Remembering 2014: Chad Tracy Profile
The off-season is upon us, but we have plenty of content to keep you occupied here at BlogToBlogChamps. Each Monday, we’ll publish a feature from the 2014 York Revolutionary Times, the official game day magazine of the York Revolution, for you to re-enjoy, or read for the first time in case you missed it at the ballpark. This week, we look back on Ron Gardner’s conversation with Chad Tracy, and his growing up in pro baseball during his father Jim’s long managerial career. Tracy, who retired as a player after the season, is now following in his father’s footsteps, having agreed to manage the Angels Class A Midwest League affiliate in Burlington, Iowa this coming season.
By Ron Gardner
It’s probably not uncommon for kids to visit where their mom or dad work and then grow up hoping that some day, they would get to follow their parent in that very same business. It’s exactly what happened to Revolution first baseman Chad Tracy.
As far back as he can remember, back to when he was eight years old or so, Tracy got to go to work many times with his dad after school was out for the summer, always dragging a wiffle ball bat behind him. When there was time, his dad would take Tracy out in the grass, tossing a few pitches for his enthusiastic son to take a few swings at … again, pretty much the norm for dads and sons in backyards everywhere.
That is, unless the grass is in the outfield at a bunch of minor league ballparks and your dad, Jim Tracy (who would later go on to manage a total of 11 seasons in the Major Leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Colorado Rockies), is the team’s manager. That’s way more than a bit unusual, maybe even bordering on super-cool.
“My memories are as far back as ‘93 when he was in Double-A (with the Harrisburg Senators) and they won the Eastern League that year,” Tracy said. “Ever since I can remember I was in a clubhouse with Dad, running around and getting dunked in laundry bins as a young kid and all kinds of stuff.”
Now 29 years old and with nine seasons of professional baseball under his belt, Tracy, along with brothers Brian (now 31) and Mark (now 27), couldn’t wait to spend each summer learning the “family business” by hanging out with their dad and his players in minor league and then Major League clubhouses. The Tracy boys even went so far as to willingly turn down their own opportunities to play on post-season Little League all-star teams so they could get to see their dad (and his team) that much sooner.
“At a young age, being put into a locker room and getting to put the uniform on and hanging out in the dugout and watch a game, you can just imagine as a young kid, your eyes are like flying saucers watching, like this is really cool,” Tracy said. “I think it was destined. To be that young and watching that – it was like ‘this is what I want to do.’”
Baseball has been in the Tracy family’s blood for three generations now. Tracy’s grandfather (Jim Tracy, Sr.) pitched three years in the minor leagues from 1948 to 1951. Before Tracy’s father got started on what would turn into a more than three-decade tenure as a coach and manager, he all-too-briefly made it to the Majors as a player with the Chicago Cubs in 1980-81, seeing action in 87 games and posting a .238 career batting average, with three home runs and 14 RBI. But despite all this family history, his parents made it clear that baseball was one of many options in life that Tracy and his brothers could choose for themselves.
“What was cool about it, (and) dad’s been around baseball his whole life, but my mom and dad didn’t force baseball on us (saying) ‘hey this is, you know, the family business,’” Tracy said. “My mom always pushed education and stuff like that. They always presented baseball to us in a manner of this is something that you’re going to grow up around – we love it. If you guys want to pursue – pursue it. If you don’t – don’t. It’s totally up to you. It just so happened that all three of us loved it that much.”
Tracy’s older brother, Brian, was a pitcher that would go on to play college baseball at the University of California-Santa Barbara and was drafted by the Pirates in 2007 (20th round). He pitched for the Pirates’ Low-A team in State College in 2007 (3-2 record, 4.37 ERA in 14 games) and was named the team’s pitching coach for the 2008 season. Brian is now a scout with the Pirates.
Younger brother Mark would play baseball in college at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 22nd round of the 2010 draft. He played four seasons in the minor leagues, batting .241 in 212 career games (reaching the High-A level), with 24 home runs and 122 RBI before retiring as a player after the 2013 season.
Tracy is now the last of the three brothers still active as a player. He played his college baseball at Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA) and was selected by the Texas Rangers in the third round of the 2006 draft, the first catcher taken that year. In 2009, playing mostly as a first baseman at Double-A Frisco, Tracy drove in 107 runs, hitting 26 homers and batting .279. Then two years later in 2011, he rung up an impressive 109 RBI, with 26 dingers and a .259 average at Triple-A Round Rock.
Despite those gaudy offensive stats, Tracy was hoping for, but never received that long-awaited call-up to the Rangers, even after rosters expanded in September and he watched as a number of his minor league teammates were given an opportunity to live out their big league dreams.
“It’s tough to think about actually sometimes, knowing that I’m close to 30 now and I don’t know how much longer I’m going to go,” Tracy said. “(In 2009), I had a 26 homers and 107 RBI season in Frisco, and saw some of my buddies get taken off that team to go up to Texas in September. One of my closest buddies, Craig Gentry, left that team right from Double-A to the big leagues. In ‘10, I was having a very good year and hurt my oblique and missed the rest of that season. Then in ‘11, I came back and had another 26 homers and 109 RBI, and saw more of my friends go up from Round Rock that year up to the big leagues.
“To tell you that it doesn’t cross my mind every so often – it does. There are times where you think this might be the year where I’d get the call, at least get a September call-up and get a chance to play in a big league game. It didn’t happen. There’s a lot of underlying factors that people don’t think about, I do. You’ve got to have a roster spot – they’re not going to ditch a player that they like just to give you a try. It wasn’t in the cards at that time.”
Then prior to the start of the 2012 season, Tracy was traded to the Rockies in exchange for pitcher Greg Reynolds – the very same Rockies where Tracy’s dad was preparing for his fourth season as the organization’s big-league manager.
“He wasn’t in there lobbying for that (trade),” Tracy said. “That was just a trade between the Rockies and the Rangers that happened to have two guys that were in organizations where they were kind of stuck and maybe needed a change of scenery and they flip-flopped.”
Spring training that season proved to be an interesting time for both father and son. For Tracy, his focused remained where it had always been – getting to play that first game in the Major Leagues. While being managed by his father in a big league game had never been an aspiration for Tracy, and even though it was only spring training, the fact those games didn’t count in the standings didn’t make that time any less special.
“It was a very cool experience, spring training-wise, to be able to stand on deck and know you’re dad’s standing right behind you,” Tracy said. “I was in big-league camp with the Rockies that year. I played quite a bit. I probably got close to 20 at-bats, playing toward the end of games. Early on in camp, I started a couple of games. It was really unique. It was cool and I enjoyed it.”
While a few people might think having your father as the big-league team’s manager might have helped smooth the way for Tracy to finally reach the Majors, the actual reality was that Tracy was told early on that he’d have to do more than other players might to avoid any appearance of nepotism.
“I was told there right from the beginning, they traded for me a month before spring training started, whatever you think is good enough to get called up to the big leagues, you’re going to have to do twice as much just because of the situation that you’re in,” Tracy said. “You’re in a situation where you’re the manager’s son. There’s not going to be any favors here.
“You’re going to have to do more to overcome that mantra of people wanting to say he got called up because his dad’s here. I knew going in that if I’m going to play in the big leagues, I’m going to have to tear it up.”
Unfortunately, Tracy’s offensive production that season with the Rockies’ Triple-A team in Colorado Springs dropped off substantially (.269 BA, 12 HR, 82 RBI) from his results the year before. That off-season, he signed a minor-league deal with Kansas City Royals for 2013, but hit just .187 with four home runs and 18 RBI in 44 games before the Royals released him in early July. He signed on with the Revolution shortly thereafter and he’s been a productive hitter in the middle of the York line-up ever since. So far this season as of early August, Tracy ranked third in the Atlantic League in RBI (65), batting .249 with 12 dingers in 91 games. But with his 30th birthday not all that far off and with Tracy and his wife Emily looking forward to the birth of their first child (a daughter) in December, he says he can’t help but wonder if it will soon be time to put his baseball dreams aside for good. Knowing just how close he was to the Major Leagues just a few short years ago isn’t helping matters much either.
“Things happen fast,” Tracy said. “I don’t regret … I never look back in regret. I had some really good years with the Rangers. It didn’t happen. I promise you I’m not the first guy that’s happened to. I was close. I knew it. I still think about it sometimes, but no regrets. I’m happy with the career I’ve had so far.
“I can only go out and do what I do. For me, that’s go out and hit in the middle of the order and knock runs in. That’s what I feel like my job is. I’ve always done that and I continue to do it. If I get a chance to go back – that’s fine. And if I don’t, I gave it everything I had. That’s life.
“I think anybody in this league that tells you that (claiming to not think about when to stop playing) hasn’t crept into their head, they’re probably lying to you. I’m expecting a baby girl in December; when you’ve got a baby coming, you’re married and you’re not making great money, life’s going to go on after this, so you have decide do I need to move on with my life? Have I made any exact decisions on that yet, no I haven’t. But the thought is in there.”
And whenever that day comes when Tracy’s work in the family business is through, he’ll have a few very special memories to reflect upon, including his first-ever MLB spring training game on March 21, 2009 – a day that he’ll likely never forget. Tracy was with the Rangers at that time and his father was in Surprise, AZ that day as the bench coach for the visiting Rockies.
Tracy was not in Texas’ big league camp that season, but like most other teams, the Rangers would often call over minor leaguers as extras just in case they were needed. As the story goes, Texas general manager Jon Daniels suggested to his manager, Ron Washington, that it would be a nice gesture to use Tracy against the Rockies so he could play in front of his dad. Washington said okay, and he inserted Tracy as a pinch runner for first baseman Chris Davis in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Tracy stayed in the game at first base and in the bottom of the seventh in a 4-4 contest, the Rangers had runners at second and third with one out. Rockies manager Clint Hurdle had pitcher Jhoulys Chacin intentionally walk David Murphy to load the bases and bring Tracy, wearing uniform number 88 (high uniform numbers are typically assigned to minor league players in spring training) up to bat. On a 1-2 count, Chacin hung a curve ball and Tracy didn’t miss, blasting the pitch over the left-field wall for a game-winning grand slam.
“The story goes, my dad will tell you, is Clint Hurdle, at the time, didn’t know that was me on-deck,” Tracy said. “Dad told him shortly thereafter. I guess Clint said something to the effect ‘Well, number 88 can hit the hanging curve.’ My dad said I know – he’s my son. It’s a cool story, when I heard all that stuff.
“Down to two strikes and I just happened to catch a breaking ball up in the zone and hit it out. I’ll never forget jogging around third and Dad was sitting there with Clint Hurdle and I’m thinking that was a cool experience. Something I’ll never forget and he’ll never forget that either.”