***The following article was written by Sammy Abbott, a first base prospect in the Chicago White Sox system, as a guest of FutureSox. This is part of our Prospect Perspective series: articles written by the players themselves, ongoing since 2014. In this article, Sam walks us through the unusual fork in the road he hit in his draft year – baseball or water polo? We hope this story gives our readers a unique view into a player’s perspective on life in the minors.***
By Sam Abbott
Being drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2017 was a dream come true. A dream that started from a young age. Like most kids, I started playing the game of baseball at the age of four. But a few years later, I also began swimming competitively.
Even at this early time, my efforts were split between swimming and baseball. Growing up, my parents would take me from swim practice or meets to baseball games frequently. This routine was part of my life through 8th grade. When I started high school, I decided to try water polo. In Washington, water polo is a fall sport, swimming in the winter, and baseball in the spring. Initially, I had no idea what the sport of water polo was or how to play. I just thought it would give me a good workout for swimming and baseball plus an opportunity to play another sport to represent my high school. I never thought I would blossom in it as much as I did.
That being said, my first year was rough to say the least. I played sparingly, tallying only 8 goals. I joined a water polo club in my area to improve my polo knowledge and skills. Now I was juggling school, swim team, polo, and baseball. I remember during the school baseball season, I would have practice after school, then after practice, I would hit the pool for club swim practice with homework on top of all of it. The summers were no different. Typically, I had club polo practice in the morning and then I would have a baseball game in the evening. I was always balancing the two sports the best my parents and I could.
My sophomore year would change my focus. This high school season would be my breakout year for water polo. I became a starter on a team that would place second in the state tournament. In addition, I received my first All-State MVP honors that year. After that season, I tried out for the USA Water Polo zone team for the Pacific Northwest. I progressed all the way to the US Men’s Water Polo Cadet National Team. I would be in the national team pipeline for 3 years.
Fast forward to my senior year of high school. In that final polo season I tallied a school record of 153 goals, won my third consecutive All-State MVP award and was part of a team that won back-to-back state championships. I did not receive many offers to play baseball at the next level. I also did not make the Perfect Game Area Code team which I tried out for. So in February of 2017, I weighed my options and signed my National Letter of Intent to play water polo at California State University at Long Beach (Long Beach State).
Then came spring and my senior year of baseball. In one of the first games of the season, White Sox scout Robbie Cummings was watching my game, initially for the opposing pitcher. As the season progressed, he kept coming to my games. After a few games he, along with a few other scouts, asked me to hit a little extra after a game. I remember being in awe. Why would these scouts be looking at me? Especially after I already signed to play water polo? Then Cummings and I had a meeting where he invited me to Guaranteed Rate Field for a pre-draft workout in early June.
Obviously this was an opportunity too good to pass up, but my thoughts going into the event were, “At least I can say I hit BP on a major league field”. I went to Chicago and had a blast. It was such an amazing experience. Walking out of the tunnel into the dugout and seeing a beautiful, majestic, big league field was so surreal. It was a feeling I will never forget. I got to shake hands and chat with Jim Thome along with other executives and scouts. On the flight back home, I came to the realization that my childhood dream of playing professional baseball was not as out of reach as I once thought.
The next two weeks were as hectic as could be. School was winding down, finals rapidly approaching, and lots of decisions to be made. My family and I had countless debates weighing the pros and cons of staying with my commitment to college versus being drafted. I was constantly on the phone with the White Sox scout and the Long Beach water polo coach relaying the scenarios. My parents and I, after much discussion, made the decision to wave my commitment if I were to be drafted. We came to the consensus that the opportunity to be drafted was far too rare to ignore.
A few days go by and day two of the 2017 MLB draft was upon me. I was so stressed. I even had two finals on this day. During my AP US Government final, my teacher got a call from the school office instructing me to go to my athletic director’s office. As I walk in, my dad, baseball coach, and best friend were huddled around a tablet. The White Sox come up to take their pick in the 8th round within minutes.
Seeing my name pop up was a feeling that is hard to put into words. A dream that a month before I thought to be impossible had happened. Not long before, I was preparing to go to Long Beach and begin college polo. I even had my roommate picked out. My life changed in a matter of seconds. I experienced an entire draft process in roughly a month. The whole process was an amazing testament that anything can happen in a blink of an eye. It was an experience I would not trade for the world.
Now, being a minor league player, I can take the lessons that I have learned from water polo and apply them to baseball. The decision to be sign and play professional baseball has been the best experience I could have ever asked for. I am living the dream that I set when I was a young boy playing in the back yard. I could not have accomplished this without the help and support of my parents, coaches, and friends. I am looking forward to what the future will hold.
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