9 years ago, a career minor leaguer passed away. I remember reading the article and being very sad about it. Brian Traxler was 37 years old. He had one cup of coffee, so to speak, with the Dodgers in 1990. He had one hit in 11 official at-bats for a career Major League average of .091.
A guy like Traxler would normally go unnoticed. But for the teams he played with and the fans that saw him down in the minors year in and year out, he became a bit of a cult hero. Everyone who knew him spoke well of him.
Me personally, I knew about Traxler long before many of them. He’s one of my favorite Dodgers of all-time. Let me tell you why.
In 1990, I was an 8 year old kid at Charter Oak Park in Covina, CA, just 25 miles from Dodger Stadium. A few Dodgers came out for a community meet-and-greet and autograph signing and my dad took me to it. The main Dodger at the event was Jim Gott. There was another Dodger at the event at the time, I can’t remember who. It might’ve been Mike Hartley, but I just can’t remember for sure. The third Dodger to come to the event was Brian Traxler, at the time a rookie first baseman with a power bat who was trying to make his way with the Big Club.
Here I was, 8 years old with 3 guys in Dodger uniforms in front of me. Real Dodgers. Larger than life. I didn’t have many cards at the time or really understand what to do or what to bring to autograph sessions. I had a few sheets of paper. I figured I’d just have them sign on a line with their names underneath so I’d know who they were. I waited in line and finally got to have my chance. I walked up to each player. I remember Gott and the other guy kind of scoff at being handed pieces of paper, like signing such things was beneath them, but they signed them. When I got to Traxler, he smiled and took my paper and we had a little conversation that went something like this. He asked me “what’s your name kid?” I said “My name’s Eric.” He smiled and said “hi Eric, I’m Brian.” I asked him “Do you like playing for the Dodgers Brian?” and he said “yes, very much.” He gave me a smile and signed my sheet of paper on the line right above his name. I said “I hope you hit a home run next game Brian. Thank you.” And he said “I hope so too. You’re welcome.”
At that point, Brian Traxler didn’t have to do a single additional thing in Blue. He made this 8 year old boy’s whole year. And for that, he will always be one of my favorites.
Brian Traxler never did hit that first major league home run, but he did have a hit to his credit. He also pleased crowds as the primary first baseman for the Albuquerque Dukes for a number of years. Traxler also spent some time playing for the Fargo-Moorhead Red Hawks, a year in the Japanese league, and split time with a few other independent teams up until the 2000 season
In all, Brian Traxler would play 13 minor league seasons, hit 109 home runs and bat a collective .294. After his career was over, Traxler spent time in the Dodger organization as a hitting instructor, a position he held at the time of his death. In the process, he also raised a family and left good impressions on just about every person he ever came across.
Brian Traxler passed all too soon at the age of 37 on November 19th, 2004. I wish I knew what I had done with those pieces of paper all those years ago, they’re long since gone. But my memory of Brian Traxler isn’t.
If you would like to read more about Brian Traxler, this obituary by Rory Costello tells Brian’s story in-depth in a personal and thoughtful manner that I couldn’t even begin to touch on.
(The sources of information on Traxler for this entry can be found in the following locations:
http://www.oursportscentral.com/services/releases/?id=3105346&l_id=46&t_id=547 for “Former RedHawks Star Brian Traxler Dies at 37”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Traxler for Traxler’s Wikipedia article, and http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/traxlbr01.shtml for Traxler’s statistics at Baseball-Reference.)