One of the most timeless tales in baseball is that of the career minor-leaguer who finally ascends to the top of the latter.
Everyone loves to see perseverance and hard work pay off in the end, to see someone achieve their lifelong dream. I think we can all relate in some form.
One such story involves a forgotten Cub of the previous decade - one Raul Gonzalez:
Fleer basically plagiarized 1954 Topps to honor Raul and his ascent in their Tradition Series Update from 2000. When he made his MLB debut that season, he had already been struggling for 10 years.
Drafted in the 17th round of the 1990 draft by the Kansas City Royals out of Puerto Rico, Raul spent 7 years in their organization producing solid (but unspectacular) offensive numbers with a respectable glove.
After a short stay in the Red Sox system, Raul was signed by the Cubs going into the 2000 season for organizational depth. He picked the right team.
The 2000 Cubs were a terrible squad. Their 65-97 record placed them in the cellar of the National League and their outfield of castoffs + Sammy Sosa was part of the problem. Slammy could only do so much.
"Oh Henry" Rodriguez and Rondell White spent most of the season on the DL and with names like Damon Buford, Gary Matthews Jr., Brant Brown, an over-the-hill Glenallen Hill, etc. getting significant playing time, it's no wonder they weren't getting the job done.
Oh Henry, why couldn't you and Rondell stay healthy?
Therefore, the Cubs started throwing crap at the wall, hoping something would stick; Raul got his chance that May.
Unfortunately, he did not seize the moment. Although he only got 2 at-bats, he went 0-2 with 2 Ks. In left field, he saw action in 3 innings over 3 games; however, he never had a ball hit to him.
The Cubs had much less patience with the minor-league lifer than they would a traditional prospect and demoted him back to AAA after about a month. Then came Ross Gload, the undeveloped Corey Patterson and the dated Dave Martinez... things didn't get better.
Ross Gload & Dave Martinez - AKA "crap on the wall"
Also, note the similar batting stances
Gonzo wasn't done in the Bigs though. After finishing out the season in Iowa, Raul saw MLB time each season through 2004 with the Reds, Mets and Indians, including 107 games as a de-facto starter for the '03 New Yorkers.
After continuing to bounce around in the minors and independents through 2007, Raul saw his name in the big league press yet again in 2010; except this time, it wasn't for his on-field exploits.
Following the Februrary 2010 DUI arrest of Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers brought Raul into the fold as a "companion" in order to keep the young superstar in check. He reportedly spent the entire year making sure that Miggy laid off the sauce and focused his talents.
Miggy owes a little thanks to Raul Gonzalez
It looks like it's worked out in the long-run for Cabrera.
As for Raul Gonzalez, all things considered, not too bad of a career for a 17th rounder who took 10 years to finally reach the top rung.
We should all be so lucky as to have such an interesting adventure through professional baseball.
The intricacies of an underdog tale like Raul's is always compelling.