In a sense, Chance Chapman has come full circle with his baseball career.
The former Templeton High and Cuesta College star was drafted in the eighth round by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2007 after earning a scholarship to Oral Roberts.
He embarked on a successful five-year minor league career, nearly reaching the pinnacle of professional ball by making it to Triple-A.
Chapman, who’s now 29, suffered a career-ending shoulder injury that forced him to retire earlier this year. But he hasn’t lost his passion for the game.
As he goes through the hiring process with the California Highway Patrol, Chapman is assisting his stepfather Dan Marple — also a former minor leaguer and CHP officer — who’s the head coach of the North County Indians.
For Chapman, it’s a chance to reconnect with his roots because the Indians, a summer collegiate baseball team, that plays at home on the Templeton High field.
Chapman keeps the stats, throws batting practice, offers advice and takes part in the pre-game fungo competitions.
Chapman’s career ended in February after shoulder surgery and months of rehab failed to fully heal a severely torn rotator cuff. He use to be able to throw a ball from home plate over the centerfield fence. Now, the same throw would land in shallow centerfield.
“After he hung them up, I wasn’t sure how he’d handle being out there with the younger kids and maybe not the level of ball he’s used to,” Marple said. “But he has fit in. The ballplayers have really gravitated to him for advice. He has been a joy to have out there. He really loves the game.”
Despite not making it to the major leagues, Chapman has plenty to look back on with pride.
His minor league highlights included winning a head-to-head start against Madison Bumgarner, who went on to become a world champion and all-star for the San Francisco Giants.
He pitched in a spring training game with some of the Phillies stars taking the field behind him.
And he has a classic minor league story straight out of the movie “Bull Durham” when his team’s bus caught on fire because of a vehicle battery malfunction. The players spent the night sleeping on benches at a truck strop. Chapman pitched the next day and won.
While some former minor leaguers carry the bitterness of never fulfilling their dreams, Chapman is content.
“The best thing I can say is that I did everything I could,” Chapman said. “Triple-A was as far as I got, and I literally worked as hard as I could to get to that point. So, I’m OK with it.”
At a sturdy 6-foot-4, Chapman had the ideal frame and skill set for professional ball.
But after a stellar Templeton High performance, finishing 30-7 and earning all-league honors three times, Chapman’s playing days nearly ended.
He was all set to walk on at Fresno State, where he’d enrolled as a freshman. But the coach who’d recruited him left the program, Chapman said, and the new coach didn’t consider him.
“I thought I was done in baseball,” Chapman said. “I guess what changed that is I could still hear batting practice being hit in the background (at Fresno State). I called my dad and said ‘I think I want to come to Cuesta and try to play baseball.’ ”
Under Cuesta coach Bob Miller, who had just been hired by the Cougars, Chapman developed a nasty slider and reached the low 90s with his fastball.
After posting the nation’s second-best earned run average of 1.34 as a senior at Oral Roberts at age 23, Chapman found himself watching the pro draft selections on a computer screen with Marple.
“The Cardinals called me in the seventh round and told me they wanted me but when their pick came, they took a centerfielder from Rice,” Chapman said. “Then, two picks later, the Phillies picked me and I said ‘Alright, alright.’ When you see your name pop up in the selection, you say ‘Wow, there’s my name right there.’ It was pretty cool.”
In each of his first three minor league seasons, Chapman posted an ERA under 3.00, including a 10-2 record and a 2.13 ERA in 2009. He continued to rise in the Phillies organization, hearing positive feedback along the way.
After being called over from the minor league camp to the Major League squad one spring training, Chapman came on in relief to face the Atlanta Braves for one out.
“I was really excited, really nervous,” Chapman recalls. “I was greeted by Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins. I said, ‘Well, these are the guys.’ It was nerve-wracking. But it was a lot of fun.”
The comfort of knowing he’d have Major League fielding behind him was offset by the loud cracks of the bats in batting practice.
“It gives you confidence to throw it up there with Major League fielding behind you, but then you see BP and the guys are just crushing it and you think ‘Do I really want to throw it up there?’ ” he said.
Chapman was a starter his first two years in the Phillies organization, and then moved to the bullpen his last three seasons when he began to feel agonizing shoulder pain in 2011.
“I started feeling it in Triple-A,” Chapman said.
“It was getting to the point where I didn’t want to play catch. My first six to seven throws of warm-ups were excruciating. They almost brought a tear to my eye.”
A cortisone shot made the pain go away, and Chapman finished his stint in Triple-A with a 2-2 record and a 5.29 ERA in 17 games. Afterward, he was diagnosed with a severe rotator cuff tear.
Chapman had surgery in Florida and dedicated himself to rehab in 2012, but he never fully recovery and that’s when he knew his time was up.
“It was extremely hard to make the decision to move on,” Chapman said. “The decision to quit was weighing on me whole month of January and the better part of December. It was a lifestyle and something I’d been doing for so long. After I made my decision in February, I felt just a big relief.”
Some of the lessons he now imparts on young children in local clinics he gives are ones he learned from Marple, who played in the Baltimore Orioles organization with the likes of Eddie Murray and also in the Detroit Tigers system in the 1970s.
“He taught me how to play catch the right way,” Chapman said. “If you learn that at a young age, it pays dividends. He taught me proper mechanics and that helped out a ton.”
Though Chapman is following the same footsteps as Marple, both in baseball and the CHP, his stepfather said he never pushed him in either direction.
“I’m beyond proud of him,” Marple said. “I never tried to live through him. I just wanted him to find his own way. About the only thing I ever told him was that baseball has done a lot for me, and I’m forever grateful. I’d want that to be his deal too. I didn’t want him to be bitter when the time came for him when he decided to hang it up.”