Diamond in the rough

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

As cups of coffee in the big leagues of baseball go, 23 games in the span of 11 professional seasons barely rates as a sip.

And, if you want to talk about long shots and career minorleaguers, the die is certainly cast when you're the 1,058th player selected in your draft year.

That's sort of like being picked just after the guy who gets to cut the infield grass and just before the team mascot.

But that's been the baseball road travelled by Richard Keith "Stubby" Clapp.

And it's a journey the little infielder from Windsor has made without apology since he left the Texas Tech Red Raiders in 1996 with a $1,000 signing bonus and a plane ticket in his pocket.

It's a road that's winding to an end as Clapp contemplates the end of his playing days, a real job and real life.

"(The bonus) was more like $700 by the time Uncle Sam took something," laughs Clapp. "It's been like a rollercoaster. There's been a lot of ups and downs and, like a roller-coaster, the peaks were short. It's been fun."

After spending 2006 as a playing coach with the Edmonton Cracker-Cats of the Northern League, Clapp is considering retirement and fulltime work in a family clothing business at home in Savannah, Tenn.

Married and the father of a three-year-old son with another child on the way in April, Clapp has given more than he's taken from baseball.

Another season?

"I'm undecided,"said Clapp. "It's not a physical thing. It's being away from my family with a new baby on the way. We own a business here and it's a stone's throw from the house.

"There are so many more things that are more important to me. I don't want to be missing everything here." Clapp, still only 33, could play for another season or two after putting up some impressive numbers with Edmonton. He still might stick around with Canada's national team.

He has represented Canada internationally at every opportunity, including the 1999 Pan-Am Games and 2004 Olympics, since first donning the Maple Leaf in 1991.

That, more than his 15 minutes of fame with the Cardinals in 2001, is what he's proudest of.

"I get a lot more satisfaction out of my international career than my big-league career," said Clapp, who got his first taste of international play as the bat boy for Team U.S. at the World Championship in Windsor. "I think that's when my dream came alive.

"When I came up playing baseball as a child, I was more interested in playing for my national team. I really had no dreams or aspirations about the big leagues until my second year of Triple-A.

"As a child, I'd watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and see all the people walking in w ith their country across their chest. You could just see the pride."

People will tell you Clapp, a slap-hitter with more try than talent, played every game for short pay in the low minors with Edmonton last season the same way he did as a rookie out of Texas.

"He rubbed a certain something into his elbow just so he could play last year and he always had ice bags on both legs," said Edmonton Cracker- Cats assistant GM Al Coates. "He's one of those old-time tough ball players.

"Stubby slugged a guy so hard during a fight in Winnipeg two years ago his hand was out of commission for about a week. He's like a hockey player with baseball cleats on."

While 23 games in The Show doesn't sound like much, Clapp defied the odds even playing one.

"Once I started playing pro, I always took it one step at a time to get to the next level," he said. "I was always pushed behind people, put aside and made to play other positions.

"Family wise, I had unconditional support and that's what helped me get through the minor leagues."

If this is it, Clapp, to understate, has accomplished more than anybody thought he could when the Cardinals drafted him as an afterthought.

"I enjoyed the competition and I enjoyed the time in the limelight," Clapp said. "I just sat back and played my role as a rookie and tried to enjoy every minute I had up there.

"I proved a lot of people wrong. I think that's where I get my satisfaction. There was a lot of people, a lot of scouts, who told me I would never, ever make it to the big leagues."


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