Tyler Saladino plays baseball in the minor leagues in Birmingham, Ala. A prospect in the Chicago White Sox system, he was sent to the AA Birmingham Barons after spending part of spring training with the major league club.
And when he arrived in Alabama, Saladino's first task was to find a place to live, as he tells Morning Edition's David Greene. He settled on sharing an apartment.
"There's three other teammates living here right now," he says. "We're all splitting the cost of everything. I think it's $881 for the month, and we're splitting that four ways. So it's actually working out pretty well for us."
An infielder who plays mostly at shortstop, Saladino's goal is to reach the majors. To help him get there, Barons hitting instructor Brandon Moore tutors him in getting the barrel of the bat through the inside part of the plate, to cover more of the strike zone.
"Once you start getting the barrel to that inside pitch," Moore says, "because you backspin the ball better than anybody I got, when you're on — you're going to see doubles and triples in that left-center-field gap."
Many in the Chicago organization think Saladino will make it to the majors; Moore is one of them.
"He asks good questions for a young ballplayer — which is always fun," Moore says. "The guys that, in my experience, ask the right questions, at his age, usually do pretty good."
NPR's Southern Bureau Chief Russell Lewis, who has attended some of Saladino's games — and is an admitted Barons fan — says the fans and players seem to like the rangy player who always seems to have a smile on his face.
And while many of his teammates call Saladino "Sally," some fans have given him a different nickname: Salad.
"Let's go, Salad!" yelled one fan at a recent game.
In that game, Saladino hit a run-scoring single. The next night, he nabbed a liner behind second base to make a nice defensive play, spinning to throw the runner out at first.
With plays like that, Saladino hopes to make his case for being in the majors. And if it he makes it there, perhaps he can pick his own nickname.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This baseball season, we're following two minor league players trying to make it to the majors. One of them, Tyler Saladino, plays here.
(SOUNDBITE OF BASEBALL GAME)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And now it's time for your 2012 Birmingham Barons starting lineup, presented by Pearl River Resorts.
GREENE: Birmingham, Alabama. Tyler's an infielder for the Barons. They're a team affiliated with the Chicago White Sox. And many people in the White Sox organization see a bright future for Tyler, potential to make it to the big league club in Chicago. That includes his hitting coach, Brandon Moore.
BRANDON MOORE: You know, he has an internal drive. You know, he likes to come out here when nobody else is around, and he likes to not have distractions. And he asks good questions for a young ball player, which is always fun. And the guys that, in my experience, that ask the right questions at his age usually do pretty good.
GREENE: And we had some questions for Russell Lewis, who is NPR's Southern bureau chief. We asked him if he'd mind hitting the stadium and catching a few of Tyler's games.
You know, full disclosure, this was not the hardest assignment for you, as I understand it, because you live in Birmingham. You're a pretty big Barons fan as it is.
RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Sure. You know, I think if you live in Birmingham, it's the only professional team here. And most folks will probably know the Barons as the team where Michael Jordan played for a season after he retired from basketball. But it's a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the series that I attended was not the greatest for the Barons. But, you know, I caught up with Tyler. I was able to spend a lot of time with him.
TYLER SALADINO: Here in the Minor Leagues, I'm working to learn how to win a World Series in the future. If losing becomes acceptable or striking out becomes acceptable, well, that's not practicing the right things to compete at the highest level possible.
GREENE: Wow, it really does sound like he's already thinking about the future, Russell. And are they treating him like something special already, in Birmingham?
LEWIS: You know, it's funny. I mean folks here in Birmingham probably don't know his prospects. But they certainly - they like him as a player. They like what he brings. They like sort of the excitement and the enthusiasm that he brings to the baseball field each and every day. His teammates, they call him Sally that's his nickname.
LEWIS: Other people in the stands there's this one guy who yells out, Go, Salad.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Let's go, Salad.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Now hitting for the Barons, shortstop, Number Three, Tyler Saladino.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
LEWIS: So, in his first at batting in the first inning, Tyler swings at the first pitch, hits a single and knocks in a run. It's one-nothing, Barons over the Blue Wahoos from Pensacola.
LEWIS: Tyler played shortstop and there was one play when the ball was just hit sharply to him, and it's what he did to get the out that was just so oh-so impressive. Here's the Barons' play-by-play guy calling that play.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Left-handed Dodder, two-nothing, Pensacola. Hits one hard on the ground towards short. Diving to his left, Saladino spins and throws, and picks the man off at first. Wow on both ways.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: First the spin...
GREENE: And the Barons did not end up winning that game or any in that particular series. But Russell told me that that kind of thing doesn't Tyler from appreciating the privileges of professional baseball.
LEWIS: He's just gotten a new baseball glove. This one is really special to Tyler because it's got his name stitched into it. It's his own glove and, to him, this is a really, really big deal.
SALADINO: It's a reminder of where you're at. I could never afford to get a custom glove when I was younger. It's just another reason to keep working hard, you know? You want to be able to keep playing so you can keep playing ball with your own name on your bat. That's awesome.
GREENE: Russell, one thing that I know matters to Tyler is his family. He told me back in April how important his family is. And I understand they were actually in Birmingham when you went to these games.
LEWIS: Yeah, his family is able to go to about one series of games with him a year. And they were able to come to this series. His family lives out in California in San Diego, drove out from California - actually brought him his truck.
GREENE: Wow, the whole clan.
LEWIS: Drove him his truck. Both his dad and his grandfather had a hand in coaching Tyler, getting him to the point of where he is now. And, as Tyler says, baseball really is the heritage of their family. And his grandfather, Art Saladino, Sr., says Tyler really is - he's a special player.
ART SALADINO, SR.: You know, he can go as far as he wants because he likes the game. Like anybody else, if you like the game, stick with it. You know? And don't give up.
GREENE: Wow, that's one proud grandfather. Well, Russell, I know you and I are going to be watching to see how far Tyler does go this year. Thanks so much for going to those games and checking in with us.
LEWIS: Absolutely, my pleasure.
GREENE: Russell Lewis is NPR's Southern bureau chief.
You can see a picture Tyler Saladino's new baseball glove at NPR.org. And we'll check back in with Tyler later in the season. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.