By Mark Gregory
On Sunday, July 24, the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY opened its doors to a pair of players, one of them being former big league catcher Mike Piazza.
Originally a draftee of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round of the 1988 Major League Baseball Draft – the 1,390th overall selection – and was drafted as a favor by manager Tommy Lasorda to Piazza’s father.
No matter what pick Piazza was taken or even the reason why, what matters is that he took that opportunity and turned it into a 15-year professional career and a spot among the game’s elite.
Like Piazza, catcher, Plainfield native and Providence Catholic graduate Sam Tidaback was only looking for a chance.
That chance came when he was taken by the Chicago Cubs 644th overall pick in the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft in the 21st round. Tidaback was one of just two catchers that the Cubs selected in Northsiders’ 38 picks.
Tidaback hit .341 with 15 doubles and 11 home runs with a .417 on-base percentage. Defensively, the catcher posted a .990 fielding percentage for the Nighthawks.
“It was unreal. The Cubs had talked to me in the spring but I didn’t know if they were really a possibility,” Tidaback said. “It’s great because you go to practice every day and you lift every day and you do conditioning all for a moment like this and it was like a weight was off my shoulders and it was a pretty surreal feeling. All I really wanted was the opportunity to go to Arizona and play because I knew I was a senior signing and the money wouldn’t really be there, so I wasn’t worried about that.
“I was moved up to short season and I am living the dream and taking my opportunities and going day by day.”
Tidaback is a graduate of North Georgia University after a two-year stint at Ball State.
“I absolutely loved college and I wouldn’t trade that for anything,” Tidaback said. “I played two years at Ball State and I loved it there and the two roommates I had freshman year will probably end up in my wedding – that is how close we are. But the whole baseball thing didn’t work out as I had hoped. The kid that came in and was a catcher when I was a sophomore was a top 10 round draft pick this year, so he was really, really good and I didn’t want to be a back up for my last two years. So, I started pursuing other things and I can’t say enough about North Georgia and the facilities and the coaches and the teammates are like my brothers now and without them, none of this would have happened.
“When I was transferring, I almost gave it up. I had a bunch of people telling me just find a good school and get a degree so you can make good money coming out of college. I talked to my family and told them I didn’t want to give it up. So, I went to North Georgia and I tore it up my first year. I was first team all conference and all region and I came back in the fall and I started getting stuff from a bunch of teams and they all told me if I played well by senior year that I would be taken. I didn’t think about it and in April I was hitting upper .300s or lower .400s and I was flying off to pro workouts all over the country. North Georgia really took me in and told me I could reach my potential there and that was what happened.”
After not going early in the draft, Tidaback was not watching for his name to be called.
“I was getting a little sick of watching after the first 10 rounds went by and I wasn’t taken, so I was getting antsy, so me and my brother and cousin were just screwing around in the pool in the backyard,” he said. “My mom came running out saying I was picked and everyone was screaming and crying and then she said it was by the Cubs and it was an even bigger deal.”
While Tidaback wants to remain behind the plate, he is open to whatever gives him the best chance to get to the big leagues.
“I played third in high school, so I have been an infielder before and I could play the corner outfield spots, but I love catching. I love being in every play. I am a pretty antsy kid, so I like being in every play and controlling the game, so catching would be ideal, but if they say something else then that is what the organization wants and that is what they will get,” he said. “The way the catchers are in the Cubs’ organization – they are big and are good receivers and if they can hit that’s a bonus. I am pretty good defensively and I really want to work on my hitting because if you can hit, you can play anywhere.”