MESA – Growing up 30 miles outside of Chicago in the small suburb of Sleepy Hollow, infielder Ryan Court never imagined having a shot in the major leagues.
Now, 12 years after walking onto the Illinois State baseball team, he’s at spring training with his childhood team, the Chicago Cubs.
“It became a reality my senior year of college when I knew I was getting drafted,” Court said. “It didn’t really set in until later in my career that I was capable of playing in the big leagues.”
Playing in the minor leagues for eight years, Court, 29, has yet to make it on a major league roster.
Court began his professional career when he was drafted in the 23rd round of the 2011 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was in the Diamondbacks’ organization until 2015, when he was released at the end of spring training.
Instead of ending his baseball career there, Court played for the Sioux City Explorers in Iowa, an independent professional baseball team, before signing a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox in 2016.
After two seasons with the Red Sox, Court elected free agency in November. He then signed with the Cubs in December, fulfilling a lifelong dream of playing for his hometown team.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Court said. “(Manager) Joe (Maddon) and the front office are amazing,” Court said. “It’s such a tight-knit group of guys. I really feel like everyone’s pulling for each other from the No. 1 guy on the team through the last.”
Court has spent the last 12 years, since the day he walked on at Illinois State, working to make a major league roster. He could not be happier than to have another shot with Chicago, which included him as one of their 19 non-roster invitees to spring training.
“The culture the Cubs have and the winning ways, it’s really just a dream come true,” Court said.
Signing with the Cubs also reunited Court with former Diamondbacks teammate and roommate, Mike Freeman.
Freeman, 30, also a journeyman, joined Court as one of the non-roster invitees.
“He (Court) really understands the game,” Maddon said. “He pops in here and you just look at him and you think, ‘OK, of course there’s gotta be a fly in the ointment,’ but so far I haven’t seen it.”
Maddon compared Court to former player Rich Amaral, who didn’t make his major league debut until he was 29. Amaral spent nine years in the minors before landing a spot on the Seattle Mariners roster in 1991.
“He’s lanky, he’s tall, just like Amaral was, plays that kind of a game,” Maddon said. “He might of slipped through the cracks a little bit for awhile, but he’s really making an impression here. Really, really good impression.”
Court is stating his case in Cubs camp. Through Thursday, he was hitting .412 with two home runs in 12 games.
“It was difficult, but I always knew I wanted to play in the major leagues,” Court said, “and I’ll continue to play until they take a jersey off my back.”