To The Minors and Back
Baseball's Ted Decareau
While most of the baseball world focuses on the World Series between the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves, a second-semester senior from Kirkland House is focusing squarely on next year's spring training.
Not on watching spring training, but on participating in it.
And while you may find Ted Decareau in one of his three classes at Harvard this semester (or you may not--he is taking two of them pass-fail), you can be sure to find him hanging around the batting cage at Briggs Field, or working out with the baseball team, trying to get in some extra swings and time in the field.
Decareau knows the hard work it takes to get into professional baseball, because he has done it before.
He was drafted out of his junior year at Harvard and spent a season in the San Diego Padres organization before a shoulder injury knocked him out of baseball almost seven months ago.
Before being drafted, the Norwood native spent three years at Harvard, including three seasons on the baseball team playing in right field.
While all college players become eligible for professional baseball after three years of enrollment in school, Decareau, a concentrator in history, had no intention of leaving Harvard for baseball.
There was no lack of interest in him, however.
Decareau received inquiries from several ball clubs, but none of them could give the Harvard ballplayer an offer that made him want to leave Cambridge prematurely.
Offer He Couldn't Refuse
"I was planning on coming back my senior year. I didn't think anyone would give me the kind of offer I wanted," Decareau said.
Enter the Padres.
"I had never even talked to the Padres before they drafted me," he said.
But in the 42nd round of the 1990 spring draft, the Padres picked Decareau, and promptly set out to get him.
Signed with Padres
"I wasn't going to sign with them, but they came around and made me a real good offer," he said, which included the payment of his tuition for his last two semesters at Harvard.
On June 5, Decareau inked a deal with the club, and just two weeks later found himself deep within the Padres farm system.
The soon-to-be Harvard senior was shipped off to the Padres' A farm club in Charleston, S.C.
The normal starting place for a player such as Decareau would have been the rookie league, but, due to an injury of a outfielder in Charleston, Decareau lucked into a starting position in right field on the A squad.
Unfortunately for the Harvard student, the injured player got better fast.
"It turned out to be a disaster," remembered Decareau. "Once he came back, I never played."
After several weeks of bench warming in Charleston, Decareau was sent down to the rookie league in Arizona where he could be guaranteed playing time.
Decareau played out the rest of the 1990 summer in Arizona. While he was playing well, Decareau felt his right shoulder starting to bother him. He had noticed a pain in his shoulder during his junior year at Harvard, but he had been told that it was tendinitis and that it would go away with time.
"It started hurting a little on my throws," he said about his shoulder in Arizona, "but the weather was so hot out there that I think it kept the shoulder loose. I figured maybe I just needed a rest."
Decareau realized that the pain was a little more serious when he returned to Harvard last fall semester.
"I started lifting weights and it was killing me," he said.
The Padres flew him out to California to be examined by a team doctor, and sent him back to Cambridge with a therapy program to follow for the rest of the winter.
Decareau followed the program and then flew out this March to Yuma, Ariz. ("the middle of nowhere") where the Padres hold their spring training camp.
The Harvard player thought his shoulder was better, but he quickly realized he was wrong.
"On the fourth day of camp, my shoulder just went out on my third hard throw," he remembered. "Something just ripped."
Although clubs are not allowed to release players officially because of sports-related injuries, Ted Decareau's shoulder problem marked the end of his short Padres career.
After playing only four innings in the field and some designated hitting here and there, the Padres released Decareau on April 1.
Decareau returned to Cambridge, with his season over by April, and relaxed before graduating with the Class of 1991.
"I just hung around. I had two months just to get drunk," he said with a grin.
Drinking and Surgery
In addition to drinking, he used the spring to figure out exactly what was wrong with his shoulder. With the Padres grudgingly picking up the check, Decareau underwent a battery of tests that culminated in orthroscopic surgery in May of this year.
Instead of finding a torn rotator cuff, his doctor instead found a relatively healthy shoulder with a bone chip.
"I really lucked out," Decareau said. "If it had been anything more serious, I still would have been out."
Decareau believes, after four months of rehabilitation, that he is healthy and back on track.
"Finally, my shoulder is feeling strong. I don't have to ice it three times a day," he said.
The former Padres player has returned to Cambridge in order to tie up the loose ends on the bachelor's degree he received last June.
But his mind is still on baseball. Decareau has been working out with his old college team and trying to spend as much time in a batting cage as possible.
"I haven't seen much live pitching for a while. I haven't really played baseball since the summer of 1990," he said.
Right now, his plan is to finish off his classes, go down to Florida to work out with a college coach that invited him and then, if all goes as he plans, get invited to a training camp.
"All I need is a shot," he said. "I feel like I owe it to myself."
Decareau does not have any illusions about his chances. "It's definitely hard," he said. "When I signed, I was a young junior [20 years old]. Now I'm two years older."
If he doesn't make it in America. Decareau might try to find a baseball team in Europe that would be interested.
What about life after baseball?
"I haven't really thought about that yet," Decareau said. "I'm really trying to push all my energies into baseball right now."