For love of the game: Tigers' Adduci grateful for every step of his baseball journey

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Jim Adduci

Minneapolis – Not all the time, but every once in a while, seemingly at precisely the moment he needs it most, Jim Adduci will get a text from his father.

“Hey, smell the roses, man, you are in the big leagues.”

What a journey it’s been for Adduci, who at age 33, a career outfielder, finds himself as the Tigers’ regular first baseman – this after spending 13 seasons in the minor leagues, two seasons playing in Korea, other stops in Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Friday night was to be his 1,416th professional baseball game. He came in with 5,590 plate appearances and a very deep and unique perspective on the game, and on life.

Yet, still, there are those nights – the hitless nights, the nights like Saturday when his mental hiccup helped the White Sox pull off a two-run sacrifice fly – when seeing that text message from his pops is more soothing than a sauna and a rubdown.

“I’m still hard on myself,” he said. “I want to perform. I still want to do all that stuff. But he tells me, ‘You are in the big leagues, look at what you’ve survived to get there.’”

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Jim Adduci Sr., already traveled this road. He grinded through 11 minor-league seasons, played a year in Japan, a couple of years in Vancouver (where his son was born in 1985) and survived to play parts of four season with the Cardinals (1983), Brewers (1986, 1988) and Phillies (1989).

He is grateful to this day for those 70 games and 150 plate appearances.

So, he knew just how to handle it a bunch of years ago when his son seemed to be at an early crossroads. The younger Adduci spent three full seasons in rookie ball in the Marlins organization. That is about as brutal as it gets; three straight years of grinding under the oppressive Florida sun, not climbing a single rung on the organizational ladder.

“That kind of set my mode,” the younger Adduci said. “It was some of the hardest baseball, hardest days I’ve ever been through. Three years in extended spring and rookie ball, trying to figure out what I was doing. Trying to figure out how to be a professional.

“Figuring out, do I really want this? I am getting up, on the field by 8 a.m., stretching, sweating, chasing fly balls, doing all the early work. I always draw back on that. Those were really tough days for me.”

His father brought him home during the offseason and set him up with a “regular” job.

“He had me working in a warehouse,” Adduci said. “He was like, ‘This is what you want? You would rather do this or go play baseball?’ He would tell me all the time, ‘You are playing baseball.’”

Right around that time, 2006, he was sent to the Cubs organization. And Adduci locked in and committed to the journey.

“That’s when I came into my own as a professional,” he said. “That’s when I took that next step.”

The steps were incremental and not always ascending: Daytona and Peoria in 2007; Knoxville and Daytona in 2008; Knoxville and the Mexican Winter League in 2009; Iowa in 2010; Knoxville and Arizona Fall League in 2011; Knoxville and Iowa in 2012.

Finally in 2013, a minor-league free agent, he signed with Texas. He made his Major-League debut that year. He would play 61 games with the Rangers in two seasons. You’d think that he’d finally reached his destination.

Not even close.

Partial to the journey

There is a room in his home in College Station, Texas, filled with baseball memorabilia from multiple countries. There are bats – one signed by Korean home run king Lee Seung-youp – jerseys, hats, promotional batting gloves, shin and elbow guards with his name on them that he’s never worn.

“I have the jersey from every place I played,” he said. “Even from the Dominican. I don’t know how I got it, but it came home with me. Don’t tell them. I am sure they are looking for it. I just never thought I would have had all this time, I didn’t think I’d experience so much.”

Jim Adduci: “I would have loved 10 years in the big leagues. But that wasn’t the cards I was dealt.”

All those seasons. All that traveling. The different cultures. For many ballplayers, the destination, getting to the big leagues, is all that matters. Adduci has always been partial to the journey.

“That’s the thing,” he said. “For me, I love playing the game. Of course I want to play here at the highest level against the best players in the world. But there are different paths that people take, to maybe be ready for this point.

“I would have loved 10 years in the big leagues. But that wasn’t the cards I was dealt.”

This is the analogy Adduci often gives when he’s asked about his path.

“If you are with an organization and you are making a decision with your career, you are given a set of cards – some of them are good, some of them are bad,” he said. “But you have to play them. That’s how I’ve always felt.

“You want me to play in Triple-A? That’s fine. I am going to play the best I can. It’s the experiences that have led me to this point, that make me humble a little bit.”

The two seasons he spent in Korea were transformative, professionally and personally, and they were not without struggle and strife.

“It was very difficult for me overseas,” he said. “I was very lonely at times. But I had to deal with it. It’s made me really understand what guys who come here, the Latin guys who don’t speak the language, are going through here.”

He brought his wife Lauren and their two oldest daughters to Korea and put them in school there for the two years. They had a son while living in Korea. Adduci did his best to assimilate with the culture there.

“I dived right in,” he said. “I felt like I had to dive in to be successful. I respected the manager. I respected everybody. I bowed to everybody. That never bothered me. I learned enough of the language to get around, to order food.

“Respecting your elders is big there. I would go into a restaurant, there was always older people working there, and I would bow to them. It was like saying thank you.”

He hit .314 with 28 home runs and 106 RBIs in 2015, the most productive season of his life. He played well the next season, too, but the back issues (degenerative lumbar disc) that have plagued him throughout his career flared up.

He sent home for the pain medication that had been prescribed by his doctor in the past, oxycodone. He was unaware that it was banned by the Korean Baseball Organization. All of a sudden, he was suspended and waived on the same day.

He came to the park one last time to apologize to his manager and teammates. His team, Lotte, was fined and punished by the KBO, too, for mismanaging a player’s health care.

'Pushed to the limit'

That, after another winter in both Mexico and the Dominican, brought him back to America, to the Tigers and ultimately back to the big leauges.

“I wouldn’t change anything,” he said. “It’s made me not only the player I am, but the person I am. The way I see things, going through things in my life that have been tough, it’s pushed my mental strength to the limit.

“All those experiences I had before have prepared me for being here now. There’s no better teacher than experience.”

Jim Adduci: “I’ve never wanted to quit this game. Have there been tough times? Absolutely. But there are two ways you can go with it. You’re either going to figure it out or you’re going to go home.”

What do they say about gem stones? The greater the pressure and heat, the more precious the stone?

“I’ve never wanted to quit this game,” he said. “Have there been tough times? Absolutely. But there are two ways you can go with it. You’re either going to figure it out or you’re going to go home. For me, especially having kids …”

His voice cracks when the conversation comes around to the sacrifices his family has had to make over the years. He wants it known that were it not for Lauren’s abundant patience, faith and strength, his journey would have ended long ago.

“Obviously, I haven’t been around as much as I’d like for my family because this is what I do,” Adduci said. “But the only way for me to show them – hopefully when the kids get older they can see what type of player I was and what I went through and they can learn that from me.

“I think I have done a lot and I am hoping one day they will understand, ‘Oh, maybe that’s why dad was gone so much.’”

The kids are 8, 6 and 3 now. Lauren is in Texas getting them set for school while Adduci is trying to play well enough to earn maybe another year in the big leagues.

“Without my wife Lauren, I can’t do the stuff I’ve done,” he said. “I’m really thankful that I have her. She’s had to do so much. First and foremost, I am thankful for her. For me to do what I have done – I’ve needed her the whole time.”

Twitter @cmccosky