After four outstanding seasons at the University of Louisville, Nick Haley was ready to hang up his spikes.
Despite a .301 career average and .421 career on-base percentage in four years as a starter for the Cardinals, the infielder went undrafted following both his junior and senior years.
There was another factor working against Haley. Late in his senior season, he was diagnosed with a severe case of Crohn's Disease, which causes chronic inflammation and cramping in the digestive system. Haley is controlling the disease through drugs and diet, but knows it will be a lifelong challenge to keep the disease at bay.
Following his senior season, Haley decided to stay at Louisville to finish his college degree requirements and keep in shape as a graduate assistant baseball coach. With his Crohn's in check, he was playing so well in scrimmages that he caught the eye of several scouts and signed a free-agent contract with the Colorado Rockies on March 13, 2007.
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How's this for consistency: In his first pro season, playing in 50 games with Modesto last year, he hit .301 with a .421 on-base percentage, precisely matching his college numbers.
By the way, today is Haley's 24th birthday.
Brian VanderBeek: At the point you accepted the job to become the graduate assistant at Louisville, did you assume your playing days were over?
Nick Haley: I definitely did. I wasn't even thinking about playing ball again after the draft. I told myself that if I didn't get drafted I wasn't playing again. I was planning on coaching and getting my degree. The team needed an extra player for scrimmages, so I was scrimmaging with the team. The next I knew, my coach had spoken to a scout, they came out and watched me and the next thing I knew I was in spring training. It all was very crazy.
BVB: You also didn't get drafted after your junior year. Was that a surprise?
NH: A little bit, but I wasn't worried about it. My brother also got drafted after his junior year at Louisville and I was able to watch him. The way my junior year went I knew I needed to come back for a senior season. As a senior, I started off badly. I was so weak and tired and had lost so much weight and I didn't know why. It took half the season to figure out, and had they found it earlier I probably would have redshirted.
BVB: You couldn't qualify for a medical redshirt?
NH: I played in about four too many games to get a medical redshirt. And then the next year, after I leave, the team goes to the College World Series. That team returned all their position players but me.
BVB: I found it interesting that you missed only two weeks of action following the diagnosis.
NH: I had a minor surgery and just came back. There were only a few weeks left in the season, so I just went out there and played.
BVB: But in addition to being drained and tired, I assume you had the stomach cramps and everything else that goes with Crohn's.
NH: It was frustrating. I'd go to practice and not feel like practicing. I was so tired. I'd get out there, start sweating and start getting hot and I'd be on the ground with the cramps, they hurt so bad. They had no clue what it was, and I was in and out of the doctor's office every day. It went on like that for about three weeks. It was a terrible time.
BVB: They finally found the right test to allow them to make the diagnosis.
NH: A colonoscopy. It came to that, and as soon as the doctor went in, he saw it right away. I have it in two places.
BVB: You happened to mention it in passing the other day when there was a bowl of nuts on the food spread. You said that nuts are one of the things you stay away from because of Crohn's. You guys have a pretty good spread here for a minor league team, but you have to be so careful about everything you eat.
NH: It's all trial and error. I try stuff and if it makes me hurt I don't eat it again. Salads are the worst thing. Certain fruits, like strawberries and oranges, are tough because of acids. I have to stick with white bread because wheat bread really upsets my stomach.
BVB: And, of course, there's a regimen of medicines you have to be strict about taking.
NH: When I first got diagnosed, I was taking 22 pills a day. Now I'm down to 12 or 13 pills a day. That's a lot better.
BVB: I assume all of them have been screened and approved by baseball.
NH: Right. I hope so (laughs).
BVB: What's the one thing you miss the most that you can't eat?
NH: Shrimp. I loved shrimp. Anything from the bottom of the ocean, especially raw, I can't eat.
BVB: But the main thing is that the disease is under control and that you're able to keep your strength up during the season.
NH: Right. I just have to be careful and have a feel for my body, and when I need to rest or sit down. Some days are worse than others, but I'm fine.
BVB: I can't imagine you ever going into Jerry Weinstein's office to say you can't play that day.
NH: No, I'm not doing that. I'll keep that to myself.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.