It's been a long journey for Rick Short.
The former 33rd-round draft pick began his professional career in 1994 with Bluefield of the Rookie Appalachian League and has since played in the Class A Advanced Carolina and California leagues, the Double-A Eastern and Southern
leagues, the Triple-A International and Pacific Coast leagues -- and for the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan.
Now, after winning the Triple-A Offensive Player of the Year Award at age 32, Short's career is finally taking off.
Short, primarily playing a combination of first, second and third base for the New Orleans Zephyrs, batted at least .304 every month -- except September, when he went hitless in his only game. In June, he enjoyed a 40-for-80 performance, but it wasn't always easy.
"A lot of balls die in the humidity in New Orleans," said Short. "When you hit a ball in the gap, it just seems to hang up forever."
Despite the unfavorable conditions, Short put together a 20-game hitting streak in June and topped it with a 21-gamer that began the following month.
Already batting .381 on Aug. 10 and making headlines with his quest for .400, Short went on a rampage, going 12-for-15 (.800) over his next four games to raise his average to .401.
"He was confident in what he was doing," said Zephyrs manager -- and 16-year Major League veteran -- Tim Foli. "He takes care of himself and works awful hard. He's not a 'rah-rah' guy. He leads by example and how he plays the game."
Short played the game with incredible consistency. He batted .350 with the bases empty and .418 with runners in scoring position. He hit .358 against lefties and .391 off righties. He batted .361 at home and .404 on the road. He hit .394 as the Zephyrs' cleanup man and .381 in the seventh slot.
Yes, the seventh slot.
Although Short entered the season with a career Minor League average of .312, Foli moved him around the lineup and started him at different positions -- including one game behind the plate -- to prepare him for any role he might encounter in the big leagues.
The moves paid off. After two brief callups in June and July, Short left his Minor League-best .383 average behind for a slightly longer September stint with the Washington Nationals. He responded by going 5-for-13 with two doubles and two homers to wrap up his first big league season with a .400 average and a .933 slugging percentage.
Short finished his monster year in the Minors with 11 homers, 35 doubles, 70 RBIs, 72 runs and a 1.025 OPS. He also drew 46 walks to go with just 27 strikeouts.
"If I fell way behind in the count," said Short, "I just wanted to somehow put the barrel on the baseball. I kind of play the numbers a little bit. I figure that if you have 500 at-bats and put the ball in play 475 times, you're gonna get your hits."
Foli appreciated this approach.
"What I saw in Shortie is a professional hitter," he said. "When you have the best pitcher out there, he puts on a good at-bat. He knows how to take what the pitcher gives him. He knows how to hit in those situations."
As for next season, Foli will be back with the team and he hopes that Short won't.
"If he's healthy, he should make the (Nationals') Opening Day roster."
Short has a good chance, considering he has a career .520 career average in Spring Training.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.