Christian gets the call

Thursday, June 26, 2008
Southeast Missourian file Justin Christian turned a double play while playing second base for Southeast Missouri State during the 2003 season.

As far as Southeast Missouri State baseball coach Mark Hogan is concerned, nobody deserves to be a major leaguer more than Justin Christian.

Christian, a former Southeast player, made his major league debut Tuesday night as the New York Yankees' starting left fielder during a game at Pittsburgh.

After being called up from Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre earlier in the day, Christian had an impressive debut. He went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs.

"It's a dream come true, but I'm trying to keep it all in perspective right now," Christian told MLB.com.

Christian was again in the starting lineup Wednesday night against the Pirates. He went 1-for-4 with two runs scored in the Yankees' 10-0 win Wednesday.

"It's really great to see," Hogan said of Christian's promotion to the majors. "I'm sure it had to be overwhelming for him."

There is no telling how long Christian will remain with the Yankees — he was promoted because Johnny Damon is sidelined by an injured foot — but if work ethic has anything to do with it, then Hogan believes Christian's chances are good.

GENE J. PUSKAR ~ Associated Press Justin Christian, who played for Southeast Missouri State in 2003, chased a fly ball during his major league debut Tuesday in Pittsburgh. Christian was called up by the New York Yankees on Tuesday.

Christian played just one season at Southeast, in 2003, after transferring from Auburn University, where he was the starting second baseman in 2001 but missed the entire 2002 campaign with a torn labrum.

That injury slowed down his baseball career, but the California native revived it after leaving Auburn and heading to Southeast.

"When he got here he couldn't hardly pick up a ball," Hogan said. "Justin really put in a lot of hard work. He's more than paid the price, and he deserves what's he's getting now."

Hogan said Christian left Auburn because he felt his playing opportunity would be limited after missing an entire season. The Tigers returned the second baseman that took over for Christian in 2002.

The Indians secondbaseman Justin Christian tagged out Eastern Illinois' Bret Pignatiello as he attempted to steal second with two outs in the fifth inning. The score was tied at 4 each in the second game of the double header. (MATTHEW APGAR * photos@semissourian.com)

"Scott Southard [a Southeast assistant at the time] knew Justin's coach from his junior college in California," Hogan said. "The coach called Scott, saying that Justin needed a place to play.

"We took a chance on him, but it worked out very well. I just wish we had him for more than one year."

Christian had a big season for Southeast in 2003. Playing second base, he batted .376 with 13 home runs, 12 doubles, 48 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 20 attempts. He was the Ohio Valley Conference rookie of the year and made two All-American teams.

"He was a key player for us. He had a great year," said Hogan, who has kept in touch with Christian over the years. "He's a great athlete and a very good kid, a first-class person all the way."

The 28-year-old Christian started his professional career in the independent Frontier League in 2003 and also began the 2004 season there before the Yankees organization picked him up.

Christian has risen steadily through the Yankees minor league system.This year he was batting .309 with four homers, 14 doubles, 39 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 20 attempts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

During his minor league career, Christian has hit .287 with 191 stolen bases while being caught just 33 times. In 2006, he stole 68 bases for Class AA Trenton to set a team record.

"He's paid his dues, not only with the injury but starting out in independent ball and working his way up the Yankees organization," Hogan said. "It's really a neat story."

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