Chase Lambin, who turns 33 next month, has played in more than 1,000 games in his professional career. He's had more than 4,000 plate appearances, earned All-Star honors at every level of the minors, and even spent a year playing in Japan. But he's never spent a day in the major leagues.
So it was bittersweet when, last Sunday afternoon in Nashville, Lambin laced a single down the right field line for a leadoff single in the fifth inning. It was the 1,000th hit of Lambin's 11-year career.
"It's kind of weird, to hang around that long and get that many hits," Lambin said. "I guess it's a testament to persevering and a lot of hard work.
"But it's also, 'This isn't where you want to get your hits. You want to get them in the big leagues.' But I'm blessed and I'm grateful for all the opportunities I've had and all the games I've gotten to play."
The single kickstarted a two-run rally for the New Orleans Zephyrs. Lambin was later in the middle of two other Zephyrs rallies, and finished the game reaching base four times on two singles and two walks and scoring three runs as the Zephyrs came from behind to beat the Sounds, 7-3.
Regardless of where the hits have come, from Brooklyn to Binghamton, Albuquerque or Zebulon, Lambin has reveled in each one.
"I was telling my wife, every one of those 1,000 hits is a drug you can't buy or take," Lambin said. "To get a hit is a feeling that people don't really get to experience, and every one of those is a little shot of adrenaline that you can't buy over the counter."
With another 17 hits, Lambin will match the number of his selection when the New York Mets took him with the 1,017th pick in the 2002 draft out of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
Lambin was a Florida State League All-Star for St. Lucie in his first full season in 2003, led Double-A Binghamton with 64 RBI in 2004, and batted .331 and was named an Eastern League All-Star for Binghamton in 2005. But after a disappointing 2006 campaign, Lambin was released by the Mets and signed, for the first time, with the Marlins.
He tied for fourth in the Southern League with 31 doubles for the Carolina Mudcats, and moved up to Triple-A Albuquerque the following year, taking a .330 batting average into the All-Star break.
Lambin jumped at the chance to play in Japan in 2009, playing in 58 games for the Chiba Lotte Marines. In his short time overseas, Lambin displayed the versatility that has helped define his career, playing everywhere except pitcher and catcher.
"There's some value in what I do," Lambin said. "I switch hit and play seven positions. That gets me in a lot of games, and a lot of managers like to have a guy like me."
Back in the United States in 2010, Lambin played in a career-best 136 games for Syracuse, and was named Most Valuable Player of the Triple-A All-Star Game. He moved on to the Twins organization in 2011, and played in 134 more games for Rochester, batting .303 over the final three months of the season.
The Marlins called again in the offseason, and Lambin was back at Triple-A, this time in New Orleans. Though his role has become more limited, serving more as a utility player than everyday starter for the Zephyrs, Lambin has continued to hit.
And on May 8, with the Z's locked in a 16-inning marathon against Tucson and out of pitchers, Lambin added one more layer of versatility to his resume when he took the mound, held the Padres scoreless in the top of the 16th, and became the first Zephyrs position player to be the winning pitcher when Luke Montz hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning.
Lambin said it was the first time he had pitched since he was 13 years old.
"I'm glad Montz hit the homer," Lambin told the Times-Picauyne. "I didn't want to keep pitching."
Rest assured, Lambin's perfect winning percentage as a pitcher will not be his legacy as a professional ballplayer. Though he still dreams of one day putting on a Major League uniform, Lambin let the moment surrounding his 1,000th hit soak in when his Zephyrs teammates had the ball taken out of play.
"I didn't know they were going to do that," Lambin said. "They caught me by surprise. I'm not one to put too much attention on myself, but everybody was great. All my teammates were really sincere and shook my hand and were congratulatory, so it feels good to accomplish something like that."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.