While many fans’ eyes are on the top Springfield Cardinals prospects, like infielders Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn, unheralded players grind away to keep their professional baseball dreams going.
Catcher Nick Raposo was a free agent in 2020 out of Division III Wheaton College in Massachusetts when he signed with the Cardinals two years ago and then had to endure a summer without baseball due to the pandemic.
“That was pretty weird,” Raposo said of signing with the Cardinals, but with nowhere to go play and hopefully impress. “I just tried to stay ready and stay positive.”
Raposo, 25, has embraced a low-profile, grinder’s mentality since his high school days in Providence, Rhode Island. Lightly recruited, he accepted an offer to play at nearby Wheaton and turned it into a positive.
Hitting .366 during his career with nine home runs, 117 RBIs and 35 doubles in 131 games, Raposo became the ninth player in Wheaton history to sign a pro baseball contract in June of 2020.
“I guess I was a little undersized coming out of high school and I didn’t really have all the tools,” Raposo said Tuesday at Hammons Field, prior to the opener of a six-game homestand against Frisco.
“I just chose to go to a D-III school where I had an opportunity to play and develop into a better player and person. It led me to this road. I never really imagined myself being here, maybe out of high school or even college.
“But I’m grateful to be here and grateful for every opportunity that I have.”
Raposo has been one of the Cardinals’ hottest hitters during July as the team has surged to the top of the Texas League North Division standings. He is hitting .372 during July with all four of his home runs coming this month.
There’s been nothing magical about his turnaround after hitting .227 in May and .200 in June. If there’s anyone capable of playing through the down times, it seems Raposo is up to the task.
“I don’t know,” Raposo said of why he’s swinging the bat better in July. “Baseball has its ups and downs. You make some adjustments and sometimes they pay off. I’m just trying to take it at-bat by at-bat.
“Every day you’re always trying to get into a rhythm, always trying to make improvements and get better.”
Springfield pitcher Kyle Leahy said the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Raposo could go hitless every night and still have a positive impact on him and other members of the pitching staff.
“If there was a handbook of how to do things the right way, you could write it about Nick Raposo,” Leahy said. “He’s always there catching everybody’s side (sessions), he’s always asking the pitchers questions about how they like to pitch. He studies the other team’s hitters.
“He just does a little bit of everything. Then, behind the plate in the game, he’s there competing with you. He always has your back. There’s not much more you could ask for from a catcher.”
Raposo said catching, and helping the pitchers any way he can, is “probably my favorite part of the job, just getting to know the pitchers, how to talk to them and getting the most out of them every day when they don’t have their best stuff.
“Some days, it’s easy when they have all four pitches working. Other days, they have two pitches working and I try to find a way to help them through innings and get the most out of them.”
Tuesday night, as the Cardinals lost 10-6 to Frisco, Raposo went hitless in four at-bats. Look for him to move on quickly and prepare for another chance to contribute on Wednesday.
Raposo said he’s happy for his highly rated teammates, but said he’s content with how his own journey has unfolded. Who knows where it will wind up. He’s just focusing on the next game, the next at-bat.
“My story is different from others,” he said. “And I wouldn’t change my story for anything. I’m grateful and appreciative to come into this position. Every day I’m just trying to get better.”
The Springfield Cardinals opened a six-game homestand at Hammons Field on Tuesday night against the Frisco Roughriders, Double-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Frisco won the opener, 10-6. A look at remaining games on the homestand:
Wednesday: 6:35 p.m. (Purina Woof Wednesday)
Thursday: 7:05 p.m. (Route 66 Super Soft Shirt giveaway, to first 2,000 fans)
Friday: 7:05 p.m. (Christmas in July ornament giveaway, to first 2,000 fans; post-game fireworks)
Saturday: 6:35 p.m. (Yadi tumbler giveaway, to first 2,000 fans)
Sunday: 1:35 p.m. (Hiland Dairy Ice Cream Sunday; Kids Run the Bases post-game)