Getting to the major leagues can be a monumental task, but staying there can be just as difficult. Just ask pitcher Mike Ekstrom, who has alternately pitched on baseball’s biggest stage and in the high minors for the past six seasons.
The right-hander pitched collegiately at Oregon State and Point Loma Nazarene University before becoming a 12th-round draft choice of the San Diego Padres in 2004. He rapidly became a top prospect, winning 13 games in just his second professional season.
Ekstrom converted from starting to relief in 2008 and took off from there. He made his debut with the Padres on September 8, 2010 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, throwing two scoreless innings of relief in a losing effort. However, he did have the highlight of whiffing Dodgers’ slugger Manny Ramirez in the seventh inning of the game. He went on to go 0-2 that season with a 7.45 ERA in eight appearances.
Although he in the minors for most of 2009, he did spend more time in San Diego, posting 6.38 ERA in 12 relief appearances. Unfortunately, following the season, he was placed on waivers because a full-time spot couldn’t be found for him.
Since his time with the Padres, Ekstrom has pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays, Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels organizations. He has spent much of that time in the minors, but did have stints in the majors in 2010-11 (Tampa) and 2012 (Colorado).
All told, he has appeared in 51 big league games, all in relief, going 0-3 with a 5.61 ERA while striking out 45 in 61 innings.
In 10 minor league seasons, he has gone 66-49 with a 3.80 ERA and 11 saves.
The 30-year-old split this past season in the minors for the Athletics and Angels, going 3-3 with a 5.14 ERA in 38 relief appearances.
Most recently, he joined the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League for his winter ball. He has pitched well and put himself in position to seek a major league job in 2014.
Ekstrom answered some questions about his baseball career back in 2012. Due to negligence on the part of myself, it is only getting presented now. Take a look and get to know this determined pitcher better. After all, there’s a good chance he could be pitching at a stadium near you in the near future.
Mike Ekstrom Interview:
Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, and Greg Maddux. I grew up in Oregon, so the Mariners were my hometown team. Griffey was everyone's favorite player in my neighborhood.
When did you start feeling confident that professional baseball was going to be a possibility for you?: Not until about a month before the draft my junior year in college. I didn't receive letters from pro teams in high school, and through college pro baseball was never a major focus of mine. Honestly, I never really dreamt of being a pro baseball player when I was little (I was thinking more weatherman). It's been a great opportunity that popped up after college, but it was never really in my plans.
Can you describe what your draft day experience was like?: When draft day came I knew I'd be drafted, I just wasn't sure when. I was back home in Oregon sitting on the couch waiting to hear when I'd be taken. Once the draft got into the eighth round or so my phone started ringing, and finally I was picked to start the twelfth.
How difficult was it to adjust from being a starter to a reliever?: It was actually a pretty smooth transition for me. I was pitching so poorly as a starter in 2008, I looked at being sent to the bullpen as an opportunity to finish my season strong and create a new identity for my career. Luckily it worked out. At the time, it was June and I had about a 6.00 ERA in Double-A as a starter and by September I was called up to San Diego. It's crazy how baseball works out sometimes.
Which pitches do you throw, and which is your best and which do you believe needs the most work?: Fastball, slider, and changeup… I feel like I can get outs with any of the three pitches, depending on the situation. Some days my slider is best, sometimes fastball, and sometimes the changeup works well. I throw mostly sinkers and sliders, but I'm confident in my changeup, I just don't use it as much.
Can you talk a little bit about how you found out that you had been called up the major leagues for the first time (2008) and how that felt?: Obviously it felt great. It was a big surprise at the time. All my teammates were happy for me and it felt great to call family and friends to let them know. Especially making my debut in San Diego was awesome. My mom's from there and I went to college there, so I had a lot of fans at the game.
What do you remember about the first hitter (Matt Kemp) you faced in the majors?: First pitch out… Supposed to be a fastball away, but missed my spot by about two feet and jammed him with a fastball in. I think it was a ground ball to short or third.
What is your thought process like having pitched in the majors in parts of five seasons, but not yet finding a permanent spot?: Of course I'd like to be a five year established MLB vet at this point, but I'm pretty happy with how my career has gone. Baseball's brought a lot of great opportunities and experiences along the way. It can be frustrating to go up and down so many times (I think I've been DFA'ed five times and optioned about ten times), but it's a tough lifestyle to beat. I'm not gonna say it's totally taken away the thrill of getting called up, but I definitely have a different perspective about things than I did in 2008. If you don't have a positive outlook on things, it won't take long for the game to chew you up and spit you out.
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