MISSOULA — An unfamiliar voice yelled out to Missoula Osprey player Marty Herum as he was leaving the field following batting practice on Friday at Ogren-Allegiance Park
“Don’t you have somewhere else to be,” Great Falls Voyagers manager Tim Esmay jokingly asked before introducing himself and shaking Herum’s hand.
Most voices are new to Herum, a Triple-A player with the Reno Aces who’s in town on a rehab assignment. He homered off the video board in left-center field in his first plate appearance against Great Falls on Thursday, so Esmay would be fine seeing him leave the Rookie-ball level sooner rather than later.
The 27-year-old third baseman has been in Arizona’s minor-league system for seven seasons but had never played for Missoula before. He reached Triple-A for the first time this season as he’s taken a slow, steady climb up the minor-league ladder on a journey he’s embraced through 590 minor-league games.
“I’m just trying to get to the big leagues,” Herum said on Friday before the game was postponed because of rain. “I’ve been playing for seven years, so it’s even more of an incentive to get there because you’d hate to not play anymore and never get there after playing those seven years.”
Herum has played in two games on his rehab stint, one with the AZL D-backs and one with the Osprey. The 6-foot-3, 214-pounder from St. Paul, Minnesota, will be with Missoula through Saturday, but he’s unsure of where he’ll head after that.
The injury, though, could turn out to be a well-timed break for the right-handed hitter. He’s focused on getting the timing of his swing back on track after he started Triple-A with a .212 batting average a .282 on-base percentage in 48 games.
It’s the first time Herum hasn’t played on a regular basis, so he’s struggled to find a groove since he’s starting a couple games a week and being called in to pinch hit on other days.
“It’s been lots of ups and downs,” Herum acknowledged. “But it’s a game I get to play for a job, so I’m just trying to soak in everything. It’s been a fun seven years so far.”
Herum still holds a love for the game he’s played since he was a kid, although basketball was his early favorite. The passion shines through in how he’s persevered in the minor leagues but also in how he has a smile on his face while talking about baseball and his path to this point.
That journey was temporarily halted when Herum strained a hip flexor rounding first base on June 28. He spent most of July in Arizona, rehabbing three hours a day by going through running progressions before practicing in the field and the batting cage.
During his down time, Herum binged Netflix shows — his favorite is the sitcom “New Girl” — and spent time with his wife, a teacher in Wisconsin who came west for the summer, and some cousins who live in Arizona. He’d also watch baseball games on TV but didn’t enjoy it as much as playing the game and being around the team.
“I’ve had a lot of great teammates over the years. That’s pretty much what keeps you going is you’re a family,” Herum said. “I love that part of the game.”
Herum’s journey throughout the minors has featured incremental success and consistent recognition. He was a Diamondbacks organization all-star in 2016 and 2017, a mid-season all-star in 2014, 2015 and 2017, and a postseason all-star in 2016.
The former Wisconsin-Whitewater player was named a second-team All-American by D3baseball.com and the Midwest Regional Player of the year in 2013, and he was the 2012 Division III rookie of the year. He left college after two seasons to pursue a professional career, signing a late-summer free-agent contract with Arizona in July 2013.
Since then, Herum has played for seven teams in the Diamondbacks’ organization. His breakout season for the Double-A Jackson Generals last year in which he hit .300 helped earn him a promotion to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
Now, it’s about getting back there and then showing he belongs in the majors.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing professional baseball,” Herum said. “The big leagues is what I’m trying to get to. To do this for a living is awesome. It’s fun.”
Missoula and Great Falls will play a doubleheader on Saturday after Friday’s game was rained out. A downpour of rain and hail left the infield covered in puddles, and the earliest estimated start time would’ve been 8:30 p.m., according to the Osprey.
The teams will play a pair of seven-inning games on Saturday at 6 p.m. The gates will open at 5 p.m., and leftover T-shirts from Friday’s promotion will be given away at Saturday’s game.