Big League Dreams Come True For Owasso Baseball Player
ST LOUIS, Missouri - Almost six years ago, the St. Louis Cardinals made Owasso's Pete Kozma the 18th pick in the 2007 MLB draft.
Kozma's road to the big leagues hasn't been routine, years of perseverance have paid off for one of Oklahoma's Own.
Roughly one-in-three first round draft picks never make it to the major leagues. It took plenty of patience, but Pete Kozma is finally playing on baseball's biggest stage.
Opening day at Busch Stadium is practically a holiday in St. Louis. This year, mixed in with the Clydesdales and some of the greatest cardinals of all time, there was a major league rookie from Oklahoma.
"He's just a quiet guy, goes about his business. From small Owasso, Oklahoma, but he's turned out to be a good ball player. Took him a little longer than he would have liked to, but he's finally proving his own up here," said Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso.
Kozma's pro career started in 2007, when he was playing rookie ball in Tennessee. Back then, when News On 6 Anchor Scott Thompson interviewed him, all of this was still just a dream.
Scott Thompson in 2007: "Do you see yourself playing in St. Louis? Are you going to be the shortstop at Busch Stadium?
Pete Kozma: "Cross my fingers, if I keep on working hard, I see myself up there in a couple of years."
It took more than a couple. Except for a month in 2011, Kozma was mired in the minors, trying to catch the Cardinals' attention.
That was, until last August.
An injury meant the Cardinals needed a shortstop. Kozma was hitting just 2-32 in the minors and seemed to be a patchwork fix. But Kozma caught fire and helped hit the Cardinals to the playoffs. He batted 3-33, while starting the last 16 games.
"I really couldn't tell you if anything clicked," Kozma said. "I felt good the whole year, even in Memphis. Whenever I got up here, the ball just kept on falling every time I put the bat on it, seemed like it just found a hole."
Kozma's crowning achievement came in game 5 of the National League Division Series. His two-run single to right delivered the Cardinals a 9-7 win in the series deciding game.
Pete Kozma: "Whenever I got that hit, it felt like my whole entire body was just vibrating. It was outrageous."
Charlie Hannema: "How long did it take you to come down?"
Pete Kozma: "The next day. We had to fly from DC to San Fran right after the game, and I couldn't sleep on the plane, at all."
Within six weeks, Kozma went from afterthought, to answer.
"There were many times where I thought he was coming off the roster, but for some reason we didn't make that move, and obviously getting the opportunity he got last year and taking advantage of it was impressive," said Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak.
Kozma wondered if he'd ever make it to an opening day at Busch Stadium. After Rafael Furcal got hurt in spring training, Kozma won the starting shortstop job. Now, he's fighting to keep it.
"I knew I had to fight for a spot, and I still feel like I have to fight for a spot even now, because there's always somebody behind me. There's so many guys in the minors, just like I was," Kozma said.
"It's two different pressures, right? Before, he was just hoping to get at-bats, and when he got them, make the most of them. Now, he's given the job, and he's in charge of shortstop, and with that comes a lot of pressure," Mozeliak said.
Kozma's even-keeled and quiet, just like his days at Owasso. Success or struggle, his bat and glove do most of his talking.
"Half the time, you don't even notice that he's there, but he's a good guy to have in the clubhouse," Descalso said. "He's been the same Pete Kozma the whole time we've been playing together. He hasn't changed at all, he's the same guy and that's nice to see. He's got a little bit of security now, and he's been playing well, so hopefully he just keeps rolling."
Now, 25 years old, he's come a long way from riding the bus through the Appalachians, but there's no time to relax. Pete Kozma hopes his baseball journey continues to roll.
"I'm definitely enjoying myself. This is awesome," Kozma said. "Every day, to be in a clubhouse, and hang out and play a game for a living, I mean, it's great."
The Cardinals have opened the season with a different starting shortstop each of the last seven years. Kozma hopes he can be the one to put an end to that trend.