BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY KYLE MAZABOB
There are no sugar-plum fairies, unicorns or sparkling rainbows in his world. But Derek Fisher is living the dream.
And like most dreams, Fisher’s is more about hard work, determination and persistence than fantasy.
Growing up in Rexmont, Fisher had the same dream that many young boys entertain – one of playing major league baseball. But he is closer to realizing that dream than any local baseball player has come in quite some time.
Yet our idea of close may seem a little farther away to Fisher.
Fisher, a 2011 graduate of Cedar Crest High School, is an outfielder for the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Houston Astros’ Class AA affiliate in the Texas League. After being selected with the 37th overall pick in the 2014 Major League Baseball draft, Fisher is currently one of the talent-deep Astros’ top farm hands.
Fisher has appeared in all 24 of the Hooks’ games this spring, batting .220, with three home runs and 13 RBIs. The former University of Virginia star also has five doubles, two stolen bases and a .340 on-base-percentage.
Currently, Corpus Christi is 11-13 in the Texas League’s South Division.
Allen Rowin is the director of the Houston Astros’ Minor League Baseball Operations.
“He’s (Fisher) got that speed-power combo you’re looking for in a player,” said Rowin, during a phone interview on Wednesday. “He is a fun athlete to watch.He’s developing his skills right now.
“All players need to continue to refine their games,” continued Rowin. “He just needs game reps. He’s got good baseball skills. It’s about having it all to become a complete player.”
Fisher could not be reached for comment for this article.
In 123 minor league games in 2015, Fisher hit .275 with 22 home runs and 87 RBIs for a pair of Houston Class A affiliates. The season prior, Fisher posted a .310 batting average, a pair of dingers and 18 RBIs in 42 Class A contests.
“I think he’s doing fine,” said Rowin. “We’re a month into the season and guys are starting to hit their strides and get get going. Now you’ll see what they can do over the next four months. But I really haven’t looked at his stats.
“He’s a great young person,” Rowin continued. “He’s ultra-competitive. He loves to compete. He loves working out. He loves getting his body into great shape. He’s the kind of guy you want to have in your system.”
“I’ve always grown up to have expectations for myself, probably higher than anyone else’s,” Fisher told Lebanon Sports Buzz in April of 2014. “I know what I’ve been blessed with. I came to UVA to become the best baseball player I can be. We’ve obviously had some very talented guys come through the County. Thankfully, I’m not the first, and that gives me an opportunity to go to people who have gone before me.”
Earlier this spring, the 6-3, 215-pound Fisher was afforded an opportunity that not many Lebanon County residents before him have experienced. He was invited to Houston’s major-league spring training camp in Kissimmee, Florida.
But very few inside or outside of the Astros believed Fisher could realistically make the Astros’ 25-man, opening-day roster. He was assigned to Corpus Christi in early April.
“It was a great opportunity for Derek, and a great opportunity to get some exposure,” said Rowin. “At this point of his career, he probably knew he wasn’t going to make the major league club, which is OK. Every player is in a different scenario. There was competition in camp. Tyler White was in the same boat as Derek. It was pretty clear Derek was going to end up in AA ball.
“He graduated from A ball,” Rowin added. “He had a great year last year. He needed upper level experience. The next step was AA. That’s how it played out.”
For a time in December, it appeared Fisher’s climb to the majors might happen closer to home, through the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization.
Fisher was reported to be included in a trade between Houston and Philadelphia that would’ve sent himself, Vincent Velasquez and Brett Oberholzer to the Phillies for projected closer Ken Giles. But later that trade was revamped to include Thomas Eshelman, not Fisher.
“It’s extremely difficult to make the major leagues,” said Rowin. “The general rule is one out of ten or eleven make it from the minor leagues. We have approximately 250 players in our minor-league organization, and it’s a 25-man roster in Houston, so you can kind of do the math.
“Everybody’s different,” added Rowin. “There’s not some specific time line for making the majors. Some move fast. Others move slower. In general, I’d say about three to four years is about right.”
Fisher signed a $1,534,100 contract with the Astros in 2014.
During the spring of his senior season at Cedar Crest, Fisher was chosen in the sixth-round of the major league draft by Texas, but declined to sign. Instead, he chose to matriculate to the University of Virginia, where he enjoyed a successful three-year Division College career with the Cavaliers, batting .281 with 60 extra-base hits, including 17 home runs and 130 RBIs.
“It’s different than everyday life,” said Rowin of life in the minor leagues. “But it’s an experience almost every minor-leaguer enjoys. It’s long days. Sometimes you travel at night, on bus. In AAA, you’re flying, and it’s not much easier.
“It’s a grind,” continued Rowin. “You play over a hundred games over a five-month period. It’s tough to take a breath. But you’re getting paid to play baseball.”
So if you’re going to dream, you might as well dream big.