Sept. 7, 2010
By Matt Storey -
In some ways, Brett Wallace's journey to Major League Baseball was like many other former Arizona State stars. He was a first-round draft pick, he had success at the various levels of the minor leagues, and, a little more than two years after his final game as a Sun Devil, he's an everyday player in the big leagues.
However, in other ways, Wallace's professional career has been an experience all his own.
A part of three trades in less than two seasons, the former Sun Devil star is now the Houston Astros' regular first baseman after making his MLB debut on July 31.
"The path's been crazy obviously," Wallace said. "You don't expect to get traded that many times early in your career. But there's been a reason behind each trade. You have to take it as a compliment."
Indeed, Wallace can take the trades as a compliment, in part because all three trades he's been in have included an All-Star going to a new team as well.
He began his career with the St. Louis Cardinals' organization, after being selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft. In July 2009, he was sent to the Oakland A's as part of the trade that brought outfielder Matt Holliday to the Cardinals. Then, last off-season, he was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays as a corollary to the Philadelphia Phillies acquiring former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay. Finally, in July of this season, Wallace went from Toronto to Houston when pitcher Roy Oswalt ended up with the Phillies.
A few days later, Wallace made his Major League debut with the Astros, and it seems he has finally found his home.
"I've got a great opportunity to play with a team that's got a lot of young guys," he said. "It's been awesome playing with these guys. There's a lot of energy on the field; a lot of energy in the clubhouse."
After the trade in July, Wallace was originally assigned to the Astros' Triple A affiliate in Round Rock. Yet, before he could play a game for the Express, he got the call to Houston, after the Astros traded their starting first baseman, Lance Berkman, to the New York Yankees.
Berkman spent 12 years with Houston, was a five-time All-Star and helped the Astros to the first World Series appearance in franchise history in 2005, so Wallace was faced with the difficult task of replacing a Houston legend. However, he credited his experience at ASU for helping to prepare him for the challenge.
"Playing at ASU, you're always following guys that have done big things," he said. "Whether it was [Travis] Buck, [Jeff] Larish and all those guys, and before them, [Dustin] Pedroia, [Andre] Ethier and all them, so I think it's one of those things you get used to. You don't worry about the guy that came before you.
"Obviously, Lance was an amazing player, but I'm not trying to be his replacement. I'm just trying to help this team and trying to do the best I can. It's not really anything that adds pressure to me. I just want to go out there and win."
It didn't take long for Wallace to get his first big league highlight - a single to left field in his second game was his first career Major League hit.
"They stop the game, you get a standing O and they throw the ball in," he said of that moment. "A standing ovation at a big league park is pretty special. It gives you goose bumps. That's something you dream about your whole life."
After getting off to a solid start, hitting .333 in his first 10 games, Wallace has gone through some growing pains at the Major League level. In 32 games thus far, he is hitting .202, but he remains confident in his ability.
"I think when you get called up originally, there's always some added adrenaline and you're going to try to do a little bit too much and maybe get out of your game plan a little bit," he said. "But I think the biggest thing is just to battle through, and I think that's what I've done. You've just got to keep going and keep working hard. At the end of the day, you know you can play, and I know I can hit."
To this point, Wallace has been successful at every level of his pro career. In 2008, his first professional season, he was sent to the prestigious Arizona Fall League and named to the AFL's Rising Stars Game and All-Prospect Team. Last year, he played in the All-Star Futures Game, and this season, he was named a Pacific Coast League All-Star and hit .301 with 18 home runs and 61 RBI in 95 games with the Las Vegas 51's.
Wallace flashed his potential at the Major League level on August 30, in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, the organization in which he started his professional career. He went 3-for-3 and had an RBI double in the 7th inning to help the Astros defeat the Cardinals 3-0.
"Doing it at our place against my old team was pretty fun, and driving in the run that kind of cinched it, that was fun for me," he said. "Any time you play your old team, you want to play well."
Another highlight of Wallace's time so far in the Majors was seeing his former Sun Devils teammate Ike Davis, also a rookie first baseman, when the Astros met the New York Mets. Wallace and Davis came into ASU as freshmen in 2006, and they starred together for three seasons before both departing as first-round draft picks in 2008.
"Playing together for those three years really gave us a bond, so when you play against him, it's fun," Wallace said of his friendship with Davis. "He's somebody who is kind of going through the same thing right now. He's a rookie also, and he's having a great year, but he's had some ups and downs. It's something where we can lean on each other, talk to each other and help each other out."
Another thing Wallace said he's enjoyed about his time in the Majors has been the lifestyle. The early-morning flights and even earlier bus rides that come with life in the Minor Leagues have been replaced by charter jets and five-star hotels.
"It's pretty special," he said. "They treat us really well. It's hard work, but you definitely get spoiled a little bit. It's fun to be a part of it."
One of the most accomplished players in Arizona State's proud baseball history, Wallace said he still keeps up with the Sun Devils.
"It's where I grew up as a player, so I watch them every chance I get," he said. "It's a family, so what they do is part of what we do."
In fact, when the Astros visited Phoenix for a three-game series with the Diamondbacks, he took time to stop by Packard Stadium and catch up with some of the baseball staff.
"I try to stay as close to them as I can," he said. "They did a lot for me, throughout those years when I was there, and they continue to today. Everyone there was a part of us growing up as players."
Wallace had a highly-decorated career at ASU. He was the Pac-10 Player of the Year in both 2007 and 2008, and he won the Pac-10 Triple Crown (leading the conference in batting average, home runs and RBI) both years. He is the only player in Pac-10 history to win the conference's Triple Crown twice.
He is also one of two players in school history to hit over .400 in two different seasons, as he hit .404 in 2007 and .410 in 2008. His .398 career batting average ranks second in school history, and he is tied for fourth in ASU history with 45 home runs.
However, he said there is something else that he remembers the most about his time in the Maroon and Gold.
"My favorite thing about ASU was just my teammates and the way we played the game," he said. "We played with a passion that not a lot of programs can say they played with every day. I think that changed me as a player. It gave me a drive that not everyone has."