It's not every day a player who's not yet had even a cup of coffee in the big leagues gets traded for a likely candidate to enter Cooperstown as a future hall of famer.
Recently, that very thing happened to Justin Fuller, 26, after he was moved from a Dodgers farm club, the Inland Empire, for Chicago White Sox slugger Jim Thome.
An off-season Juneau resident who also was born here, Fuller made his way south as a youngster to play prep ball at Lynnwood High School in northern Washington.
"When I was 10, 11, 12, I was really into sports and baseball, and I decided I wanted to take it one step further and try to open every avenue possible to go play college baseball and professional baseball," Fuller said.
After what he termed as a "not too spectacular" high school career, Fuller, a defensive wizard at shortstop, was offered a scholarship to play for Lewis-Clark State College, in Lewiston, Idaho, where he won two NAIA World Series rings.
"I think they have 17 national championships now," he said of his alma mater, where he obtained a degree in business management. "They've had a lot of guys drafted, close to 200 players. We won my freshman year and my senior year. Lewiston is about 35,000 people, and the neighboring city is about 25,000, so it's the same type of atmosphere as here. It's a real baseball town."
After winning a World Series title his first year, Fuller said there was no better way to cap off his career as a senior. But that was only the start of perhaps the best month of his life.
"Our World Series got done a week before the draft so my family was around, and my sister was going to school there," he said. "My senior year, I was
just kind of sleeping in and stuff. And when it happened, my sister and mom ran into the room and told me I got drafted in the 11th round by the Dodgers. It was the end of the good month: I got my college degree, we won the World Series, I was named best defensive player and I got drafted."
Fuller played rookie ball from 2006-07, winning the Defensive Player of the Year award for all Dodgers farm clubs in '06. After bouncing around between A-level leagues until this past summer, Fuller got the call that he had been traded.
"It was pretty crazy," he said. "My mom was down seeing me again with my nieces, and my dad was flying in. We had just went out to eat, it was an off day and I got a call at 9 o'clock at night and it was the minor league coordinator for the Dodgers. He told me I got traded and I was awestruck at first. I really didn't know what to think.
"Guys get traded in the major leagues, but not many guys from the minors get traded," he continued. "I was taken aback, being that it was for Jim Thome. He's a hall of famer for sure, and it was a straight across deal with a little cash involved. But I was the only player, so they wanted me. It was kind of cool that they wanted to trade for me. Definitely a good feeling."
The White Sox bumped him all the way up to their AAA club in Charlotte, Ill., where Fuller, a switch-hitter, played well in five games, batting .308 in 16 plate appearances.
Fuller said he hopes to get a shot at joining the White Sox next spring.
"They did give up a big price to get me in return, so I hope they give me ample opportunity to show what I can do," he said. "I hope to go to spring training and have a good spring, and go out there next year and do it."
Until then, Fuller will continue working out with the Juneau-Douglas High School baseball team, imparting his knowledge of what it takes to get to that next level, and beyond.
"I love coming home. Juneau is definitely home to me," he said. "It's weird because when I'm gone in the summer, we always play in hot places and it doesn't rain. I really want to come home and be in the cool weather with the rain and stuff. I know, it's hard to explain."
JDHS coach Jamie Kissner said having Fuller around is a blessing.
"He is kind enough to come out and help with the kids and donate his time, and we thank him immensely for that," he said. "It's great for the kids because it gives them a role model, someone that they hopefully aspire to be like. Most of these kids, their dream is to go on and play professional baseball. They can see how he goes about working out and how he does things. They have a wealth of knowledge right there in front of them."
Kissner said Fuller's work ethic has gotten him where he is today.
"He's not a huge guy - he's put together well, he's lean and strong, but by no means is he a physical specimen like an Alex Rodriguez. So hard work is huge," he said. "Justin is one of the hardest working guys I know, and I've been around a lot of baseball players in my time. There's a number of guys that I've played with that are in the big leagues now, and Justin has the best work ethic I've seen out of any of those guys."
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