'I couldn't just give up': Local players describe their long journeys to big leagues

Through his nine seasons in the minor leagues, Ryan Court played with a lot of great baseball players.

Court learned something bouncing around everywhere from rookie ball to independent leagues to Triple-A.

“I’m at the same level as them,” said Court, a 2006 Dundee-Crown graduate who was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks after he played at Illinois State. “What kept me going the most was I knew I could play in the big leagues. I knew I could. Any opportunity I got, if I could still play, I had a chance to make it.”

That self-confidence drove Court, even after a stint in independent baseball in 2015, or following his release by the Cubs after spring training this season, when he would sign with the Sugar Land (Texas) Skeeters of the Atlantic League, another independent league.

Court knew, even at 31 years old, he could make it.

Finally, on July 26 it happened. Court was promoted from Triple-A Tacoma to the Seattle Mariners. The next day, Court went 2 for 5 with three RBIs as the Mariners defeated Detroit, 8-1, and was honored with the obligatory Gatorade shower from his teammates while doing a TV interview.

His parents, John and Anita Court, who live in Sleepy Hollow, were there with other family members to take it all in.

“It was a dream come true,” Ryan Court said.

Court, who was optioned back to Tacoma last week, is one of several local players who reached the major leagues in the past few seasons, starting with Hampshire graduate Jake Goebbert, who made it with San Diego in 2014. Crystal Lake Central’s Connor Sadzeck (Texas) and Prairie Ridge’s Nick Martini (Oakland) and Kevin Kaczmarski (New York Mets) were called up last year.

Sadzeck started this season with the Mariners and is on the injured list after undergoing right elbow surgery. He might be available in September.

Martini was injured in spring training but worked his way back with the A’s last month.

Martini had the thrill of a lifetime Aug. 5, shortly after returning to the A’s. He delivered a pinch-hit home run against the Cubs at Wrigley Field with his family and several friends going crazy in the left-field bleachers. It was the first game at Wrigley for Martini, who had been there countless times while growing up as a Cubs fan.

“I went through some tough stretches in Triple-A trying to come back,” said Martini, who suffered a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a February spring training game. “It’s hard on you mentally. It’s a challenge. You don’t know if you’re ever going to get back here. Just to be able to have the chance to do this again is something special.”

Martini spent seven seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization before he was picked up by Oakland. He was 28 when he made it to the majors, although giving up on baseball was never an option.

“Honestly, the challenge aspect of it keeps you going,” Martini said. “I guess the ups and downs, the mental grind. … It sounds crazy, but it’s fun, man. The chance you have to get here is what always keeps you going.”

Goebbert made it to the majors at age 27 and played 51 games with the Padres in 2014. He was drafted by Houston in 2009, traded to Oakland in 2013, then dealt to San Diego in May the next year.

Goebbert started his major league career with a pinch-hit RBI single with his parents, Lloyd and Terri, and brother James in the stands.

“It’s not easy," said Goebbert, the 2006 Northwest Herald Male Athlete of the Year. "The support you get from everyone, and just the opportunity is enough to keep you pushing forward. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime goal. There are a lot of people in corporate America who are very successful that would trade their situation for yours in a heartbeat.”

There are inevitable moments of doubt that those chasing the dream must overcome.

“Absolutely. Every day,” Goebbert said. “One of the sayings in baseball is, ‘When you think you’re in, you’re out. And when you think you’re out, you’re in.’ Ryan Court will attest to that greatly. It’s a true testament to his character that he is where he is.”

Court was with Boston’s Triple-A team in 2017, then played with the Cubs’ Triple-A team last season. He was that close, then he was without a team after spring training.

Court credits Skeeters manager Pete Incaviglia, a former major leaguer, with helping him find a major league organization.

“I worked so hard in the last five or six months getting ready for the season that I would never quit in the middle of a season,” Court said. “I couldn’t just give up and start looking for something to do the rest of my life. The window that we have with baseball is so small, any opportunity you get, you have to take advantage of it.”

Scott Martini said all he could do was support and encourage his son as Nick worked his way up in the minors. Scott hopes Nick’s winter workout partner, 2007 D-C graduate Elliot Soto (Court’s former high school teammate) will get his shot. Soto plays for Colorado’s Triple-A affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes.

“Keep working hard, keep doing the things you’re doing and, at some point, you get a chance,” Scott Martini said. “You hope the passion and love for the game is still there. I can tell you, they’re going to have to drag [Nick] off the field. He’s not going to quit. He loves this game.”

Court longs for another shot after being optioned last week. He hit .235 with a home run and five RBis in eight games with the Mariners. He was 2 for 4 with his first major league homer the day before he was sent back to Tacoma.

“The biggest sigh of relief was that all the work had paid off,” Court said. “That was the initial ‘All right, you made it’ kind of thing. Once that washes off, you want to have success. My last game was probably one of my best games. Now I’m back here and have to work hard to get back up there.”

Goebbert spent the 2016 season with Tampa Bay’s Triple-A team, the Durham Bulls. His description of his arrival to the majors sounds eerily similar to that of fictitious character Crash Davis in the movie “Bull Durham,” as Davis tells a bunch of wide-eyed prospects about his 21 days in the big leagues.

“It’s everything you ever imagined it to be,” Goebbert said. “From the travel to the lifestyle to the playing surfaces, teammates, coaching staff, not to discredit any minor league coaching staffs, because I give them more credit than anybody in the world. It’s a unique opportunity, and you become part of a fraternity that is kind of eternal.”

Loading more

Digital Access

Digital Access
Access and all Shaw Local content from all your digital devices and receive breaking news and updates from around the area.

Home Delivery

Home Delivery
Local news, prep sports, Chicago sports, local and regional entertainment, business, home and lifestyle, food, classified and more! News you use every day! Daily, weekend and Sunday packages.

Text Alerts

Text Alerts
Stay connected to us wherever you are! Get breaking news updates along with other area information sent to you as a text message to your wireless device.

Email Newsletters

Email Newsletters
We'll deliver news & updates to your inbox. Plan your weekend and catch up on the news with our newsletters.