Nobody seriously expected Sam Fuld to grow up to be a Major Leaguer.
Except, of course, for Sam Fuld, a former Cub and now a Rays outfielder.
"My view for a very long time, until his junior year in high school, was that he had very little chance that he would go as far as he has," his father, Ken, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of New Hampshire, said.
"After his junior year (when Sam played impressively in some showcase games) I thought, 'Well, it'd be nice if he could play Division I baseball in college.' I began to think that because he was so smart he might be able to play for one of the Ivy League schools."
But Ken wasn't taking into account his son's passion for the game and determination to ride it to the top -- a passion and determination that occasionally can carry him into potential breakneck territory, as well.
"I heard he's not afraid of walls," Rays manager Joe Maddon said at the start of the season. "He's challenged a lot of structural objects. Defensively, he has no fear. He's kind of the ideal extra outfielder to have."
Fuld is 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, hardly a prototypical outfielder. "I loved Brett Butler," he said of the 5-foot-10, 160-pound outfielder whose Major League career spanned 17 seasons.
"I figured, even from a young age, I was going to be kind of a similar player to him. There aren't too many small left-handed outfielders in the game, but Brett was one guy who stuck out."
Fuld also has Type 1 diabetes, diagnosed when he was 10. "It was the summer and I was losing a lot of weight and thirsty all the time," he said. "I probably had it a couple of months without knowing it." He treats it with daily insulin injections, even during games.
"Baseball was always my dream," Fuld said. "It's not like it was some sort of hobby I took up and thought, 'I'll give it a shot.' I've been working hard at this forever, and it's always been a huge part of my life."
At Phillips Exeter Academy, a New Hampshire prep school, Baseball America rated him 19th among its top 100 high school prospects, and scholarship offers rained down on him. Fuld chose Stanford.
He wanted a great academic school with a great baseball program, and Ivy League baseball programs weren't quite at Stanford's level. Besides, "My goal all along, even before I was being recruited by any schools, was to get out of the cold."
Fuld was an All-American, and the Cubs drafted him in the 24th round after his junior year. He returned to Stanford for his senior year, graduating in 2004 with a degree in economics, and the Cubs drafted him again, this time in the 10th round.
On Sept. 5, 2007, Fuld made his Major League debut. On Sept. 22 against Pittsburgh, he made what Cubs fans still call "the catch," running down a drive as he slammed into Wrigley Field's ivy-covered, right-center field wall, then firing to first to double off the runner.
In January of this year, Fuld was traded to the Rays, and on April 9, he made an even more spectacular catch in Chicago. He went airborne at full speed to backhand a bases-loaded, two-out drive to the right-field corner by the White Sox's Juan Pierre.
"I really enjoy the defensive side of the game, going after balls and running into things," he said. "I probably have kind of a stupid mentality. I see the ball and try to go get it. I am kind of brain dead out there at times."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.