Tony Campana: 'A dream come true'

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University of Cincinnati product Tony Campana made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday, living out a lifelong dream few could have predicted.



[See Campana's interview with Cincinnati media] 


CINCINNATI - Tony Campana heard the same story his entire life. He didn't belong.


The young kid from Springboro with a severe case of the baseball bug stared ahead at a track to his dream more resembling the 110-meter hurdles.


His 5-foot-8, 160-pound body resembles a shell of Dustin Pedroia with a splash of David Eckstein - minus 10 pounds.


Major college programs scoffed at his dream and Campana settled in at UNC-Asheville.


He didn't belong.


Two eye-opening seasons in Carolina earned a spot at UC. Despite 60 stolen bases his junior year, 44 of 55 attempts his senior season to complement a .319 average, the narrative remained the same to MLB scouts.


He didn't belong.


As a 13th-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs in 2008, his college numbers were as undeniable as the "yeah, but," to always follow.


"In high school, all the coaches that I talked to were like, 'Eh, I think you're a little too small to play college ball,'" Campana said. "After (college), they were like, 'Well, he's probably a little too small to play pro ball.'

"When I got drafted, it was just kind of like, 'Well, he's fast, let's see if anything else happens."


On Tuesday, it happened for Tony Campana. He was called up from Triple-A Iowa by the Chicago Cubs. He belonged.


He stood on second base following an RBI double for his first Major League hit, baggy blue jersey accentuating his boyish size and using every muscle in his face to hide a grin that would reach from Great American Ballpark to his hometown of Springboro. Meanwhile, a throng of 50-plus friends and family projected proud screams into a quiet, dreary Cincinnati night.


Campana, 25, a kid everyone said couldn't play in the major leagues, defied the odds with a line of dirt-covered jerseys and manufactured runs in his minor league wake. No matter what happens from this point forward, nobody can ever take that away from him.


And nobody should be surprised at his ability to persevere. It's par for the course for somebody who overcame lymphoma growing up.


"It means everything," Campana said of reaching the show. "It's been my dream since I was a little kid. Especially being my size. People who said I couldn't do it, I proved wrong. It feels amazing."


The amazing day began moments after a blowup by Cubs manager Mike Quade prompted an early-morning call to Triple-A. Projections and potential overstayed their welcome in the Chicago locker room. Quade desired production. So, franchise darling Tyler Colvin and his .113 average headed to Iowa. The scrappy, base-stealing outfielder and his .342 average earned the right to live a dream.   


"He can run (with) speed that we don't have," Quade said of Campana, who stole 144 bases during three-plus years in the minors. "He plays great defense, can slap it around. (He) can help us win a ballgame late and do some things for us that (we) haven't had available."


Campana found out about the call from his manager late Monday night then spent the night in a Reno, Nev., hotel not sleeping. A flight left at 6 a.m., including an hour layover in Salt Lake City preceding a cross-country flight to Cincinnati. Waiting to pick up himself and reliever Scott Maine were Campana's parents and two younger sisters.


Mom and dad driving Tony to the baseball game, just like old times. Only, the grass at GABP was slightly better manicured than the Springboro baseball complex.


He arranged 50 tickets for his friends and family before telling his UC friends they needed to pay their own way. A whirlwind with two rounds of interviews with a horde of Chicago and Cincinnati media came next.


Before he knew it, he was called into the game to pinch-run in the seventh inning. He'd cross the plate with a go-ahead score. An inning later he'd lace his first MLB hit down the right-field line past a diving Joey Votto for an RBI.


"I couldn't have planned it any better," Campana said, surrounded by media after the game. 


Cubs management hopes his role on the team works out in the same fashion. Stealing bases, bunting and  chasing drives in the gaps provide a skill set few on the Cubs employ.


More nights like Tuesday will keep Campana in the bigs for a long time.


"He's played really well the last couple years for us and brings a little different dimension," Chicago GM Jim Hendry said. "He's a real good defender, can play all three spots, he's really a fast kid, he really runs well, can steal bases, gets the bunts down, high-energy kid."


The magical tour for Campana continues this weekend as he heads to Boston to look across the diamond at the only other UC player in the majors, Kevin Youkilis.


Campana said he's spoken with Youkilis before during Red Sox stars trips back to UC. Now, they'll converse as peers. Just add it to the long list of earned, unforgettable experiences for the kid everyone thought didn't belong.


"It's a dream come true," Campana said.

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