About this time last year, Roemon Fields was working out of a Seattle post office. He had finished his collegiate career at Bethany College in Kansas, where he was a standout ballplayer in the spring and a 60-meter indoor sprinter in the winter. He batted .399 and stole 59 bases in 100 career games, but those numbers came against NAIA competition and didn't attract the attention of Major League scouts. So when the June Draft came and went, Fields' name was never called, and that was that.
He did, however, receive a call from Marcus McKinny, his coach at Yakima Community College, later in the summer of 2013. McKinny was coaching the USA team, more specifically the USA-Northwest Athletic Association of Colleges team, headed to the World Baseball Challenge -- not the official Major League Baseball-sanctioned tournament of the same name -- in Prince George, British Columbia, in August and wanted his former player to join the squad. Fields agreed and played center field for the group of American collegians, finishing with a .379 average with three steals in eight games against teams from Canada, Japan, Chinese Taipei and Cuba.
One scout took notice, and that's all it takes to start a career. A member of the Blue Jays organization approached Fields on the last day of the tournament and asked if he wanted to play pro ball.
"I thought he was joking," said Fields. "I couldn't really believe it at the time."
One week later, the contract arrived in the mail, and by the first week of September, Fields was a professional ballplayer.
"I got the hat and the shirt, and that's really when I knew they weren't playing around," he said.
Now, that's a good start to the story, and any chance at getting paid to play professional baseball should be celebrated. But Fields isn't only getting a chance in the Minors -- he's running with it.
As of Thursday, the 23-year-old center fielder owns a .287/.379/.396 line in his first 25 games with Class A Short Season Vancouver and leads the league with 20 steals in 22 attempts. It's the fastest -- perhaps literally -- any Canadian has ever swiped 20 bags in a season, and he has a seven-steal advantage over the next closest competition among short-season speedsters.
In short, the story of Roemon Fields doesn't look like it'll stop at its origin.
Upon arriving in Vancouver, the plan for the 5-foot-11 left-handed hitter was simple. Put him in the leadoff spot, and let him go.
"The first thing my coaches told me was, 'When you get on base, that's when you start rolling,'" said Fields, who also is tied at the top of the NWL leaderboard with 25 runs scored. "So that's what I see as my job. I need to get on base first, and then use my feet to get over. I need to help these guys get their RBIs up, and right now, everything feels like it's falling into place."
If you're wondering where that speed comes from, Fields does harken back to his days on the indoor track, where he ran a 7.02 60-meter dash.
"It's all about that explosion," he said. "You've got to get a good first step, whether you're sprinting toward the finish line or trying to steal a base. The more explosive I am right away, the better chance I have of getting the base."
In many respects, it's all too fitting that Fields has started his career in the Northwest League for, of all teams, the Canadians, given that first meeting with a scout in British Columbia and his original home in the Pacific Northwest.
On Thursday, Fields' Vancouver squad completed a three-game series with the Everett AquaSox, which plays about 30 miles north of his hometown in Seattle. That meant a visit from his family, who got to see one thing they thought they'd never see, even as recent as 11 months ago -- Roemen Fields, the professional ballplayer.
"They never even got to see me in college," he said. "It's almost like a dream come true to have them here, because it makes me feel like I've made them proud and I've made myself proud. I never thought it'd come to this, but with them here, it finally hit me, and now it feels like everything has paid off."
That other Baez: Entering Thursday, outfielder Jeffrey Baez, no relation to fellow Cubs prospect Javier Baez, had a 12-game hitting streak -- tied for longest in the NWL this season -- that's seen him bat .380 with five homers and 16 RBIs during that span. The right-handed slugger has stolen at least 26 bases during his previous three seasons in the Dominican Summer League, Arizona League and with Boise and is likely to hit that mark again with 13 steals in 25 games (second-most in the league) so far for the Hawks. His big breakout has come in the power department with his seven homers already setting a career high. He had only nine long balls in 171 games entering this season.
What a relief: The Spokane staff leads the league with a collective 3.21 ERA -- Vancouver is second at 3.59 -- but doesn't have a pitcher in the top 10 among quialified hurlers in the category. That's because the Indians' relievers have been especially impressive. Spokane starters had a 4.16 ERA as of Thursday while their bullpen brethren have posted a 2.16 figure. Shane McCain (0.87 ERA, seven appearances), John Fasola (0.00, six), Adam Parks (1.93, six) and Luis Pollorena (1.32, six) have each appeared in six games or more while keeping an ERA below 2.00. Because of that work done by the relievers, Spokane is 14-1 when leading after five innings and 15-0 when leading after six.