By Patrick Dillon
visalia – When the Cal League’s biggest hitters took to the plate for the annual Home Run Derby Monday Night, June 20, Visalia’s Marty Herum was among them. This once undrafted free agent has risen through the ranks of the seemingly endless minor league baseball system, and now found himself wearing a North Division jersey in the biggest All-star game of his life.
Regardless of only hitting four home runs during the first half of the season, Herum bombed 36 balls over the wall during the three two-minute round event on his way to becoming home run derby champion. Most of the balls ending up over the wall in left field, including the one that sealed the deal.
“I looked up and saw there was seven seconds left,” said Herum.
At that point Herum was deadlocked at nine homers with his competitor, Inland Empire’s Jose Rojas. Obviously suffering from fatigue, since Herum had only a two-minute wait while his competitor had his round, he had just one request, “come on bat, stay in my hands one more swing.”
Sure enough, the bat stayed in his hands as Herum made solid contact and watched his tenth home run travel toward the Visalia organization’s championship circles in left field. And with the home crowd cheering Herum’s North teammates rushed toward home plate to celebrate.
“This feels great, especially doing it at home. For all the rest of the guys they don’t have the home crowd feel behind them, so doing it here was extra special,” said Herum.
Winning the Home Run Derby was sure an impressive way for Herum to begin his first All-Star experience. And with the All-Star game following on Tuesday, June 21, there was a lot more to look forward to. While Herum did not hit his 37th home run of the break but did go 1-4 with an RBI in the bottom of the seventh to seal the game for the North 5-3. While the win felt great, Herum made the most of the camaraderie with the other players from around the league.
“It’s a break in the season, so you want to let loose and have fun hanging out with everyone else who’s having a great season,” said Herum.
Born on December 16, 1991 in St. Paul Minnesota, Herum grew up in River Falls, Wisconsin. There he attended River Falls High School and was a three-sport athlete. After Herum led the Wildcats to a fourth-place finish in the Big Rivers Conference in 2010 the six foot three inch 214 pound slugger remained undrafted.
With no college contract to sign Herum enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater. In 2011 Herum gray shirted his first season with the Warhawks. Then went on to record 156 hits over the next two seasons. Sixty of those hits were for extra bases including 12 homers. But despite being on a team that made it to the D-III Regional and National Championships the major league teams did not come knocking.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2013 that Herum got his big break. Working out in the North Woods League, a summer baseball program in the Wisconsin and Minnesota area, a couple scouts from the Arizona Organization noticed his ability. Then the next day, after the scouts saw Herum play, the call to sign a contract to play professional baseball came.
“It was a great feeling knowing that you are doing something you love for a career, right now anyway,” said Herum.
But Herum had to start at the very bottom in the Rookie Leagues of Arizona. Twenty-one at the time Herum was one of the oldest players on the roster. The rest of the team ranged from sixteen to twenty-four years old. Still Herum was a professional ball player and wasn’t going to let the chance slip away.
With already sound mechanics at first and third base, Herum has been working on his batting. Trying to have an emphasis on pitch selection.
“I was a free swinger so that’s one of my better spots that I’ve improved in,” said Herum.
Becoming more selective on which pitches to hit and which to lay off has allowed Herum to move up past the Rookie League, where he only got 15 hits in 17 games, to leading another single-A team the Kane County Cougars with 155 in 2015. The Cougars are members of the Midwest League. Now, halfway through his second season with the Rawhide Herum is only 30 hits behind his 2016 totals of 111.
If Herum, now a home run derby champion, keeps this type of production up the future looks very bright. It is not uncommon for a big league to begin his career in the minor leagues, even as far down the system as Herum is now. But to make the big leagues after beginning in the Rookie League just might be the biggest and longest journey to the majors anyone has ever had.