Part four in a series of some of the most memorable moments in Barton athletics
It was April 12, 2002.
Nate Field stared in from the bullpen in right field, jogging across the grass at Jacobs Field in Cleveland. He took the mound for his major league debut – the first time a former Barton Community College baseball player took part in a Major League Baseball contest.
“Thinking back on that, the whole thing was really a blur to me,” Field said of that first outing. “I didn’t really breathe until that first outing was over. I had wanted it my whole life and to finally get the shot was a great feeling.”
It had been a long journey for the 6-2 right-hander. He went undrafted after graduation from Fort Hays State University in 1998. The Montreal Expos signed him to a free agent contract on June 11 of that year and the journey began.
A native of Denver, Field pitched and played shortstop for the Cougars in his two seasons. His freshman season, he was an All-Conference and All-Region first team pick as a shortstop. His sophomore season, Field earned first team honors as a pitcher in both the conference and the region.
From there he moved up the road to Fort Hays. He was a 2-time All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference pick and was named the Pitcher of the Year his senior season of 1998. He holds the career record at FHSU in saves with 23 during his two seasons striking out 55 in 49 innings of work.
He was honored in 2009 being named to the RMAC All-Time Baseball team in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the conference.
Field started his professional baseball career in short-season A ball the summer of 1998 pitching 25 games for the Vermont Expos. He recorded two saves and posted a 3.09 ERA.
The next summer he began in Class A for the Cape Fear Crocs. He threw 42 games for the Crocs and recorded a pair of saves. He made a brief appearance for the Expos AAA affiliate the Ottawa Lynx. Field threw two games for the Lynx and was released at the end of the season.
It was basically time to start over. He caught on with the St. Paul Saints of the Independent Northern League. Then he was traded to the Sioux City Explorers. Actually, he was the ‘player to be named later’ in a trade. At that point he considered giving up his dreams.
“It was a tough blow,” Field said. “When you are the player to be named later in an independent league trade, that’s tough. I thought at the time it might be time to pack it up and go back to Hays and go back to school.”
But two things kept Field going - the trip from St. Paul to Hays and Jamie Dame.
“In order to get from St. Paul to Hays you have to drive through Sioux City,” Field said. “During the drive my girlfriend at the time, now my wife, Jamie, said ‘If you don’t go you will hate yourself later for it.”
And so he stopped in Sioux City throwing in 11 games and posing an impressive 1.93 ERA over 23 innings for the Explorers.
That caught the eye of the Kansas City Royals. They purchased his contract in late June of 2000 and sent him to the Charleston AlleyCats, their Class A affiliate.
He finished out the year with the AlleyCats, appearing in 17 games with a 2.23 ERA and the climb up the Royals organization was underway.
The next season was spent entirely in Wichita with the AA affiliate of the Royals – the Wichita Wranglers.
It was that summer in Wichita that changed his future. In the bullpen with Field at the time were a pair of veterans – Doug Bochtler and Mike Villano along with Jared Camp. The pitching coach was former Boston Red Sox pitcher Steve Crawford.
“I was the last guy to make AA out of spring training,” Field said. “Back then you could have 25 guys on your roster the first month then go down to 24. I was the 25th guy and was going to be used in middle relief.
“All the sudden I started pitching extended outings at the end of games. Doug, Mike, and Jared started telling me my stuff was good enough to pitch in the big leagues.”
And Crawford took interest in the now 25-year old Field.
“He really started working with me,” Field said of Crawford. ”He would pull me aside and talk to me about what it takes mentally as well. Before I was always an after-thought guy. I was the undrafted guy or the converted shortstop. This was the first time someone focused in on me.”
He worked as the closer most of that season in Wichita, posting a 1.48 ERA in 52 games compiling 19 saves.
Field started the 2002 season in Omaha.
Then came the call on April 10 while the Royals were in Boston. Paper work kept him from being activated that day. April 11 was the first day he was officially on the roster. He threw in the bullpen at Fenway that night but the call to enter the game never came.
The next day, Friday, April 12 he would make his debut. Jeff Suppan started the game for Kansas City and worked seven innings. The Royals trailed 3-1 heading into the eighth.
Field was summoned to start the bottom of the eighth. With the count at 1-1 he gave up a double to Russell Branyan then recorded his first out when Einar Diaz laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Branyan to third. He was then taken out of the game and replaced with a left-handed pitcher to face a left-handed batter.
The Royals would lose 3-1.
It was just four pitches but his big league debut was in the books.
He would make five appearances for the Royals in 2002 pitching five innings and striking out three. He gave up five runs.
Then he was waived in June.
The New York Yankees claimed him off waivers and sent him to their AAA affiliate in Columbus. He appeared in 21 games for the Clippers before becoming a free agent at the end of the season.
“I knew the situation at the time,” Field said of his release in 2002. “Kansas City was in terrible need of an outfielder. I didn’t do real well my first go around so the fact they waived me wasn’t a huge surprise. The fact I was claimed by the Yankees was a surprise. But it just wasn’t a good fit.”
The Royals came calling again in the winter signing him to a contract. He spent the 2003 season between Wichita, Omaha and Kansas City. He was back in the big leagues in June that year and would appear in 19 games for the Royals with a 4.15 ERA. He struck out 19 in his 22 innings of work.
“I probably went up and down five or six times that year,” Field said. “It wasn’t performance based that year. I was just the guy with options.”
He picked up his first win on July 4, 2003 when Kansas City rallied for a 9-8 win at home over Detroit. He earned his first two holds on July 18 and 20 – again at home – against Seattle.
During the 2003 season when Jason Stanford started for the Cleveland Indians making his MLB debut on July 6 the Cougars had three former players all pitching in big leagues at the same time. David Sanders made his debut in April of 2003 as a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox.
“We had three guys pitching in the same division in the big leagues at one time,” Mike Warren, longtime Barton coach, said. “That was pretty cool. I was not far away to travel and see all of them pitch. That was the neatest feeling ever.”
Field would pitch in 43 games in 2004 exclusively in Kansas City. On May 18, Field was called upon to close out the ninth inning with a 7-6 lead at Texas. He did so, allowing just one hit to record the first save of his big league career. He would record three saves in 2004.
He led the American League in percentage of inherited runners stranded. He stranded 30 of the 35 runners he inherited – allowing just 14.3 percent to score.
In 2005 he saw action in both Kansas City and AAA Omaha, hitting free agency at the end of that year.
His big league time after that would be limited to 14 games in 2006 with the Colorado Rockies and one game for the Florida Marlins in 2007. While in Colorado he became the first Denver-born player to earn a win for the Rockies.
“That was pretty awesome,” Field said of pitching in his hometown. “When I was growing up there were no Rockies. We had the Denver Zephyrs (AAA). Other than that it was the Cubs on WGN or the Braves on TBS. We finally got a team in 92 – the summer before my senior year.
“I had only been to Coors Field a couple of times when I got to pitch there my first time. The first time out I got a win. There was a large extended family there to see me pitch. It was a fun opportunity to pitch in front of my friends and family.”
His final time on a big league mound came on April 29, 2007 at Philadelphia for the Marlins.
His career numbers in the big leagues would read 89 appearances with three saves and eight holds.
He would spend the next two seasons in the minor leagues and in September of 2009 he was selected to represent the United States in the Baseball World Cup. He was joined mostly by prospects on the team.
“I don’t know if there was a better way for me to end with how my career was going at the time,” Field said. “Sure, financially a September call up would have been more beneficial. But the memory of that group and what we accomplished is something I will never forget.
“I saw Jamie Quick a while back – he was our third base coach – and he said to me that time was the best month of his life.”
He recorded the final out in the gold medal game for Team USA in a 10-5 win over Cuba in Italy. He was mobbed by his teammates following the win. His final moment in baseball was at the bottom of a dog pile winning a gold medal for his country.
“That was an amazing feeling,” Field said of being at the bottom of that dog pile.
“Not too many people had to take the route Nate did to get to the big leagues,” Warren said. “He didn’t get drafted, he had to play in the Independent League. He went through a lot. But he worked his tail off.”
He prepared himself for one more season after that.
“I thought I had maybe one year left in me after that,” Field said. “I got ready for spring training but didn’t get a call. The Independent Leagues called but I wasn’t going to go through Independent ball to do it.”
In August of 2010 a call did come – from the Boston Red Sox to join there organization as a scout. He has been with them ever since.
“They are a first class organization and just a great group to work with,” Field said.
Field still gets back to the Barton area quite often since his wife Jamie is from Hoisington. The days at Barton are ones he remembers fondly.
Those around Barton remember Field fondly as well.