Reporting David McCoy
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – St. Paul Saints pitcher Mark Hamburger has, perhaps, the best name in baseball. In fact, he was in a YouTube video contest for it.
“I lost to Rowdy Hardy, which I don’t really like because Rowdy’s his nickname,” Hamburger said. “If I was using nicknames, my nickname is “Cheese.” So if I was “Cheese Hamburger” you know I would’ve won.”
The only thing more interesting than the Mounds View grad himself is his story. An open tryout with the Twins led to the big leagues in just four years. But problems sent him back to the minors.
“Just an awesome feeling to be back in it,” he said.
His rise was the stuff they make movies out of. After going 14-0 at Mesabi Range Community College with an ERA under 1, he was declared ineligible due to an academics mix-up.
“It was like, ‘Now what do I do?’” he said.
So he went to the Twins open tryout, threw six-straight 93-mile-an-hour pitches, and got signed to a minor league deal.
“I was like, ‘Jeez this kinda like intense,’” he said.
Four years and a trade to Texas for Eddie Guardado later, Hamburger made his major league debut in 2011.
“It was a whirlwind in a way. I mean, I was doing really good,” he said.
He appeared in five games that year, and was 1-0 with a 4.5 ERA as the Rangers won the pennant.
A year and a half ago, Hamburger was on top of the world, but that success changed him, and not for the better.
The pressure of performing led to Hamburger’s casual marijuana use to spiral out of control.
“That’s when it kind of turned from just enjoying it, like socially, to trying to cover up something that was a problem. Like, I was mad, so what would I do? I’d go and I’d smoke,” he said.
He was sent to the minors, waived by the Rangers, and bounced around two other minor league teams – struggling at each stop along the way both on and off the field. He was eventually released.
“They told me, ‘You got popped for your second time with the drug test, and we’re gonna release you as well.’ So I guess I didn’t really know what to do. So I called around, talked to my agent and talked about going into a rehab facility. I fought it at first, but it became the best thing that I’ve ever done,” he said.
Now, Hamburger lives in his parents’ basement in Shoreview, and feels better than he has in more than a decade.
“I’m kind of at my beginning. I’m at ground zero, even though I’m with Saints it kinda like, from where I’ve been the past five years, people would say, ‘Well, OK, you’re not in pro ball anymore.’ But I’m actually really happy of where I’m at because it’s given me an opportunity to grow here; hopefully move on and see where it can take me with a clean mind,” he said.
Hamburger says he’s now three-and-a-half months sober. He will have to serve a 50-game suspension for that drug test if and when he signs with another MLB organization.