Evan Button came to Wingnuts spring training late last month as the perfect candidate for a utility spot. Button handles the bat well, plays hard — sometimes too hard — and can play multiple positions.
As the Wingnuts break camp before Thursday's season-opener at Amarillo, Button has surpassed even his manager's expectations by winning the second base job.
When the Wingnuts signed Button this winter, manager Kevin Hooper said that Button would be in the mix for an extra spot, but even that wasn't guaranteed. It took less than two weeks for Button to change Hooper's mind.
"He didn't really lead me on; I guess he didn't want to get my hopes up about playing second," Button said. "He said it's going to be me versus a couple other guys for a utility spot. So I'm thinking I might play left or third or (for) whoever needs a day off. But the more I was starting at second, I kind of realized I was fitting in well at second base."
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The perseverance that helped Button, 24, earn a starting spot has defined his career. After three years of college baseball at Mississippi, Button was drafted in the 22nd round by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009.
Button calls the last two seasons spent in Class A in the Diamondbacks organization, in which he was rarely healthy enough to play, the most frustrating of his baseball life. He describes some of his injuries, including a severe tear of his thumb ligament, with gruesome detail.
"You talk about a bad feeling — watching everybody else play," Button said. "You come to the yard and watch everybody else play. You're nothing when you're injured in any sport, especially baseball."
Multiple managers and coaches have told Button to ease up when his intensity isn't necessary, like when he dives for balls in batting practice. But Button doesn't know how to completely shut down that part of his game.
"It's a long season," Button said. "I've got to figure out how to keep healthy. It's not dogging it to first or anything like that, it's just calming down a little bit."
Button's approach to a different sport is partly responsible for his tenacity on the diamond. He was an accomplished youth hockey player, leading his high school team to a state championship.
Since many facets of hockey aren't available to baseball players, Button does his best to keep his hockey roots alive on the field.
"I think I have more of a hockey player mentality, and that's what leads to all these injuries, I think," Button said. "I just go as hard as I can until I got hurt. That's going to be a challenge for me this year, to just cool it. You can't get somebody's number and pull his jersey over his head and start fighting him. If he strikes you out, you can't check him into the boards."
Button received only 83 at-bats in the minors before Arizona let him go. After two difficult seasons, Button joined the Wingnuts with one goal — have fun.
He was forced to learn several positions at an early age, but all that got Button was minimal playing time in affiliated ball and a chance to be a backup with the Wingnuts. Now that he's surpassed expectations, Button can finally relax. If only he had that ability.
"I'm diving in the game," Button said. "I'm getting dirty every time I possibly can. When I was growing up, I'd be out in the street and I'd tell my dad, 'Hey, make me dive.' But it's a long season, so you've got to take care of yourself."