Column: Kelso's Jeff Bailey can't catch a break

2010-04-20T22:00:00Z 2011-02-10T17:19:56Z Column: Kelso's Jeff Bailey can't catch a breakColumn by Dave Grumbois / For The Daily News Longview Daily News

Jeff Bailey has answered just about every conceivable question a baseball player could answer.

Ability? Yup.

He just finished hitting .444 in spring training, leading his new team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, in that category. His defense at first base was flawless — he had a fielding percentage of 1.000, didn't have an error in 63 total chances and had a team-best range factor of 10.9.

He has been called up to the Major Leagues several times with the Boston Red Sox and won the Triple-A International League's MVP in 2008.

Respect? Oh yeah.

To hear his agent, Jim Lindell, tell it, Bailey will have a promising career as a coach or manager long after his playing days are gone. "It doesn't matter if it's teammates, the clubhouse staff, the coach or the general manager, he treats everyone with respect and gets respect in return," Lindell said.

Longevity? Let's see. The former Kelso High School star is going on 14 years, during which time he has played mostly minor league ball. But during those occasional cups of big-league java, the taste has been good.

There's his first Major League hit (a home run for the Boston Red Sox against the Detroit Tigers) and a World Series ring (his teammates voted Bailey a ring and a share of their postseason for his contributions to the team in 2007).

Loyalty? Bailey is a professional athlete who gives back to his community.

He donated his time last year to offer a clinic to some 100 youth baseball players at Lower Columbia College, with the proceeds from the event supporting the Lower Columbia Community Action Council (CAP).

Let's add this up. We've got a talented athlete who brings it every day of the season and, doggone it, people like him. And yet, Bailey is back in Triple-A baseball with the Reno Aces, an Arizona farm club.

Maybe there is one question left unanswered: Can Jeff Bailey get a freakin' break?

"The sad thing about it is that Jeff understands the business," Lindell said. "He's seen it for years and years and years. There are a handful of guys who are stuck in Triple-A, and Jeff is one of those guys right now."

For his part, Bailey tries to keep a stiff upper lip.

"I'm just waiting for something to break," he said. "Whether it's in the big leagues here or in Japan. Wherever, I don't plan on spending the whole year here. I'm playing as hard as I can play and doing whatever it takes until something breaks."

Something should. It has to. Soon.

Bailey, you see, is 31 years old. He makes decent money as a Triple-A player — he earns $13,500 a month. But that's down from the $21,000 per month he made last year with the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Problem is, a minor league season is just five months long. And at 31, Bailey doesn't have a lot of years left to pocket big-time money.

"I'm not embarrassed to say it — at this point in my career, it's about making money," Bailey said. "I'd rather say it than lie. I make a decent living, but when you're short on years, you'd like to make more while you still have a chance."

Bailey thought he had that chance this season with the Diamondbacks. Following the end of last season, he had a sit-down with the Red Sox brass. He had spent six years in the organization. But both parties agreed that if Bailey wanted to make the big leagues, he needed to look elsewhere.

"They tried to help me out," Bailey said. "They were honest with me. The GM, the manager, the minor league coordinator — they said they all wanted me back, but we think you're a big-league player and you need to go somewhere where you can make the team. If you don't, we'll sign you back. But we'd like to see you make a team somewhere. I talked to my agent and we said we'd try to make it. But it didn't work out that way."

Bailey signed with the Diamondbacks in December. But in January, Arizona added another first baseman to the mix when they signed Adam LaRoche to a one-year deal for $4.5 million.

It didn't matter that LaRoche hit .298 in the spring while Bailey made like Ted Williams. It didn't matter that he struck out 13 times to Bailey's seven. The Diamondbacks had made their determination.

"He's a proven big-leaguer and a left-handed hitter," Lindell said. "And if Adam takes a day off, they can bring Conor Jackson in from the outfield and fill his spot with a utility player."

That utility player would probably be Rusty Ryal, who finished last season on Arizona's 40-man roster. He appeared in 30 games, hitting .271.

What's the difference between Ryal and Bailey? There are two: Ryal is four years younger and has been with Arizona since being drafted out of Oklahoma State in 2005.

"There's no rhyme or reason to it," Bailey said. "The politics in baseball are as bad as they are in government. I don't try to figure it out any more, but it's frustrating. I'm this far along in my career, I'm waiting for an opportunity and that's why I have some bitterness."

In another cruel twist of irony, Jackson pulled a hamstring in Sunday's loss to Arizona and will spend the next 15 days on the disabled list. But don't think that means good news for Bailey. The Diamondbacks pulled Bailey's Reno teammate, pitcher Esmerling Vasquez, up to bolster a bullpen that has already blown six saves this season.

It's Monday. Just another day for one of Kelso's good guys. The Triple-A season is 11 games old. The Aces are 5-6 and Bailey is hitting .364, 40 points more than his nearest teammate. He is second on the team in home runs (two) and RBIs (six). The leaders have three and seven, respectively.

The Aces are playing Sacramento. The score is tied 2-2 in the top of the sixth inning. Bailey draws a walk, moves to third on a single by Brandon Allen and scores the go-ahead run on a double steal.

Bailey scores again in the eighth inning, reaching first on a fielder's choice and later scores on Allen's two-run homer. The Aces take a 5-2 lead and go on to win 5-3. The win leaves them two games back of the lead in the Pacific Coast League's South Division.

Go-ahead run. Insurance run. Team leader. Stat leader.

For the last time, can Jeff Bailey get a freakin' break?

Dave Grumbois is a freelance sportswriter for The Daily News. He can be reached at frontdoor@tdn.com.

Copyright 2014 Longview Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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