Cody Hams- From Cricket Club to Chicago Cubs
Bonbeach southpaw Cody Hams has signed an unlikely professional contract within a relative heartbeat after switching to America’s pastime from cricket.
Hams, 18, finalised a pitching deal with the Chicago Cubs last week, little more than a year after his first experiment in the lower grades of the Victorian Baseball Association.
Growing up in Wonthaggi on Victoria’s vast east coast, a pitch was something he played cricket on, chucking was cheating, and baseball was something the strongly built country boy only ever saw Americans play in movies.
But it was a part-time baseball playing teammate at his Wonthaggi Miners cricket club who persuaded Hams to ply his strong left arm as a pitcher in baseball.
“Adam (teammate) asked me if I wanted to have a throw as he had noticed I was 196cm, left- handed, and had a reputation around the cricket club for being able to throw good,” Hams said.
The teammate and Hams then attended a Victorian Baseball Association game for an extra sniff.
“The first game I watched was right before Christmas 2006, the next one I watched I was standing on the mound,” Hams said, speaking of his first stint with Port Melbourne’s thirds.
And there were some teething problems.
“I picked the ball up and went to throw to first but a runner had broken from third and all I could hear was ‘first, four, first, four’!”
“In confusion, I just held onto the ball not knowing where to throw it.”
His teammates forgave him and murmurs of Hams’ obvious talent saw him snapped up by the Victorian Institute of Sport just three games later, where he would join athletes who had been training for and playing baseball most of their life.
He quickly adapted to the language of baseball, and now obsesses at perfecting his pitches to American measurements.
“Aiming the ball at something the size of a dinner plate at 90mph (145kph) from 60 feet (18.3m) away can be a challenge, but my pitching’s improving. The coaching Staff at the VIS and the Victorian team has been super beneficial for my progression.
“I have had some of the best past athletes coaching me, sharing their knowledge. I don’t think I would be where I am now without these squads.”
Former Olympian Matthew Sheldon-Collins, who coached Hams at the VIS and is the Australian scout for the Kansas City Royals, confirmed his as one of 13 major league clubs chasing Hams’ 145 kph fastball and 91 kilogram frame.
“The first time I saw Cody, his size and athletic body got my attention immediately,” Sheldon-Collins said. “If we (Australia) happen to have one of these athletes that plays baseball and football, very rarely do they take the baseball pathway.”
Sheldon-Collins described Hams as a “diamond in the rough,” while praising his rapid physical and mental adaptation.
“His throwing technique was very raw, but in basic terms his arm worked very well. It’s very rare that someone could throw like he can with no formal training.
“His mental make-up has been superb right from the beginning. It would have been very daunting coming into a new sport at the elite level with so much to learn.”
Part of the learning process was a move from division three’s Port Melbourne to Bonbeach in division two.
Hams’ progression has resulted in remarkable figures of 84 strikeouts in 41 innings pitched for Bonbeach last summer between the firsts and seconds, helping them to the VBA division two championship earlier this month.
While Hams may have seen his last Wonthaggi Power Football club preseason, he flew Arizona last week to begin spring training among the cacti in Mesa.
And there’s nothing he’d rather be doing for a living.
“It’s a great game. To be good at it involves athleticism and knowledge. I think it is impossible to learn all the loops and knots of the game it’s so diverse.
“Nothing else I have played is like it, but what I have managed to pick up in the last year has seen me sign a pro contract, so I can’t be doing too bad,” he laughed.
“If I can commit myself to baseball now and work as hard as possible to get to the majors, I think I will pay back the investment the Cubs have made in me.”
The humble Hams wouldn’t say how much that investment was, but said it was the equivalent of a top ten signing bonus received by draftees from the US college system. The minimum is about US$150,000.
“Anyone who signs a contract to play pro ball should think they can reach the majors. If you’re good enough, the sky is the limit. I just want to show that anything is possible with a certain amount of talent, luck and the right choices... I still have a long way to go.”
His journey launched from Victoria’s assault on the under-23 national championships last week, then straight to Cubs camp, where he is now plying his tools of his new trade.