Some paths to the major leagues are longer and more winding than others. Just being drafted is far from a guarantee that any success will ensue. Hard work and an ability to take and adapt to instruction are just as important as having raw skill. Left-handed pitcher John Halama knows only too well what it takes to work his way up from a mid-round draft prospect to a successful major league career.
Halama, a native of Brooklyn, New York, had a successful collegiate career at his hometown St. Francis University. Despite not playing for a major school, his talent was enough to get him drafted in the 23rd round by the Houston Astros in 1994.
Steady success in the minors earned the lanky lefty a trip to the majors with the Astros in 1998. Making six starts, he went 1-1 with a 5.85 ERA. He struck out the first batter he ever faced, getting San Francisco Giants outfielder Darryl Hamilton to go down swinging in an April 2nd game. However, that offseason he was sent to the Seattle Mariners as the player to be named later in an earlier trade that had brought future Hall-of-Fame pitcher Randy Johnson over to the National League.
Halama won 11 games with the Mariners in 1999 and a total of 35 games in his first three seasons with the team. He went on to spend nine years in the majors, pitching for seven teams. He accumulated a 56-48 record and 4.65 ERA.
Although his final major league game came in 2006 with the Baltimore Orioles, he went on to pitch through the 2012 season with a variety of minor league, independent and international teams before finally calling it a career. All told, he won an impressive total of 172 games (against just 127 losses) during a 19-year professional career.
Halama recently answered some questions about his time in baseball. Keep reading for more on the southpaw.
Who was your favorite player growing up and why?: I grew up a Mets fan as a little kid. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden were my favorite players. They were great players at that time.
What do you remember most about your major league debut in 1998 against the San Francisco Giants?: A lot was going on that day. I was very excited that I accomplished a dream of making the big leagues. I had my parents and brother in the stands that game. As far as the game itself; wasn’t that great for me. I took a beating.
You were the proverbial “player to be named later” in the 1998 trade that sent Randy Johnson from Seattle to Houston. What was that like for you and how did you find out you were part of the deal?: At the time of the trade I was just getting back on the field. I hurt my elbow and started pitching when the trade happened. I knew I was being scouted by the Mariners and I'm sure my health was their concern. After the Triple-A World Series I was flown to Seattle for a physical.
What is your favorite moment from your playing career?: Favorite moment, making the big league team. It's not as easy as people think. A lot of hard work.
What catcher during your career did you feel most comfortable throwing to?: I was fortunate to have great catchers everywhere I played.
Who was the best player you ever played with or against, and what made them so special?: I played with a lot of great players but Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriquez were probably the best. What they could do on the field was amazing.
What was your favorite team that you played on, and what made them stand out to you?: I enjoyed all the teams I played at but Seattle stands out the most. We had a great run into the postseason. Plus it's a great city with great fans that supported us.
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