Jaye Chapman is a professional baseball player. I first scouted him while I was a student at FSU and he was a student at Chipola Junior College. Jaye was an Atlanta Braves draft-and-follow, back when those still existed. I had the pleasure of seeing him pitch against Lorenzo Cain and Michael Saunders at Tallahassee Community College in 2004; Jaye’s teammates on Chipola that day included Rene Tosoni, Tyler Flowers, and Mat Gamel. That’s six major leaguers on one junior college field.
That day, Jaye was up to 94-96 mph, with a devastating breaking ball to complement it. A scout (who is now a rival agent) had told him he’d get a better deal if he didn’t have an advisor, so he signed before the draft-and-follow period ended and began his professional career without an agent. Over time, one of his best friends, David Herndon, hired me, and Jaye was in Double-A and still without an agent, so David set up a meeting and at the end of it Jaye hired me.
After the 2011 season Jaye was added to the Braves’ 40-man roster. During that season I had fallen ill and lost touch with several of my players—entirely my fault for nothing having a system in place to handle something like that—and so in June I got the dreaded phone call. It was Jaye, telling me I was fired for lack of communication. I begged and pleaded, but it was far too late for any of that. I cried during that call and I promised Jaye if things ever changed down the road, even if he was 30 in A-Ball, it would be a privilege to work for him. I told him I would always take him back as a client. So that was that for me and Jaye.
In July 2012 he was traded to the Cubs as part of the Paul Malholm/Reed Johnson deal. On September 4th, he made his big-league debut. It was hard for me to watch, as I was happy for Jaye and bitter that I couldn’t be part of it. He pitched a scoreless inning that day, and another the next. He was well on his way to a very good bullpen career.
The next spring it was discovered that he had an undiagnosed birth defect in his hips that shaved his labrums in half. Jaye literally made it to the major leagues with no hip labrums. I mean… that’s incredible. It doesn’t seem like it should have been medically possible. At one point he faced double hip replacement surgery, which would have not only ended his career but would have impacted his ability to walk properly. Scary for anyone, let alone a young man. But doctors were able to correct the defect. This injury won’t ever occur again.
In December 2013 David Herndon got married in Pensacola, Florida. My wife and I drove 10 hours in a rented S.U.V, hauling an antique, 10-foot-tall gun rack for his wedding gift. At the wedding I awkwardly ran into Jaye Chapman again. We hugged, we talked. He had just been non-tendered by the Cubs; he wasn’t even arbitration eligible and they non-tendered him. I felt terrible for him, even though I knew he’d have no problem getting a job. He was worried that his representation at the time stopped caring about him because of his injury. I told him I would still be willing to help if he wanted me to. The Winter Meetings started the next day, and he said he’d wait until after that to answer. The meetings passed, and Jaye had no job offers. He had lost faith in his representatives.
At that point he came back to me as a client. It was far too late to find him a pro job, but I set up workouts with several clubs. The Tigers cross-checker Murray Cook was Jaye’s biggest supporter, and called me to say he was blown away by Jaye’s makeup—but felt like he was coming back from his surgery too soon. We knew, given Jaye’s injury, he would have to prove he could hold up. We found a quality independent league club, the Bridgeport Bluefish, to rebuild his career. They stuck with him through thick and thin and Jaye ended the year with 50 appearances and still in one piece.
Once the season ended I got to work on free agency. Fortunately for Jaye I was able to get a head start, as the independent league season ends far before MiLB free agency starts. So I chipped away at all 30 clubs and got a couple of bites. I focused in on a club I am quite familiar with, the Milwaukee Brewers. Days, weeks, then months passed. Finally the call Jaye had waited for since the day the Cubs non-tendered him: The Brewers were signing him to a minor-league free agent deal.
That had to be one of the best phone calls of my career. I mean, the night before Michael Brantley had finished third in MVP voting, which was an amazing experience—but that was all Michael, I had nothing to do with it. With this, I had hit the pavement hard, made hundreds of calls over the course of a year, and it paid off in a business where things rarely. Jaye was so excited he had to pull over when he got the news. From now, on instead of calling Jaye about which teams said yes or no, I can go back to calling him about business. That’s all we ever wanted.
This isn’t a headline-grabbing deal and it’s not a lucrative one, but these are the kind of deals that really make me feel like I made a difference. Jaye is a great person and I have a long history with him. He battled back from a horrible injury and now has been given the second chance he earned. Now Jaye can focus on spring training and get ready for the 2015 season with an affiliated team.
If there ever was a player who could come back from indy ball it’s Jaye. As a rule, I don’t ever give up on good people no matter the odds. In this instance it has paid off. I can’t wait to see what’s next for him.
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