For some unknown reason, Mike Lang has always had to prove himself as an athlete.
It’s been that way for the former St. Peter’s Prep football and baseball standout since he was very young.
“I’ve been literally trying to prove myself since I was 10 years old,” Lang said.
Lang recalled a time when he was 10, when he was the last cut for an AAU team in Bergen County.
“I didn’t get picked and I didn’t know why,” Lang said. “Another kid on the team ended up getting hurt, so the coach called me and asked if I still wanted to play. I ended up leading that team in batting.”
When Lang arrived at St. Peter’s Prep, the school where his two older brothers attended before him, he was determined to make his mark as both a football and baseball player, although some thought he was too small to do so.
Lang proved those people wrong when he earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors as a wide receiver in football and as an outfielder in baseball.
In 2007, Lang enjoyed one of the best all-around baseball seasons any Hudson County player ever had, batting .448 with an astounding 13 homers and 38 RBI. It was the best power display by a Hudson County baseball player in more than 25 years, earning Hudson Reporter Player of the Year honors.
Still, after earning All-County honors in two sports, Lang didn’t have a host of college options. He didn’t receive a single solid offer, just a handful of unfulfilled promises.
The late local baseball guru, Ed “The Faa” Ford, was a huge fan of Lang’s talent on the diamond and pestered Rutgers head coach Fred Hill, Sr. enough to give Lang a try with the Scarlet Knights. Again, Lang received no promises and no scholarship. He had to walk on to the roster.
At Rutgers, Lang more than proved himself, becoming one of the best offensive performers in Scarlet Knight history. He ended his career ranked among the school leaders in triples (third with 13), hits (fourth with 229), doubles (seventh with 48) and homers (ninth with 23).
Eventually, Lang earned the scholarship from Hill. His bat and cannon-like arm did the talking.
When Lang was crushing the ball in Piscataway, it was believed that he had the makings of a top professional prospect. After his junior year, Lang was informed by Major League Baseball scouts that he was projected to be taken in the MLB Draft, probably between the 15th and 25th rounds. But that call never came.
“I asked a lot of people and the story that got back to me was that I was deemed unsignable,” Lang said. “But I never once mentioned anything about money. Somehow, it got out that I was unwilling to sign. I don’t know where that came from.”
Lang returned to Rutgers for his senior year and performed the same way as he did as a junior. Again, he heard that he was going to get taken in the draft, but again, for still some unknown reason, Lang wasn’t selected.
“Part of me said maybe it’s over,” Lang said. “But I knew I could still play. I just needed the opportunity. I heard from so many people that I was going to get drafted and get my chance. It’s funny. I told my mom [Diane] that my whole life, I’ve had to prove myself and I just need a chance.”
After not getting taken in the MLB Draft in 2011, Lang hoped to hook on with a professional team, preferably one of the independent teams, like the Newark Bears or the New Jersey Jackals, close to home. Both teams showed some initial interest, with the Bears actually offering Lang a contract, but then said he couldn’t get added to the roster because of a numbers problem.
“They showed interest after I worked out with both teams, but then I never heard from them again,” Lang said.
So in the summer of 2011, Lang played semipro ball for the Teaneck Bruins and Hackensack Troasts of the Metropolitan League.
“I did it to see live pitching,” Lang said. “I ended up hitting .500 for the Bruins with 13 stolen bases and I hit .429 for the Troasts in the [Semipro] World Series with two homers. I had a great time playing in that league.”
Lang was encouraged by his performance during the summer of 2011. He was determined to make sure that his baseball career wasn’t over. So with the help of his father, Dave, Lang sent out his resume via e-mail to every independent professional team in the country.
“We sent it out with my summer league stats and Rutgers stats and got no response,” Lang said. “I had a tryout with the Brockton Rox [of the Can-Am League, the same league that the Bears and Jackals play in, but the Massachusetts team folded]. If my parents weren’t there to support me and push me, I might have given up. Who knows? I don’t know.”
Lang finally got a response from a team, the Sioux City Explorers, an Iowa-based team in the American Association.
“They were the only team to contact me,” Lang said. “They said that three of their outfielders had retired and they wanted to bring me to Iowa. As soon as I read that letter, I was ready to go out the door.”
That was in February. Soon after, Lang signed a contract with the Explorers. He was bound for Iowa, searching for his personal Field of Dreams.
“I really felt comfortable out there,” Lang said. “Everything just fell into place. I felt I was starting over, getting a chance to open some new eyes.”
Lang certainly did that with Sioux City, hitting .405 with 49 hits, seven doubles, three triples, four homers and 25 RBI in just 35 games. He was once named the American Association Player of the Week.
While on a long bus ride during a road trip, Lang’s cell phone rang.
“I was asleep on the bus and didn’t feel the phone vibrating under me,” Lang said. “I woke up, saw the number, didn’t recognize it, but felt I should answer it.”
The caller ID read “Arizona Diamondbacks.”
“I said, ‘Wow! I better answer this,’” Lang said. “I didn’t know what to say.”
The scout told Lang that the Diamondbacks were interested in signing him.
“We talked for 45 minutes,” Lang said. “I told him my whole story. It was one of the best wake-up calls I ever had.”
The Diamondbacks sent Lang to the Yakima (Washington) Bears of the Class A Northwest League. He’s played in 12 games thus far and has had eight hits, but he’s playing every day in centerfield. His .195 batting average is a little misleading.
“It doesn’t reflect how well I feel I’m hitting the ball,” Lang said.
However, after going through years of trials and tribulations, Mike Lang is finally getting his chance to play affiliated professional baseball.
“It’s something I’ve been working toward my entire life,” Lang said. “It’s almost surreal that it’s happened this way. It’s weird and hard to describe how it happened. But it’s pretty awesome to say I’m with the Diamondbacks.”
It’s safe to say that Lang is pretty happy these days, even if he’s playing some 3,000 miles away from home.
“It’s just another chapter in my book,” Lang said. “Hopefully, there are a lot more chapters left to write.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.