January 28, 2005
Chris Minaker had never been to Alaska prior to last summer and admits that he wasn't all that excited when he learned that he would be spending last summer playing baseball there with the Kenai Oilers of the Alaska Baseball League. He had hoped to be playing in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League along with most of best players in college baseball.
But, even before his plane anded as he saw the beauty of the Great Alaskan outdoors from above, Minaker's feelings started to change, and he ended up having the 'coolest summer of my life'.
On the field, his numbers spoke for themselves. He hit .311 in the wood bat league with three homers, 23 RBI and four stolen bases over 36 games.
But, he is just as fond of his experiences off the field.
On long summer evenings when the sun would shine until about 2:00 am, Minaker would often head out after night games to the Kenai River to do some late-night fishing with his host father Al Cummings. Sometimes, teammate Nick Cleaver would come along.
The three would spend time just relaxing, laughing and talking while enjoying the Great Alaskan outdoors and late-night sun.
'From the first day I was in Alaska, I just realized how beautiful God's creation is,' said Minaker, a life-long Christian. 'I really enjoyed a lot of peaceful time and had a chance to reflect. I relished the quiet time.'
Quiet time is something that can be rare for a college baseball player. In season, the team practices or plays six days a week. On top of that, there is a heavy academic workload that often keeps players up studying late into the night.
Minaker handled both very well in his first two years at Stanford.
After not playing much as a freshman in 2003, he won the team's starting shortstop job about a third of the way into his sophomore season last year and started the team's final 38 games at the position. He finished the season with a .270 batting average, four homers and 33 RBI, while playing solid defensively.
This year, he is expected to be one of team's top players both offensively and defensively, and may even hit in one of the top two spots in the lineup.
He didn't get to this point of his career without struggling. Minaker spent nearly his entire freshman campaign on the bench, not even starting a single game and picking up just 12 at bats in 18 substitute appearances. Even last year, he began the season as a backup before finally forging his way into the lineup.
'Not playing much early in my collegiate career was the best thing that ever happened,' reflected Minaker. 'It helped me learn how to deal with frustration and forced me to mature.'
'I wanted to make sure I was ready to play when the opportunity to play did come,' Minaker continued. 'It taught me a lesson of perseverance that applies in many different areas in life. I was better off going through that experience of not playing.'
The Sociology major made the most of the situation by working even harder in the classroom and is scheduled to be finished with his graduation requirements by this June. He was a First Team Pac-10 All-Academic choice as a sophomore.
Minaker credits his parents (Larry and Teri) and the Christian upbringing they provided in helping him become the first person from his immediate family to go to a four-year college.
'I was raised in a Christian home from the beginning,' said Minaker. 'It helps me realize that God has a plan, and that I am not in this alone. It would be awfully hard to live the life of a college baseball player and a college student all on your own.'
Minaker has also had help on his journey by meeting on a regular basis with Jim Stump, the spiritual advisor for the Stanford football team who also counsels many other Stanford student-athletes.
'I really felt the big picture of God's creation on those nights by the Kenai River last summer,' recalled Minaker. 'When I meet with Jim, it gives me a chance to discuss all the little details that help me live my life the way I want to.'
Whether it's on the field, in the classroom or living according to his faith, Minaker seems to be doing it all pretty well.
by Kyle McRae