In June 2010, Chris Winder realized his athletic career was headed in the direction he always envisioned.
Winder, a 2008 Moffat County High School graduate, was drafted in the 27th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball first-year player draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.
“It took me about a month to get over the shock of being drafted,” Winder said. “I had to realize this was my job and I am supposed to be here.”
In the third week of June, Winder reported to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to join the Hudson Valley Renegades, a Short Season Single-A minor league team for the Rays.
While Winder had enjoyed success in his baseball career at MCHS and Odessa College, a junior college in Texas, his start with the Renegades wasn’t so smooth.
“I started out pretty bad,” Winder said. “It took some time for me to get the flow of things and not worry so much.”
After making adjustments, Winder, who plays outfield for the Renegades, ended the season with a .225 batting average, 7 RBI and 13 stolen bases. He was second on the team in stolen bases.
Still, Winder said the hardest transition from junior college baseball to the minor leagues was hitting.
“I have to use a wooden bat now, compared to aluminum in college, so that took some getting used to,” he said. “Plus, there is just a lot better pitching now.”
While in New York, Winder said each of the players stays with a host family for the duration of the season.
Now that the 2010 season is over, Winder said he can look back and see how he improved, both mentally and physically.
“I am bigger and faster than I was in college,” he said. “Mentally, I learned to take each at bat as its own, not thinking about the past or the future.
“I could go 4-for-4 one game and the next I could go 0-for-4, but either way, I need to put those days behind me and concentrate on the current at-bat.”
When March rolls around, Winder said he will report to Port Charlotte, Fla., for 2011 spring training, at which time he will meet some of the Tampa Bay players, a team that won the 2010 American League East division.
“In the minors, my team has played against some big names, but we haven’t met anyone from the Rays,” he said. “All levels (of the organization) will report to spring training, so I am excited to meet some of the major league players.”
Winder said he hopes to learn from the major league players by watching them during spring training, using what he learns to move up the ranks.
Short Season Single-A is the launching pad for Winder in professional baseball, which could take him through Class A, Double-A, Triple-A and finally the majors. However, based on productivity, some players have been able to skip some steps.
“Players always need to think they are going to be moved up, so I think I’ll get moved up,” he said. “I need to learn from my coaches and teammates now and make myself a better player.”
To keep himself in shape in the off-season, Winder said he recently returned from Denver, where he met his old summer baseball coach to run, workout and get in some batting practice at an indoors batting cage.
In Craig, Winder said he is able to utilize the MCHS gym to practice and workout.
Although it hasn’t been the easiest road so far, Winder said he’s enjoying working on his game.
“I always tell myself to have fun and not worry about certain things,” he said. “I just need to do me, and do what I do.”