Second baseman Tyler Rahmatulla
of the Johnson City Cardinals figured all he needed was a chance.
Yet for the former UCLA standout, there was uncertainty whether that would even come after a strange final year to his college career. Now he's making the most of the opportunity in the Appalachian League, where he's turned into one of its top hitters.
"It hasn't gone easy," Rahmatulla said. "Just wanting to make sure I got this opportunity to come out and play -- that wasn't guaranteed. I realized I have a wonderful opportunity to do something now. I'm making sure every day counts."
Prior to St. Louis selecting him in the 34th round in June, Rahmatulla had a whirlwind year, much of it curtailing his ability to play baseball.
It began in 2010 when the then-sophomore hit a season-saving homer for UCLA in an NCAA Super Regional game. The next night, after the Bruins clinched a spot in the College World Series, Rahmatulla sustained a broken right wrist in the celebration. So he sat out the CWS and prepared for fall practice.
On the first day of practice, he suffered a broken foot, putting him out of action for another 10 weeks. He was set to make the most of his junior year in the spring but played only 18 games before he was derailed by academic issues that, as it turned out, signaled the end of his college career.
"I worked all year to get there," he said. "I didn't have much of a junior year."
He hasn't missed a beat with Johnson City.
"He came here and had to kind of get his feet under him like everybody else," Johnson City manager Mike Shildt said, calling the second baseman relatively quiet. "He's a low-maintenance guy."
Despite the challenges, Rahmatulla said his role with the Cardinals has him back doing what he knows best.
"I didn't have too many expectations going into the Draft," he said. "I still worked on my own, hoping I got that chance. I was pumped to get back on the field. ... Baseball is kind of my release, and to have to sit back and wait [was difficult]."
Rahmatulla, 21, received plenty of exposure before his 2011 season ended, and he would have gained more. With overall No. 1 draftee Gerrit Cole and No. 3 pick Trevor Bauer on the UCLA pitching staff, the Bruins drew a large number of scouts.
"There was definitely a lot of people at the games, especially Fridays and Saturdays," he said.
This summer, Rahmatulla has been among the Appalachian League's most consistent hitters, sporting a .325 batting average. His bat has enough pop for him to be in the middle of the Johnson City order as he leads the league with 25 doubles.
"He sees the ball well, stays within himself," Shildt said of Rahmatulla's approach at the plate.
For Rahmatulla, in some ways the season has been a return to normalcy.
"I've been able to stick to a plan mentally," he said. "Stay relaxed, because it's a game and it's meant to be fun."
Except for the Sox: Elizabethton right-hander Derek Christensen went five consecutive outings without giving up a run, including three straight scoreless starts. The stretch covered 19 innings for the second-year pro before the success ran out when the Bristol Sox touched him up for multiple runs in consecutive no-decisions Aug. 17 and Aug. 22. In fact, in his last 10 appearances, Christensen has given up runs in only four outings, and all came against the Sox.
Pressing forward: Danville Braves infielder Brandon Drury says he stopped pressing, which in turn has helped his chase for the league batting crown. "I would always try too hard," said Drury, whose .350 batting average leads the league with a week remaining in the regular season. Manager Randy Ingle said he likes Drury's approach as the No. 3 batter in the lineup, particularly for a player who just recently turned 19 years old.
Waiting for a win: Burlington Royals right-hander Eric Cantrell had his third consecutive strong start, limiting Johnson City to one run in six innings, though a no-decision left the second-year pro still aiming for his first career victory with one scheduled start remaining this season. "Yeah, I think about it," Cantrell said. "I'd love to have one. ... 1-5 sounds a lot better than 0-5."