Nobody has ever given David Eckstein a fair shot, but that doesn’t faze Eckstein. Coming out of high school, Eckstein was not offered scholarships from major Division I schools, despite his superb play at Seminole High School in Sanford, Fla. Eckstein, now the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox second baseman, was a walk-on player for the University of Florida’s baseball team in the fall of 1994. He was later awarded a scholarship, and for a good reason. Eckstein went on to become a two-time All SEC Team member (1995-96) and a three-time SEC Academic Honor Roll Selection (1995-97). In 1996, Eckstein led the Gators to the College World Series while becoming a first team All-American.
Yet, Eckstein struggled for respect from Major League clubs. The Red Sox finally selected the 5’8” 165 pound Eckstein in the 19th round of the 1997 draft.
Eckstein started his career with the Red Sox in 1997 with their Rookie League affiliate, the Lowell Spinners. His .971 fielding percentage led the league (nine errors in 314 chances), and he led the Spinners in at-bats, runs, hits, total bases, triples, RBI, walks and stolen bases. He also tied for the league lead with eight sacrifice hits. Eckstein’s nine-game hitting streak that year was only one of the notable numbers he put up. He hit .301, had a .407 on-base percentage, and stole 21 bases while only being caught five times – an 81% success rate.
The Red Sox liked what they saw from Eckstein and promoted him to Single-A Sarasota for the 1998 season. Eckstein continued his silent dominance there, hitting .306 and stealing a remarkable 45 bases. He was named Red Sox Minor League Player of the Month in May and the Sarasota Red Sox’ Player of the Year for 1998. Eckstein spanned 21 games from May 16 to June 6 without an error and hit 6 RBI in one game on May 8 vs. Vero Beach. His strikeout-to-walk ratio also increased, as he walked 87 times and struck out 51 times.
Red Sox scouts and personnel slowly began to realize what kind of a talent they had on their hands. Not only was he a talent, he was also a classy guy. Never in trouble with the law and always willing to sign an autograph, Eckstein has not let becoming a professional baseball player get to his head. The Red Sox moved Eckstein up to the AA Trenton Thunder in 1999, and Eckstein provided the Thunder with the best second baseman in the Eastern League. His .985 fielding percentage (nine errors in 600 chances) earned him the Eastern League Defensive Second Baseman of the Year title from ‘Baseball America.’ He was the starting second baseman for the Eastern League All-Star team. He hit .313, stole 32 bases, scored 109 runs, had 89 walks and a .440 OBP. In addition, Eckstein had a 10-game and a 20-game hitting streak. Yet with Wilton Veras, Steve Lomasney and Tomo Ohka catching all the glory in Trenton, Jose Offerman playing well at second base for Boston, and Donnie Sadler making Red Sox fans drool over his speed playing second base for Pawtucket and Boston, there wasn’t a lot attention heading Eckstein’s way.
Eckstein will join the Pawtucket Red Sox for the 2000 season, and is now one step away from playing in the Major Leagues. Not many people thought that the walk-on kid from Florida would ever make it as far as he has today. At 25 years-old, Eckstein is the prototypical leadoff hitter. His knowledge of the game and awareness on the field attribute for his base-stealing prowess and his sure-handed fielding. Most importantly, he gets on base. He has never hit below .300 in his professional career, nor has he ever had an OBP less than .400 (usually it’s around .425). He is a patient hitter who isn’t afraid to take one for the team; he was hit by a pitch 25 times, the fourth-highest total in Minor League Baseball last year. The Pawsox already moved last year’s second baseman, Jim Chamblee, to the outfield so that Eckstein could be their second baseman.
Eckstein has been impressive so far in his Pawsox career. In two games, he is three for four at the plate with five walks, three runs, one stolen base, one double and one hit-by-pitch. He has a 1.000 slugging percentage and a .900 on-base percentage. And of course, he hasn’t made an error yet. Naturally, these numbers will go down, but it’s just a sample of what Red Sox fans will see in Fenway Park by 2001.