Grinding it Out in Single-A

Former Griffin Justin Trapp on his journey through the Minors

Trapp looks skyward after jolting a home run against the Potomac Nationals on May 8. (Photo: © Glazier Photography)

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – It had been raining off and on all day long, but two hours before first pitch the clouds appeared as if they might finally relent. Fractured beams of yellow-orange sunlight were nudging through the gray canopy at last, bathing Pelicans Park in a surreal, sepia-tone glow. Walking into the ball park was like walking into a photograph taken 100 years ago. Near the batting cages down the left field line, one could hear the crackling of maple and ash striking against the stitched horsehide. The air was mingled with the scent of freshly oiled leather and liniment emanating from the visitor’s clubhouse, while from the row of concessions underneath the grandstands, the aroma of popcorn, pretzels, burgers and dogs wafted into the subconscious.

It smelled like baseball.

Fresh from his workout in the cages, Justin Trapp emerged from the visitor’s clubhouse wearing his Kansas City Royals under-jersey, gym shorts and spikes. Today, July 20, he is not in the lineup for the Wilmington Blue Rocks, enjoying a day off on this long road trip for the Class A Advanced minor league franchise, but the game is always on his mind. In the middle of his fifth season of professional ball, Trapp has struggled of late. He went 1-for-4 last night, leading off the game with a home run; but his batting average has dipped to .256. He is striking out too much, he says, and he is making too many errors in the field at second base. Management has just begun working him into the outfield, and the transition is a challenge.

Trapp, a 2009 graduate of Fairfield Central High School, was selected by the Royals in the 34th round of the 2009 First Year Player Draft. Just a few months shy of his 23rd birthday, Trapp has gradually worked his way up the organizational ladder. In spite of his recent struggles, he still has his sights set on the Big Leagues and he knows what it takes to get there.

“It’s been a journey,” Trapp said. “I must say that, to be drafted out of high school at Fairfield Central, I’ve come a long way. Baseball is not that big at Fairfield. When I got drafted, I got around people who know the game more, people who have played in the big leagues; getting more knowledge. It’s been a journey, and I’m happy I get to be in the journey.”

Trapp said he keeps in close contact with Scotty Dean, who took over head baseball coaching duties at Fairfield Central during Trapp’s senior season. Trapp keeps up with the Griffins, he said, and was excited to learn of the Griffins’ first playoff victory in school history last season. Dean is just one part of Trapp’s support group, keeping him focused on his goal.

“I talk to coach Dean a lot,” Trapp said. “He texts me every week or so to let me know to keep grinding and keep going hard.”

“I offer advice,” Dean said a few days later. “I tell him to try to lay down a bunt or to see more pitches, or that he’s got plenty of time to make the throw from second base – don’t rush it. Some people worry about him making it in baseball, but baseball is the hardest sport in the world for anybody. I think he’s got a chance. He’s hit well enough at every level he’s been at. If you tweak a couple of things, his batting average could easily be .290.”

Trapp’s father, Carroll Trapp, works for Duke Power in Rock Hill, while mom, Rhonda Trapp, works in the Fairfield County Treasurer’s Office. Like so many kids growing up playing baseball, it was mom who ran the shuttle back and forth to practices and games.

“Every summer,” Rhonda Trapp said, “he never had a break, because he was always playing on a traveling team.”

Seeing her son play at the professional level, she said, “It’s like a dream come true.”

And even mom, who has been to numerous Blue Rocks games when they are in the Carolinas, has some coaching advice.

“When he gets down in the count, he looks back there at me (in the stands),” she said, “and I just point to my head, telling him ‘Think!’ If it’s a good pitch, hit it; if it’s not, take it and get on base.

“Now they want to move him to outfield, and he’s never played outfield in his life,” she added. “His batting average has gone down a little bit because he’s thinking about that move.”

“I think the move to the outfield has affected him mentally,” Dean agreed. “Anytime someone with that much talent is told they’re not good enough to do something, it’s tough on them. But that they’re willing to move him (to the outfield), that tells me they think highly of him. In my opinion, they’re keeping him around for a reason.”

“Whatever it takes for me to get there, I’ll do it,” Trapp said, apparently undaunted by the transition to outfield. “My defense is where I think I need to work on my game the most, and cut down on a lot of these errors.”

But Trapp said his offense also needs some work.

“I think I’m striking out a lot,” he said. “Striking out too much. To be a leadoff guy, I think I’ve struck out way more than I’m supposed to. For me, as a leadoff guy, I’ve got to get on base, and striking out, you can’t get on base striking out. I’m an aggressive hitter. I’m going up there and I’m looking to try and hit it hard somewhere. In the gap or wherever. And being aggressive sometimes will bight you in the end or help you in the end.”

Trapp said he has been getting in extra work with Blue Rocks hitting coach Julio Bruno, trying to stay focused on fastballs and adjusting to everything else. But as he has climbed the baseball ladder, he said, the pitching has become progressively nastier.

“It’s not how hard the pitchers throw, it’s the movement of the ball,” Trapp said. “If the pitcher has got a good sink or the pitcher has got a good two-seam or something like that, that’s the most difficult thing as the levels keep going up. The pitchers have more movement.”

But Trapp said being in the Royals’ organization has given him access to the mind of one of the best hitters of all time, former Royals third baseman George Brett (lifetime average of .305).

“George Brett speaks every spring training,” Trapp said. “One day out of spring training, he speaks with us and tells us how we’ve got to grind it and how tough the game is, and he talks about his hitting. You know he’s one of the best hitters ever, and he’s a great guy. For him to come out and talk to us every spring training, that’s pretty good.”

Trapp also has an element to his game that cannot be coached – speed. On July 20, Trapp had 17 stolen bases. At press time, he had added three more. By the time you read this, he will likely have added even more.

“I think I should have way more than that,” Trapp said. “But the opportunity of the game, sometimes I get on base and the game is out of hand, or sometimes I get on base and the pitcher slide steps or he’s quick to the plate. Stealing bases, you’ve got to know how the game is going.”

For Trapp, the game is going better now. At press time he had worked his average back up to .261 with seven home runs, 20 doubles and 20 stolen bases. So much for being distracted by the transition to outfield. Baseball is a ‘grind,’ Trapp will tell you. A lot of games over many months. And it’s work. Hard work. The travel isn’t what it used to be, Trapp said, but the 10-hour haul from Delaware down to Myrtle is the roughest of them all. The only difference is this road trip is a little closer to home.

“This is the worst travel right here, the 10 hours. It’s our longest trip,” Trapp said. “But the thing for me is, this is home. I’m happy to come here. I don’t care about the travel.”

The first thing Trapp seeks out when he gets close to the nest?

“Soul food,” he said. “My grandma’s (Millie Robinson) soul food. I miss that. I’m always eating soul food when I’m back. I’m always eating fast food during the season because I don’t have time to cook, so when I get home I love soul food.”

What’s on Trapp’s menu?

“Collard greens and fried chicken,” he said, smiling. “I love it. Collard greens, fried chicken, corn bread. I miss it right now.”