From Malibu to the minors

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Malibu’s Cameron Coughlan is playing Minor League Baseball for the Texas Ranger system. It’s a tough life, but Coughlan says it’s worth it.

By Richard Heater/Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu resident Cameron Coughlan is living the dream of many American males – he plays professional baseball. He just came off his first year on a full-season, low-A squad in the Texas Rangers organization, surpassing many people’s expectations with his performance. The outfielder and second baseman’s excellence came despite the challenges of

playing baseball in a strange city with less-than-outstanding living conditions.

Coughlan’s team was in Clinton, Iowa. He said his arrival in that city was a culture shock. Although Malibu is a small community, it is just a short drive to Los Angeles. Clinton is near no large city, and its major attractions are a dog food plant, an incinerating plant and a corn syrup factory.

The living conditions in Clinton were not convenient. The players slept on air mattresses in the homes of local residents. And they lived with the knowledge that any day they could be moving, be it through a trade, promotion or demotion.

Baseball is a strange game in which even a superstar is successful just 30 percent of the time. Even the most successful batter has to deal with failure in the majority of his at-bats. Add in heckling fans during a slump to the growing list of hardships, and one begins to get a sense of the mettle required to play baseball professionally. At the minor league level, one gets all the hardships without the financial reward. “This is where a lot of guys get weeded out,” Coughlan said.

A typical day during the season begins with a bowl of cereal for breakfast. This was followed by some relaxation time before heading over to the field at 2:30 for five hours of practice and pre-game warm-ups. “Some nights you’re dead tired before the game even starts,” Coughlan said.

Games usually last about three hours. After that, the players shower and grab dinner, which is usually fast food. This routine continues almost daily for a 142- game season.

“People don’t realize how grueling pro baseball is,” Coughlan said. “Those guys making millions of dollars deserve it.”

Poor diets, middle-of-nowhere locations, grueling daily routines with no guarantee that one will ever reach the major leagues and reap the benefits of dues paid, one has to ask, “Why do it?”

In Coughlan’s words, “It comes down to if you love baseball. You have to love baseball.” Coughlan said he fits into this category. In spite of all the struggles, he said he enjoys the close relationships with teammates and intimate contact with fans.

Coughlan said when he began playing high school baseball, thoughts of a professional career were not in his plans. The unlikelihood of being discovered by a professional scout in a community as small as Malibu kept his aspirations at bay. When he reached his junior year, his ideas for the future began to change. His success in high school baseball made him believe he could compete at the college level. The challenge was how to get his name out to college scouts. So he decided to join traveling teams in an effort to eliminate the disadvantage of coming from a smaller community, and baseball became a year-round thing after that. He eventually landed a full scholarship at Brigham Young University.

Coughlan’s success continued at the college level. He and his BYU teammates reached the regional playoffs in two of the three seasons he was there. Coughlan’s game improved at BYU under the tutelage of Vance Law, a former professional baseball player. Coughlan said he also benefited from BYU being a religious school that did not have a party atmosphere.

“I know a lot of guys who can go out and party all night and still play, but that’s not me,” Coughlan said. “It allowed me to focus on baseball.”

As in high school, Coughlan’s junior year in college was a turning point for him. He received attention from professional scouts, who began asking him if baseball was in his plans for the future. With the possibility of a career in baseball on the horizon, Coughlan opted to leave BYU after his junior season. Leaving after his junior year gave him bargaining power, because if he didn’t get a deal he wanted, he could always return for his senior season. In June 2002, Coughlan was drafted into the Texas Rangers organization. He spent the remainder of the summer and fall in the Gulf Coast League in Florida, a short-season A league. The following season, Coughlan joined the team in Clinton.

As for the future, things are looking positive. Coughlan is coming off a season in which he led the entire Rangers organization in stolen bases with 47. Couple that with a solid .273 batting average and you have the makings of a developing lead-off man. This year, Coughlan said he hopes to play for the Rangers’ full season, high-A squad located in Stockton, California.

When asked if he will have any regrets if he never reaches the major leagues, Coughlan said, “I gave my best and had the opportunity. I got to play baseball for a living.”

But for now, Coughlan has a wedding to worry about. He and his fiancée, Sarah Ward, are to be married on Feb. 21. His baseball journey resumes on March 15 when spring training begins.