Jimmy Comerota's most recent Fourth of July was the one he'd always dreamed of. Woke up, went the ballpark, practiced baseball for hours, played a game, then sat back to watch the fireworks. It was perfect in every way, save for the need to wear a jacket while watching the postgame show.
"It gets cold up here (in Yakima, Washington) at night, and that's something I've had to get used to," he laughed. "I told folks I wasn't used to being cold on the Fourth of July. But if that's the biggest worry I'll have, then things are going great."
Comerota endeared himself to a generation of Owls' fans with his all-out hustle and determination on the field. Few others could pull off a nickname such as "Jimmy Baseball" and bring honor to the concept the way Comerota did over five seasons with the Owls. Be it his innate talent for turning a pristine white uniform into a soiled mess during pregame infield, cranking out timely hits, saving teammates from errors by digging errant throws out of the dirt at first, or refusing to leave a game (even while a welt complete with the imprint of baseball stitches was forming on his face) after a bad hop, Comerota obviously loved every second he was on the field.
After hitting .329 with six homers and 47 RBI as a senior, he allowed himself to believe that his body of work would offer him the chance to pursue his ultimate goal of playing baseball professionally.
"Being a fifth-year senior, I knew I had to temper my own expectations. I was hoping I would get drafted, and a few scouts had told me that I probably would. But at the same time, I was trying not to set myself up to be disappointed. It was hard to keep things in check," he admitted.
After the media event that Major League Baseball has created around the first round on Monday night, Comerota knew it would be a while if a call from a team was likely to come, so after watching the first several rounds of the draft's second day on his computer at home, he headed to Reckling Park to clear out his locker as well as the anxiety in his head.
"I needed to get it done, but I also needed to get away from the computer screen," Comerota recalled. "I was not expecting my name to come up in those rounds, and I was thinking more about how I would ever get to sleep on (Tuesday) night, because I really thought I might not get picked until Wednesday."
Upon returning home from his housekeeping duties at Reckling, Comerota found that his computer had shut down in his absence. He dutifully logged back on, and as the DraftTracker on MLB.com returned to his screen, the first name to pop up on his screen as the next player selected was none other than his own, by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 18th round.
"I was in shock," Comerota recalled. "It was the last thing I expected to see right away. I grabbed my phone and called my dad and then my mom, and right after that, Arizona called to make it official. It was a good thing I got those out of the way right away, because all the sudden my phone just blew up from all the calls and texts people were sending me," he recalled.
Needless to say, there was not much in the way of a negotiation with the Diamondbacks when it came to signing, but legend has it that when told he'd fly to minicamp on Thursday, Comerota offered to drive overnight and be there on Wednesday. Even a player called "Jimmy Baseball" could not have pulled that off.
"No, it didn't quite happen like that, but I can see why people would think so." Comerota laughed. "As soon as I hung up the phone, it hit me that I had to move out of my place, and I had one day to get it all done. Wednesday was a total blur."
Most important for Comerota was the need to go back to Reckling one more time to see the Owls coaching staff. "Coach (Patrick) Hallmark had played in the Northwest League, and I wanted to ask him about it. I talked to the rest of the coaches and sat down with Coach Graham. He had some advice to share, but mostly I wanted the chance to look them each in the eye and thank them for the opportunity to play at Rice and become the player I am today," he said.
By signing right away, Comerota was one of the first six players to report to the D-Backs' minicamp. Over the next week, players continued to filter in, and he was glad to have gotten an early start on the indoctrination of becoming a professional baseball player.
"They threw a lot of information at us, which was tough when you were there from the start. It had to be unsettling for the guys coming in later in the week."
Comerota quickly found that the life he'd yearned for from his earliest days of playing baseball was exactly as he imagined.
"It's a lot of baseball, and it's awesome," he said. "We get to the park each day around 1:30 or 2:00 for early infield work, then have extra hitting, then regular BP, then play the games. This is fun for me. I always wanted to just get up each day and play baseball, and now I am. Sometimes I feel like I have to pinch myself to believe I am really here, getting paid to play baseball." he stated.
Playing for the Yakima Bears has exceeded his expectations in terms of the support for the team.
"I guess I was expecting things to be kind of dead, based on what some folks have said about minor league baseball, but we have great crowds and it makes for a pretty cool atmosphere," he noted.
The Bears' road schedule has allowed Comerota to take in an area of the country he'd never visited before, as well as make his first trip outside the US.
"I'd never been out of the country, but Vancouver is really beautiful," he stated. "When we were in Boise, I had to take a little side trip over to the campus of Boise State and get a look at the blue turf. We played in Everett, Washington and Microsoft's headquarters are down the road from the yard. I had a few buddies from Jones College who were working there, so we got together for lunch. When we were in Seattle, I had to go down to the docks and see them throwing the fish at the Pike Place Fish Market."
At the end of the day, baseball remains the primary focus for Comerota. "It's been a challenge to get used to the wood bat, no doubt. Baseball is always more fun when the wins start coming and the hits start falling."
Baseball being fun is the way he will remember his experience as a Rice Owl.
"If someone had told me when I was coming out of high school that I would go to Omaha three times and play in the NCAA tournament every year, that I would get my degree from Rice and then go on to play professional baseball, I would have found it hard to believe. But it all happened to me. The experiences I had in college and the friendships I have made are exactly what I would hope will happen to the future Owls."