Sometimes, you just have to keep plugging along before you get your shot at what you want — baseball history is chock full of stories about guys who did just that.
Take Ike Hampton, for example.
Signed as an undrafted amateur free agent by the New York Mets out of high school in 1970, the switch-hitting catcher started his climb in rookie ball that summer.
He showed good power and was able to catch pitched balls, which was good enough to get him climbing up the farm system ladder. He even threw in a bit of baserunning speed for good measure.
All of that got Hampton a call to the Mets in September of 1974 as New York put the finishing touches on a disappointing follow-up season to their 1973 pennant-winning club.
The 23-year-old backstop saw action mostly as a pinch hitter during that four-game cup of coffee but did log four innings in one game behind the plate.
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That was apparently enough to stoke some outside interest, and the California Angels came calling in Spring Training of 1975, trading reliever Ken Sanders to the Mets in order to bring Hampton into the Halo fold.
He spent most of 1975 at Triple-A Salt Lake City but did make 31 appearances for the Angels.
That Big League tally dropped to three games in 1976, but Hampton got another shot in 1977.
At the age of 25, Hampton made it into 52 games for the Halos that summer, including 47 at catcher, with seven starts wearing the tools of ignorance.
He picked up some additional time on the field as a DH, pinch hitter, and even a pinch runner.
All in all, Hampton tallied a line that included a .295 batting average, three home runs, and nine runs batted in.
That was a big enough sample size that Topps finally took notice of the young receiver and slotted him at card #503 in their 1978 set. There, Hampton levels a serious stare at the camera, holding a bat and sporting a snazzy Angels warmup jacket.
The man looks ready for business.
Unfortunately for Hampton, most of that business came in the minors, as he mustered only 23 more MLB appearances in the next two seasons before California released him on April 1, 1980.
That summer, Hampton signed on with Milwaukee … and Toronto … and Detroit, but never made it back to the Majors.
In 1981, he wrapped up his playing career in Japan, logging a season with the Kinetsu Buffaloes, smacking 15 home runs in the process.
But to card collectors, Ike Hampton will always be a persistent California Angel, the guy who kept coming back until he finally hit the wax pack lottery.
Check out the Ike Hampton autographs available on SportsMemorabilia.com (affiliate link).
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