Photo by Rob Ferguson. all rights reserved.
The first Baseball America I ever bought was at Pike Place Market in Seattle, summer 1987. The cover photo was of Casey Candaele–he’d hit a flyball and was leaving the batter’s box with (as my mind remembers it) much the same look as Nathan Deck in this photo from last night. The photographer caught Candaele from the left field side, so the angle is wrong, but the Candaele story is represented each winter in hockey by guys like Deck. No draft pedigree, hell even nerdy fans like me haven’t one damn clue who the hell he is (he looks like the bat boy for crying out loud); doesn’t matter. If Nathan Deck can play every game like he did last night, he’s going to zoom past the first rounders on his way to the land of Casey (Candaele) at the bat.
Casey Candaele was not a great ballplayer, hell the truth is he wasn’t even a very good one in historic terms. However, the 1987 Montreal Expos needed a ‘jack of all trades’ and Candaele was just good enough to get by with the leather at all positions (he played everywhere but catcher and third base during the magical summer of 1987 in Montreal), and he was a better punch and Judy hitter than Luis Rivera and Nelson Norman.
He was in the right place at the right time, got on base enough to satisfy manager Buck Rodgers and stayed the summer. Now, as a fan I could show you how the Expos might have won the pennant by replacing Candaele, Bob Sebra and Tom Foley, but that’s a distant bell. For our purposeses today, Casey Candaele is important to the story because he:
- came out of nowhere
- won the day over several men who "looked" the part but didn’t deliver
- took advantage of a team weakness to emerge as a big leaguer, if only for a summer
CLIMBING A MOUNTAIN
Glen Sather, fall 1979: "If a guy is making the same mistakes over and over again, you’ve got to be concerned. But if he’s learning then you’ve got to be patient."
We’ve seen dozens of defensemen come and go over the years, and the words of Glen Sather above, combined with the understanding that injuries have an enormous impact on defensemen, means that all men were created equal once a prospect arrives in pro hockey. Colten Teubert and Alex Plante are first round selections, Taylor Fedun was never drafted, but he’s taking a regular turn in OKC and building toward what may result in an NHL career.
Nathan Deck wasn’t drafted, and took the long route to arrive in the AHL. This article from 2011 talks about his excitement over signing with Stockton in the ECHL and also references Stockton’s coach (Matt Thomas) saying that Deck’s versatility was a major reason for their signing him.
ARE YOU SERIOUS?
Playing with Justin Schultz has been good for business, just ask Martin Marincin. Although both are rookies, Marincin has been struggling of late (in execution and with bad luck) and was scratched last night. Deck stepped into the slot alongside Schultz and played well.
- Bruce McCurdy: #8 Nathan Deck, 6 — With Martin Marincin scratched, the newcomer was moved right up to the first pairing with Schultz and acquitted himself well. Proactive without trying to do too much, ending the night +3 for his troubles.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Nathan Deck is 4 games into his AHL career, lets not get ahead of ourselves. This is literally nothing. Zero. Nada.
And yet, opportunity is knocking and you never know. The next group of defensemen to graduate from OKC to the NHL should be Justin Schultz, Colten Teubert, Alex Plante and Martin Marincin.
But do you know what? A decade ago, the list of expected graduates included Alexei Semenov, Alex Henry and Chris Hajt, but undrafted chaos defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron won the day. There’s no stacking the deck in pro hockey–these young blue fly those sorties, try to stay healthy and attempt to learn on the job as Sather talked about in 1979. Four games in? Forget about it. Won’t happen. But keep an eye on him anyway.