June 5, 2000
By Jeff R. Evans
In the next month, 105 years of Cougar baseball will be in the books, the 2000 season will be over, and several players will be sitting by the phone waiting for the call to play professional baseball.
For most, the dream to play professional baseball started at a young age when they first picked up a glove or swung a bat. The 2000 edition of Cougar baseball has enormous amounts of talent with the possibility of several players moving on to the next level of play.
But for two Cougars, Jason Grove and Ray Hattenburg, it is a tale of two different types of baseball players who both deserve a shot to play professional baseball. For one, the choice will be obvious, as his talent has caught the eye of scouts around the nation. But for the other, a career filled with success, record-setting statistics and awards has proven only to be an unwritten ticket to endless possibilities.
Grove and Hattenburg, the leading hitters for the Cougar baseball program over the last two years, are both successful on the field and both All-Americans. In the eyes of scouts, they are completely different players, but who is to say they both shouldn't get the chance.
Grove is a raw talent the scouts love. He has power, speed, a good arm and can hit the ball to all fields. Through 49 games in his junior year, the right fielder has 32 career home runs and has hit at a .350 career clip.
In his freshman season he hit .323 with 12 home runs and in his sophomore campaign he exploded for a .393 batting average and 18 home runs. After a summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League, Grove has been described by scouts to be a 4_ tool player and is projected to be drafted anywhere from the second to eighth round.
"I am looking forward to the June draft, and whether I decide to forgo my senior year or not it is a win-win situation," Grove said about the possibility of leaving school early to pursue a professional career. "I truly believe I can play at the next level and am excited I may get that opportunity as soon as this summer."
With only eight home runs separating Grove from the WSU career record, his junior season was projected to be a record breaker. Before he even picked up a bat he was selected as a preseason All-American by Baseball America and was named the No. 28 prospect for the June draft. However, he suffered a setback before the season started with a broken hamate bone in his right hand, but he has battled back to hit .316 with two home runs and eight doubles in 23 starts. All of this with several scouts in attendance keeping a watchful eye on the Walla Walla, Wash., product.
"It is kind of difficult playing with all of the scouts watching you because it puts pressure on you," Grove said. "It is always in the back of your mind, but after a while you get used to it and start to relax."
With his career now up in the air as Cougar baseball will take a back seat to the professional draft in June, there is no question Grove will make it to the next level. He will likely become the highest WSU draft choice since Todd Belitz was drafted in the fourth round in 1996, and will soon wear the uniform of a Major League team near you.
"Jason is just an extraordinary player that has an enormous amount of talent," says Hattenburg about Grove. "He hits the ball to all fields and has pop off his bat that you just can't teach. He also runs well, has a great arm from the outfield and does a lot of things that I can see why the scouts love him so much."
While Grove's ticket seems to be punched, Hattenburg continues to play every day with perseverance and continues to produce results. In four years as a Coug, he has exemplified the role of being a utility player while improving every season. The switch-hitting senior has played every position except shortstop, catcher and pitcher as a Cougar. Through 49 games in his this season, Hattenburg has a .352 career average while inching up the record books in hits (244, 6th), at-bats (693, 6th) and doubles (55, 5th).
"There is no question in my mind that Ray Hattenburg deserves a shot at the next level," Grove said. "He is our team leader. He consistently puts up great numbers and he is just an excellent player."
Many have asked why a player like Hattenburg doesn't get noticed by scouts? In a draft that consists of 50 or more rounds, Hattenburg deserves his chance. In his junior campaign he fell just below the elusive .400 mark with a .398 batting average and tagged Pac-10 pitching for an incredible .426 average. He was rewarded by being named an all-Pac-10 selection and an honorable mention All-American. Thus far in his senior campaign, he has maintained a batting average ranked in the top 10 in the conference.
"For me playing baseball is fun and to get to the next level has always been a dream of mine," Hattenburg said. "I know that I am the type of player that gets overlooked sometimes, but I also know that if I keep playing the way I have been it only takes one scout to like me to give me a chance."
He can put the ball to all fields with line drive power from both sides of the plate. He sacrifices his body for the team at any cost and can play every day at nearly every position. A player with average speed and defensive ability is a dime a dozen in the draft, but somehow, someway Hattenburg is different than those players.
"If I get the chance to play next year I really think I am going to surprise some people," Hattenburg said. "I feel comfortable with the wood bat and I improve with every year I play the game."
Regardless of whether or not Hattenburg gets an opportunity to play at the next level, the Spokane, Wash., native and Mead High graduate is already a great success off the field. A construction management graduate who has already accepted a job in Spokane, was an all-Pac-10 academic selection last year and maintained a GPA well above a 3.0 throughout his college career. In addition, Hattenburg and his wife Sarah were married last July in Spokane.
"I just want to give professional baseball a chance because I know I play up there," Hattenburg said. "If I get there and it doesn't work out, then I gave it my best. But I truly believe I can play up there and would do anything to get the chance."
Grove and Hattenburg are two totally different types of players who should end up in the same place. Grove is raw with power and all the tools the scouts love. Hattenburg is a switch-hitting slap hitter who can play several positions and hit well over .300. Regardless of the traits and qualities of each player, both are Cougars, both are great players, and both should wear the uniform of a professional baseball team.