All last season, my friend Jessica sent me updates about a Chicago Cubs prospect named Sam Fuld.
Sam ran into a wall chasing a pop fly, she wrote. Sam threw out two runners. Sam may never escape the minors because the Cubs want outfielders with power, not speed or defensive prowess.
From my vantage point in St. Petersburg, Jessica's fervor seemed misplaced. Scrappy fielders with economics degrees from Stanford are for connoisseurs, not big-league managers.
Then an off-season trade brought Fuld to the Tampa Bay Rays. Now, like Jessica, I am smitten.
Box scores don't do him justice. Take Game 2 of the recent series in Chicago. The box score says Sam went hitless in four at-bats. But here's what I saw:
Third inning: Paul Konerko drills a one-hopper off the leftfield wall. Fuld's quick-release toss to second base holds him to a single.
Seventh inning: Fuld draws a walk that loads the bases and knocks the White Sox starter out of the game.
Eighth inning: Konerko tries to stretch a long drive into a double, but Fuld tosses him out.
Ninth inning: With the Rays down 7-4, Fuld legs out a roller to shortstop, whose rushed throw bounces past first base. Teammate Elliot Johnson scores, Fuld lands on second and later scores. The Rays rally to win 9-7.
A day later, Fuld earned instant celebrity for a play White Sox backstop A.J. Pierzynski called "one of the best catches I've ever seen." There were two outs and the bases loaded when batter Juan Pierre launched a drive into the rightfield corner. Fuld sprinted to his left, took a horizontal leap, and caught the ball backhanded before skidding onto his belly.
And just Monday, he made another diving catch and got four extra-base hits in a win over Boston.
In 2008, Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler captured Fuld's reckless grit. A wall magnet, Keeler called him. A crash-test dummy in a prior life.
Fuld may be a rough in the diamond, but there's another reason Jessica and I are rooting for him. Of the 750 ballplayers who made opening-day rosters this season, he was one of just nine Jews.
I don't know where Sam's celebrating Passover. But like some modern-day Moses, I'm pretty sure he would split the Red Sea to catch a pop fly.
Scott Barancik, editor of JewishBaseballNews.com