April 17, 2014

BY JOHN D. HOMAN
Logan Media Services

CARTERVILLE – To say that infielder Dean Anna’s rise to the Big Leagues with the New York Yankees has caught the eye of his old coach at John A. Logan College would be an understatement.

Jerry Halstead can hardly suppress a smile these days when talking about the former Volunteer.

“We may be more excited for Dean than he is for himself,” said Halstead, now in his 31st year as head baseball coach. “He’s living in the moment and we couldn’t be prouder of his accomplishments.”

Anna is a reserve infielder for New York. He slugged his first Big League homer last Thursday night in a 4-1 victory, a solo shot off Boston Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz, just shy of the second deck in right field at Yankee Stadium.

In an article written Friday by Bryan Hoch with MLB.com, Anna said he had a hard time describing the feeling of circling the bases after hitting it out of the park – and against the Yankees’ arch rival, Red Sox.

“It’s kind of like, ‘Am I really running around these bases right now? Anna said. “It was a great feeling. I’m just happy to get the win. That’s really what it’s about around here. It feels really good to hit a homer in Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox. Words can’t explain it, honestly. They really can’t,” Anna said. “All the history with these two teams and that happens. Again, I’m just happy to get that win. I got a good pitch to hit and I hit it good. It was a great moment.”

Future Yankees Hall of Famer, shortstop Derek Jeter, greeted Anna with a high five as he entered the dugout.

“Good for him,” Jeter said. “It was his first hit here, as well. I know it was a long time ago, but I can remember playing my first games here at Yankee Stadium, and you want to do well. You’re trying so hard, and to get his first hit, a big home run. Buchholz is as good as they come, and it was something that he’ll remember forever.”

Anna is now 3-for-19 on the young season with a pair of runs batted in.

He played shortstop at Logan in 2006 and 2007. As a freshman, the Mokena native batted .313 with 62 hits, including 14 doubles. He followed up with a .359 batting average his sophomore year with six home runs, 18 doubles, and 46 runs batted in and was named Great Rivers Athletic All-Conference that season.

Anna also set the JALC school record his sophomore year with a nine-RBI game and hit for the cycle on one occasion.

He transferred to Ball State his junior year in 2008 where he hit .319 with 11 homers, seven triples and 17 doubles to go along with 41 RBIs. He was drafted that summer in the 26th round by the San Diego Padres organization and spent the next six summers progressing through the ranks. This past summer, he led the Pacific Coast League in hitting (Class AAA) and was voted to the league’s All-Star team.

Instead of being rewarded with a call up to the Padres when the rosters were expanded in September, Anna was snubbed. And then in February, the only organization that he had ever known traded him to the Yankees. The transaction was well received by Anna.

“I was definitely surprised when I got the news, but I consider it a blessing,” he said. “It feels great to go to a team that wants me. I would even call it a breath of fresh air because I don’t think I was going to get the opportunity to play for San Diego. I’m going to give 100 percent effort. I want to show the Yankees what I can do. I think they like the fact that I swing the bat from the left side. Yankee Stadium is certainly more suited for lefthanded hitters.”

Anna is a well-grounded 27-year-old. He is appreciative of the time he spent at Logan.

“Coach Halstead and Coach (then-assistant Tim) Williams taught me a lot about the game,” he said. “I consider them my mentors. I learned about coming to the field and working hard every day and giving my all, not taking a play off. It was all about learning how to discipline myself and that helped prepare me for the next level.”

Anna is one of five JALC players to make it to the Majors. Pitchers John Ambrose, Tommy Kramer and Jason Boyd, along with middle infielder Jamey Carroll, are the others. Carroll played more than 10 years at the Big League level and was most recently in Spring Training with the Washington Nationals, but did not make the team.

As one career wound down, another has begun.

“I don’t know if people fully understand or appreciate the odds of making it to the Major Leagues,” Halstead said. “You’re talking about being at the peak of your profession. There are only 600 Major Leaguers and thousands and thousands of players who don’t make it.”

According to information posted on the Web site, “High School Baseball Web,” about 0.5 percent of 450,000-plus teens playing high school baseball are drafted by Major League Baseball teams.

And about 10 percent of those who are drafted play at least one game at the Major League level, according to the Web site, “Chasing MLB Dreams.”

Long odds, indeed.

But those long odds were enhanced partly by Anna’s natural-born talent and perhaps even moreso by his work ethic.

“With his day-to-day approach, it’s no surprise to me that Dean has had such success in professional baseball,” Halstead said. “He is one of the top shortstops to play at Logan because he worked his tail off when he was here, and has continued to do so in the pros. I’m just glad to see that all that hard work is finally being rewarded.”

Halstead said the fact that Anna spent six years in the Minors preparing for his shot at the Big Leagues will drive him to further success.

“I told Deano when I saw him a few weeks ago that he had one foot in the door (with the Yankees) and to give it everything he’s got. And he’s done exactly that. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier for him.”