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Ekstrom climbs minor-league ladder

The 22-year-old pitcher finds success within the Padres organization
by: contributed photo, Barlow graduate Mike Ekstrom warms up in the bullpen before a game with the Mobile BayBears last month.

Baseball has taken minor-leaguer Mike Ekstrom all around the map, making stops in all corners of the country in his quest to make his Major League dream a reality.

The Barlow graduate has spent the last three years moving up the minor-league ranks after being drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 12th round of the 2004 draft. He went highest among the four local athletes playing in the minors this season.

Ekstrom opened his minor-league career with the local Eugene Emeralds in 2004 and hopes to make a return to Oregon in the near future. The Portland Beavers are the AAA-affiliate for the Padres.

'That is a real motivation for me,' Ekstrom said. 'It would be awesome to come back and be able to play in front of my family and friends.'

The 22-year-old is moving up the ladder this summer, earning a call-up in June to join the double-A squad in Mobile, Ala.

Unfortunately, the promotion meant Ekstrom had to board a plane to fly across the country, rather than suiting up for the California League all-star game that was just a few days away.

'It was a little disappointing because I was all set to pitch in the all-star game, but it was also exciting to get promoted,' Ekstrom said. 'It was a good move for my career to be called up to double-A, but I've never been to the South before - it's totally different here. I've been to a bunch of places that I would have never seen without baseball.'

With his recent promotion, Ekstrom has covered most regions of the country. Growing up in the Northwest, playing college baseball for short stints in New England and California, along with minor-league stays in California, Indiana and Alabama.

While cross-country road trips are few and far between, travel is an exhausting part of life in the minors where games are always on the schedule.

'We're playing almost every day,' Ekstrom said. 'It's 140 games nonstop, and it's surprising how much that can take out of you. It's wake up, grab some food and go to the field. After the game, it's back to sleep and waking up to do it all over again.'

The Padres' front office has taken notice of Ekstrom success on the mound, even through his win-loss record could be eye-popping with more offensive support. He is 0-4 with the BayBears despite carrying a 3.86 ERA and suffered another four losses despite a 2.30 ERA in Lake Elsinore.

'It's a little frustrating, but the hitters are out there doing their best,' Ekstrom said. 'I figure if I take care of my job, the wins will come.'

The minors are also a strange place where players are competing against everyone on the field, including those in their own bullpen. With limited roster spots at the higher levels, everyone is looking to become the team's ace.

'It's really competitive,' Ekstrom said. 'Every year, the team drafts 50 new guys who are trying to take your spot. We all want to move up, but we still pull for each other to win games.'

Ekstrom is one of four local graduates competing in the minor leagues this summer.

Barlow's Brian Burres has six years experience and is closest to making his debut in the Majors. He ranks among the top 10 in several pitching categories in the AAA International League.

Centennial graduate Tim Rodriguez is the youngest player trying to find a fit, while playing every other day in the Arizona rookie league.