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New York Yankees' Dustin Fowler sits on the field after suffering an injury during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, June 29, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)


Stars, Heels and Stripes: Testing, Testing

There’s nothing quite like shiny prospects. Their talent, while raw, is a promise; and an exciting one.

But we always want the perfect outcome, don’t we? We study and research and talk to experts, and we watch the rankings, and we just know that this guy, he’ll be exactly what the team needs. His future is carved in stone.

That is if all goes well…and he keeps his head together…and he doesn’t get injured…and, oh, right. There are plenty of questions; plenty we can’t predict in baseball.

Dustin Fowler had been a bit more under the radar, perhaps unappreciated, for what he could contribute. He wasn’t the flashy name in the Yankees organization. He was simply a solid player with strong potential.  He was surprised when the Yankees invited him to Spring Training last year. Something was endearing about that. He wasn’t taking anything for granted, and considering the Yankees have been known for parting even with the most highly touted prospects, that was a smart, self-aware way of approaching his place in their plans.

After showing his ability to do a lot of the little things to contribute, both in Tampa/Charleston in 2015, and in Trenton in 2016, where he finished with a career-high 88 RBI, 152 hits, and 12 home runs in 132 games, he began 2017 in Triple-A. He hit .293/.329/.542 before he got “the call.” He was slated to make his big league debut with the Yankees in a game against the Chicago White Sox.

Dustin Fowler with the RailRiders (Cheryl Pursell)

What is challenging about baseball, sports, life, is that we don’t know how the promised future we envision will be as we hope.

Is “RATS!” too old fashioned to say instead of an expletive. Well, the word fits this situation. Fowler’s outfield collision was felt throughout baseball, by those who know him, played with him, fans, and his parents who were in the stands. He was so close to his first major league at-bat, but nope. Not that day. Rats is right. The frightening incident (which will require right knee surgery) ended his season.

For anyone who watched Fowler play in the minor leagues, his rep as a fighter is known firsthand, not just from what we’ve read, but what we’ve seen up close in the minor leagues. He’s hardworking, sure, but down to earth and focused as well. He worked hard and smart. So when it came time to hear what he had to say about the season-ending injury, what he said wasn’t so surprising, but still pretty awesome to hear.

This is a journey I’ve gone through my whole life,” he told the New York Post. “Now I’ve got to work that much harder to get there. Maybe it will be a little more special this go-round,” and he went on to finish his remarks, saying, “I don’t let a lot of things get to me, so I’ll be able to bounce back.”

All the talent and ability matters, as does the focus and the drive. But what happens when the dream takes a detour this harsh? How does a young player with a ton of possibility respond? What happened to Fowler wasn’t fun to watch; more than anything it was scary; it was also just a letdown, for him, for fans, for anyone who wanted to see him make his debut. But wasn’t there something special about the way he responded? Didn’t it, in some way, give him a chance to play the game, and be a Yankee, by displaying how he views adversity?

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The Trenton Thunder’s Jorge Mateo against the Richmond Flying Squirrels in Trenton on June 27, 2017. (Martin Griff)

Switching uniforms from Tampa after 69 games, to make his Double-A debut with the Trenton Thunder, Jorge Mateo is a player that has stepped up to prove something after his period of adversity.  Jorge Mateo needed to come out strong in 2017, and not just at the plate, or wherever he was played defensively. He had to show that he was able to handle the negative press he’d received after some personal difficulties last year. No need to go into those murky details again. You can look it up. But there have been all sorts of questions about his mentality, and his ability, after a season of disappointments with Tampa in 2016.

He was moved up from Tampa hitting hot, with 66 hits through 69 games, including 16 doubles and eight triples. In four games with Trenton, he’s got eight hits and 5 RBI. There have been no incidents of note. His personality hasn’t been the story.  He’s been solid at the plate throughout this season. The only Mateo story at the moment is that, whatever he struggled with in 2016, he’s pulled away from it. He’s been better for it.

He wasn’t coddled in 2016, though he was understandably protected. This year, under the gaze of Yankees brass expecting results, Mateo has done much of what he needed to.

Both players, with all their particular talents and people who believe, or don’t believe in them, have to shut down any doubting voices, and they stepped to the plate with successful results. Yes, literally; but also upstairs, where the game begins in their minds. What the Yankees, and fans, were looking for was a fine Fowler debut; last season, they were looking for better from top prospect Mateo. Nothing has gone exactly as hoped. Development is most interesting in the most challenging of moments, when young players are called on to rise to the occasion, reaching beyond themselves to achieve their potential.

Pay attention to what Fowler and Mateo’s response has been in the face of the challenges. That matters as much as the talent and should be just as exciting.

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