Alec Craig was a little surprised to see his name crossed out of the lineup for a recent game against the Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers.
It was July 5, and Craig, a 2014 St. Joseph High School graduate, had been tearing it up all summer in the United Shore Professional Baseball League in Utica, Michigan.
Maybe his coach was just giving him a day of rest before the league’s All-Star Game?
Instead, Bryan Kloppe, the assistant coach of the Westside Woolly Mammoths walked up to the 22-year-old, shook his hand and told him the Minnesota Twins were going to sign him to a minor-league contract.
“I was speechless, and overcome with emotion,” said Craig, a Winslow Township resident. “I called my parents, who were going to come to the All-Star Game, and they were emotional too. The players came up to me and gave me hugs and high fives. I sat there the whole game, and I said to myself that I can’t believe it’s happening. I got a little teary-eyed.”
Craig, who made his debut with the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Twins in Fort Myers, Florida, on Wednesday, has always been a little overlooked as a baseball player.
At only 5-foot-9, he wasn’t recruited much in high school and ended up at NCAA Division II Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. After a record-breaking college career, he also had trouble getting consideration from several independent professional baseball leagues last year.
“I got one tryout after college, with the (St. Louis) Cardinals, but they passed on me,” Craig said. “Five independent teams turned me down, and it took me a year to get on one. My parents said to not give up. They said that there would always be lots of jobs, but you can’t have regrets when you’re older.”
Craig settled into life after baseball by doing drywall work in Philadelphia last fall and then got a desk job working for Sunoco Logistics, in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Craig did electrical billing for Sunoco for the gas it would sell.
“It’s tough to practice baseball when no one wants you. At Sunoco Logistics, I’d go to their gym during lunch break and lift weights. Then I’d eat my lunch back at my desk,” he said.
At St. Joseph, Craig started all four years on the baseball and soccer teams. In baseball, he was the winning pitcher and struck out 12, including the final batter of the game, on June 4, 2014 as St. Joe beat Rutgers Prep 3-2 for the Wildcats’ first South Jersey Non-Public B baseball title since 1977.
“It was a big thrill. We were big underdogs,” said Craig, who was a Press First-Team All-Star that season for the Wildcats. “It would have been awesome to get a Division I scholarship but Arcadia and Chestnut Hill were the only offers I got. I chose Chestnut Hill because it’s a Catholic School like St. Joe.”
At Chestnut Hill, Craig was a four-year starter who batted .403 as a senior in 2018. He led Division II with 11 triples and stolen bases (47 of 48 attempts, a .979 percentage). He set program records in hits (60), runs (53), triples, total bases (104) and stolen bases.
“I was thinking the whole time that all Al needed was a chance,” Chestnut Hill baseball coach Bob Spratt said. “In my 20-plus years as a head coach, he’s the best player I’ve ever coached. Size is one thing, but he was a fierce competitor, the leader of our team. I couldn’t be more proud of him. I’m excited for his opportunity, and I’m sure he’s going to make the most of it.”
Craig finally got a professional tryout in June with the Woolly Mammoths, part of the four-team United Shore Professional Baseball League. He said he didn’t bat too well in his tryout but fielded well, and made the team.
Craig was sensational in a brief, nine-game stint with Westside. Playing second base, he started each game and hit .483 with four doubles, 14 walks and 14 runs scored. He had 11 stolen bases in 11 attempts. Defensively, he made only one error in 47 chances.
“Alec is a special player,” said Westside manager Mark Weidemaier. “A lot of people might think he’s too small, but he has great acumen for the game. He knows how to make things happen. He’s blessed with great speed, with a quick bat. In his small time with us, he set the world on fire.”
Weidemaier had contacts with the Twins, who offered to sign Craig after watching him play.
“It’s really cool that they signed him,” Weidemaier said. “He’s the kind of person who will take it as far as he can. I’m really excited for him.”
Craig plays all infield positions and can play the outfield too.
“I like being a utility kind of guy because I’ll get more at bats,” Craig said.
Craig has quite a support system. His parents, Chuck and Colleen, came to Utica even though they knew he wouldn’t be in the USPBL All-Star Game.They were part of a ceremony with Alec at the game, celebrating his achievement.
Also there were brother Charlie, sisters Olivia and Isabella, and friend Mike McMullen.
“It’s been kind of overwhelming the last few days, but we’re really, really happy for Alec,” said Chuck Craig, 54, a former Edgewood High School baseball player. “He was kind of overlooked because he’s not that big. He had to prove himself all over.”
Alec Craig has already begun to do that in Florida. In his minor-league debut, he went 1 for 2 with a walk. He was hitless in his second game, but drew two walks and recorded an RBI.
“I tried to steal a base (in his debut) and was thrown out,” Craig said. “I thought I was safe, but I didn’t want to argue. ... It’s a dream come true. The uniforms look just like the Twins, with the hat and shirt.”