take, it is approximately 3,500 kilometres from Victoria, British Columbia to Wrigley Field in Chicago, the home of Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs.
For Victoria native Jesse Hodges, that route may end up being a little longer, depending on his progress through the Cubs minor-league system and which rungs of the ladder he has to climb to someday step on to the infield of the iconic ballpark on Chicago's north side.
So far, so good for the almost 22-year old, former Victoria Mariner and Lambrick Park Secondary School graduate.
Undrafted, but signed by the Cubs in 2012 after a stellar performance with the World Cup silver medal winning Canadian Junior National team in Korea, Hodges has enjoyed a steady climb up the Cubs minor-league ladder and in the process, has put a few extra kilometres in his travel logs.
He began his professional baseball career in the Arizona Rookie League in 2013 and progressed north from there to the Cubs "short-season" A affiliate Boise Hawks in 2014. His 2015 season took him to the mid-west, nearly across the country, to South Bend, Indiana, where he enjoyed the challenge playing with the "full-season" or "Low A" South Bend Cubs.
After an admittedly avearge year in South Bend, Hodges, a third baseman, finds himself at spring training in Mesa this year pencilled in on the roster of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Cubs "High A" affiliate in South Carolina, meaning that so far in his career, Hodges has climbed a rung of the minor league ladder in each year that he has played, with just the AA Tennessee Smokies and AAA Iowa Cubs remaining between Hodges and that shot at stepping on to the field at Wrigley.
To his credit, Hodges knows that he has to keep working hard, not only to make sure he stays at Myrtle Beach this spring, but so that he puts himself in the best position to climb those additional rungs, or possibly even skip a few on his way up.
"Life is great and I can't complain," said Hodges when this author caught up with him for a chat last Saturday between a pre-game workout and a minor league game with the Colorado Rockies. "Playing baseball everyday for a living is a blessing, but it's also my job, so I go out there and put in my work, day-in and day-out, trying to get better. Once spring training ends I'll look at the board and see where I'm going.
The goal is to move up each year and I've been lucky enough to do that with the Cubs, but you just want to go where you can play every day and whether that's Myrtle Beach or South Bend, if they put me in the lineup every day I can't complain."
Complaining is something Hodges has had to do very little of, as he has enjoyed success at every level of baseball he has played, winning a BC Provincial Championship with the Victoria Rebels as a 9-year-old in 2004, winning a silver with a Victoria team at the 2006 Pee Wee Nationals, gold with the Victoria Vipers at the 2008 Bantam Nationals, a Provincial Championship with the Victoria Mariners in 2010 and the World Cup silver with the National Junior squad in 2012 to name just a few.
He also took time away from South Bend last season to play in the Pan-Am games with Team Canada, where he won a gold medal when Canada upset the Americans in dramatic fashion in the final. "What an experience that was," said Hodges. "Not only winning the gold which was awesome, but just to be around the Canadian veterans and learn from them. Guys like Pete Orr, what a class act he is and I got to watch him every day."
Hodges progress to date in 2016 spring training is good and in last Saturday's workout, he was pretty much the only third baseman on the field working on drills, which, on the surface, seems to bode well for his chances of staying with the Pelicans.
"I try not to read too much into that," said Hodges. "You can get into trouble when you start doing the math and try to figure out whose going where, or whose going to play what position. It's nice to be out there on my own because I get a lot of work in, which is great, but I don't think it means much. I try not to pay attention to it and just work on what I need to do defensively."
Hodges, as of last Saturday, had also made three appearances with the big league club during spring training and while Sloan Park in Mesa is not exactly Wrigley Field, it has given him a taste of what that would be like.
"I've been fortunate that I've been able to get into all three games that I was called up for," noted Hodges "and last night I came in during the sixth inning, reached on an error in the eighth and ended up scoring our first run of the game which was pretty cool."
He was also 1-for-3 with a triple in the first Class-A spring training game that he played last Thursday.
To continue his baseball success with the Cubs, Hodges understands, like any player in his position and at his level, that hitting is an important part of the game. "A lot of people look at your batting average and put a ton of weight on that, but actual average is just one component of hitting these days," said Hodges. "As a third baseman, while average can be important, it's perhaps more important that I have a good slugging percentage, have solid RBI numbers and a good on base percentage.
If I can do that offensively and play good defence on the corner as well, then I will only give myself the opportunity to get better and advance each year."
Part of that too, is managing and dealing with the highs and lows of the game - highs, like three home runs in three straight at bats in Boise, or lows like going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.
"Baseball is a game of up and downs and when the ups happen, you enjoy them, but when the downs happen, you just have to keep your head up and act like nothing is going on. You can't think too much about the "O-fers" (the 0-for-4 days) or they start weighing on you. You just move on and start the next game 0-for-0 and keep plugging away and see how it goes."
Hodges is grateful to his family and friends for all the support he has received thus far in his career and offers high praise to the Cubs organization, one he is extremely proud to be a part of. "I can't say enough about the Cubs, they are one high-class organization. They want the best for every player, no matter where they come from, or what position they play. The coaching and training staff, including mental training, is top of the line, the facilities are fantastic, and they treat us very well."
In closing, asked where he would like to be in five years, Hodges gave an answer one would expect from someone in his position, but was also somewhat philosophical about it, "In five years? Man in this lifestyle I don't even know what's going to be happening tomorrow," Hodges said jokingly. "You can't think about the future too much in this game. When I was younger I used to all the time, but as I've gotten older and as I better understand the game, I've learned to take it day by day. But of course I'd like to be in the big leagues, who wouldn't say that!"