If you saw Erasmo Crofoot on the street, you probably wouldn’t guess he was a professional baseball player. And if you asked him, he might not tell you that he was. “I don’t think of myself that way,” Crofoot says. So who does he think he is? “A professional survivor.” The title certainly fits; he made it through an upbringing and professional struggles that would have crushed most people. But against all odds, he’s also the designated hitter for the Jackson Hammerheads. And now that he’s got the job, he’s not letting it go without a fight.
Ask Crofoot’s teammates what stands out about him, and they all cite the same thing: his swing. Crofoot has a surprising amount of power for a little man – he stands only 5’9″ – and part of the reason is due to his violent swing. “It’s all or nothing with him, man,” said Hammerheads 2B Homer Righter. “Either he hits it ten miles or he swings himself into the ground. He doesn’t get cheated.” So far this season, that swing is responsible for 6 homers, tied for the league lead.
Asked why he swings so hard, Crofoot says simply: “I’m fighting to stay off the scrap heap.” Some might think he’s referring to the fact that the Hammerheads plucked him from the waiver wire in spring training and installed him in the heart of their order. But he means it in a broader sense. To Crofoot, his whole life has been a fight to stay off the scrap heap.
Erasmo Crofoot was born in Texas; his mother was a Mexican singer, his father a Native American musician. His parents had a tempestuous relationship, and his mother left at age 3, never to see Erasmo again. Rather than trying to raise his son on the road, Jonathan Crofoot sent Erasmo to live with his grandparents on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. “You grow up in a hurry on the rez,” Crofoot says. “You have to. You’ve got to start scrapping to find a way out, or you wind up drinking yourself to death.” He speaks from experience, as his grandfather died of cirrhosis when Crofoot was 10.
Crofoot decided early on that his way out was through baseball. He grew up listening to Minnesota Twins games on the radio, idolizing Kirby Puckett. “He was my hero, because he was a little guy and he was a star,” says Crofoot. “I always knew I was going to be a little guy, and I wanted to be a star like Kirby.”
Unfortunately for Crofoot, his path to stardom was far from clear. “Baseball wasn’t big on the rez,” he says. “Basketball, definitely. Lacrosse, sure. But not baseball.” So rather than starring in high school or on a travel team, he played intramural ball. Instead of getting a full ride at Texas or UVA, he was a walk-on at a community college in Montana, and had to play his way into a scholarship at Division III Montana Baptist. And instead of getting drafted by an MLB team after graduating college, he wound up playing in the newly-founded Israel Baseball League. “I’d never been out of the country,” says Crofoot. “And suddenly, I was playing on the other side of the world.” Crofoot averaged over .300 during his 3 seasons in Israel, but still couldn’t attract an offer from MLB. He moved on to Australia for two seasons, and then two more in Venezuela. He says that he didn’t mind the globetrotting. “I never felt like I fit in anywhere,” he says, “so what difference did it make, Israel or Australia or Venezuela? At least I was playing baseball.”
But while Crofoot was traveling around, his dream of reaching the majors kept receding. “Eventually, I realized the scouts weren’t watching,” he says. “I wasn’t going to get anywhere unless I came back to America.” Last season, he played in the independent Pecos League, “Talk about low-level,” says Crofoot. “We drove between games in a converted school bus. We got paid $50 a week. I was living in my car.”
By the end of the season, at age 30 and still receiving no attention from MLB, Crofoot was ready to hang it up. “You can’t spend your whole life chasing a dream and never catching it,” he says. “That’ll make you crazy. I figured it was time for me to let it go, quit wandering, put down roots and get a real job.”
But when Crofoot heard about the Patriot League, he decided to give it one more shot. “When the draft came and went and no one took me, I figured that was a sign,” he says. “One last kick in the teeth to remind me that no one wants me.” But while Crofoot was preparing for life after baseball, someone was finally taking a look at his numbers: specifically, Hammerheads owner/GM Steven Butler. “I realized this guy could flat rake,” Butler says. “I couldn’t believe no one had snapped him up.”
So Butler signed him, and manager Lou Hayes put him in the lineup, and now Crofoot is determined to seize his chance. “I know if I don’t produce, this could all be over tomorrow,” he says. “I could be right back on the scrap heap. So I’ve got to keep scrapping and fighting.”
But for now, at least, Hayes, Butler, and the Hamerheads couldn’t be happier with their bargain-basement DH. And Crofoot, violent swings and all, couldn’t be happier to finally find a place where someone wants him.