For a young ballplayer desperately in need of something positive to get his floundering career on track, Chris Warren couldn't have gotten off to a worse start.
Coming off a disappointing 1999 season, when he batted just .170 in 153 at-bats with the GreenJackets before a demotion to short-season Lowell in May, Warren went 0-for-4 and struck out three times in the Jackets' season-opening loss at Hickory on April 6.
All he could do was wonder if this was the beginning of the end to his career as a Red Sox farmhand.
"That first night, I had all that pressure from last year on me, and I remember thinking that if I don't start out good, I'm going to be in trouble," the 23-year-old outfielder said. "I figured if I kept going like this, I'd be lucky to stick around for 10 more games before they released me."
Warren can look back now and smile about that fateful night when his minor-league career arrived at a crossroads. And he can thank a little tough love from his father, Bruce, for getting him back on track.
"I got back to the hotel after the game and called my dad," said Warren, who will start in left field for the Southern Division tonight in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park in Charleston, S.C.
"He said that if I keep playing like this and thinking about being released, I might as well tell the Red Sox that I was finished right now. I might as well just give up and come home."
The Clinton, N.C., native heeded his dad's advice, and after some serious soul searching, has resurrected his career.
Warren batted .278 with nine home runs and 36 RBI in the first half for the Jackets, and committed only one error in his first 70 games.
At one point, the former Campbell University standout was batting over .330 and challenging Hickory's J.R. House in the race for the SAL batting title.
Warren has struggled of late, batting just .186 in June as the grind of having to play every day because of Augusta's lack of outfield depth began taking its toll on his numbers the past few weeks.
But nothing can take away from what Warren accomplished in the first half, and he says now he is better equipped to handle the adversity of a batting slump.
"Last year was a total disaster and I was so negative about everything," said Warren, who signed with the Red Sox as a non-drafted free agent in 1998.
"And at the beginning of this year, I still felt the pressure to turn it around and show the Red Sox I can play. But now, even though I'm slumping a bit, I'm not going to get myself too down. I know I have to stay on an even keel and understand that it's a long season, and everyone goes through ups and downs."
Jackets manager Mike Boulanger says Warren's work ethic and steadier demeanor has impressed him, despite his recent woes.
"He comes to work each and every day, and I know he's come a long way coming off a rough year last season," Boulanger said. "As long as he continues to work hard and stays positive, he's going to continue to develop."
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.
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