Charles Poe was well-prepared to continue his ascent through the Chicago White Sox' minor league organization. He played outfield for Class A Sarasota last year and was ready to make the step up to the Class AA Birmingham Barons in March. But then a world-famous, 31-year-old dreamer from the National Basketball Association took over right field for the Barons, and Poe was sent to the Class A Prince William Cannons.
Now in his fourth season in the minor leagues, Poe at first contended that Michael Jordan took his job.
"It was my turn to go," he said of moving up to the Birmingham slot. "They told me I shouldn't have any problem making the team if I played well in spring training, which I did."
Poe and Jordan were optioned to their respective teams on the same day in spring training, and Poe assumed it was his spot that Jordan took.
Six months after the disappointment, Poe sat in the dugout at Prince William County Stadium and reflected on his career -- from Jordan's unexpected effect on his life, to his season this year, to his family difficulties of years past.
Through all the hardships he's encountered in his career and this season, Poe has learned a lot about himself and the game of baseball.
Right or Wrong
"At the time, I was really upset with the decision" that sent him to Prince William, Poe said earlier this month. "I just couldn't understand why I got the short end of the stick because I thought I was going to be able to make the next step up to Birmingham. But now I'm where I'm supposed to be and that's all that really matters."
Poe said he began to realize that the decision was the correct one when he noticed how many outfielders the Barons had. He was able to play every day for Prince William, one of two Carolina League teams in the Washington area.
He's benefited greatly from hitting coach Von Joshua's instruction and realizes he would not have been able to improve with Birmingham as much as he has with Prince William.
The Jordan issue has died down as well, and Poe has enjoyed their friendship. They talk occasionally and Poe says he holds no grudge toward Jordan.
"I have all the respect in the world for him," Poe said. "He's a good person and a good friend too."
The White Sox' management never expected Poe to make the trip to Birmingham this year, according to Larry Monroe, the club's vice president of scouting and minor league development. "Charlie Poe was never going to Double-A," Monroe said.
The club wanted Poe to work on certain aspects of his hitting before the next step, and in the minds of the White Sox brass, there was never any question of where to put him.
"The majority of the pitchers in this league need to work through some problems of their own, so Charles has worked right along with them," Cannons Manager Dave Huppert said. "The pitching in Double-A is a little more consistent, especially the breaking ball."
Poe has been plagued by a common nemesis among young hitters: the curveball. Last year, at Class A Sarasota, he had nearly three times as many strikeouts as he had walks.
His strikeout total in Prince William only doubles his walk total, and he is hitting to all parts of the field, a sign that he's intent on solving the breaking pitch. "He's matured throughout the season," Huppert said. "Charlie is becoming more consistent on the breaking pitch, and he's handling the bat much better. He's close to becoming a real fine hitter."
Poe struggled through the middle part of this year but now is posting his best professional numbers. He's batting .262, is second on the team with 14 home runs and 80 RBI, and has 13 stolen bases in 123 games.
"I'm concentrating a lot more at the plate and I'm becoming more disciplined," said Poe. "I'm starting to drive in more runs and cut down on my strikeouts. I came down here this year and worked on the things I had to work on, and I'm a better baseball player now."
Off the Field
Unfortunately for Poe, 23, he has had experience dealing with disappointments much greater than anything baseball could inflict. In December 1991, he went home after doing some Christmas shopping, only to see his street blocked. A policeman told him he couldn't go past because there was a fire. He immediately saw that it was his house burning to ashes, and along with it all his baseball memorabilia and high school mementos.
Two months later, his father passed away after failed heart surgery. Poe has had difficulty dealing with his father's death, and he said he thinks about him every night, often crying himself to sleep. He, his mother and his seven older siblings have pulled together to support each other, but the void remains.
Poe has found inspiration in his father's memory, and it propels him to continue to battle his problems until he reaches his goal of playing in the major leagues.
"He told me that whatever I do, I've got to bust my butt and I can achieve anything," Poe said. "He drove a truck for over 25 years and I'll never forget his advice."
Poe often has turned to memories of his father to help him escape from undesirable situations -- and this year's disappointments are no exception. "This year, when I've gotten down, I get to thinking about what he said and that helps me get out of my slumps and disappointments," Poe said. "He told me when you start something, you better finish it."
To that end, Jim Snyder, the White Sox' director of minor league instruction, said he is very pleased with Poe's progress. "Charlie is making strides with his hitting, and he's making the adjustments he knew that he had to make," Snyder said. "We'll have to see what he can do at the next level."
Poe says he believes he has matured this year and is content for now to be in Prince William, for reasons both on and off the field. "I've learned a lot about myself this year," he said. "I've become a more patient person not only on the field but in my life too.
"If I've been struggling a little bit here, I know I would really be struggling up in Birmingham. But I know I'm in the right place and probably where I should have started. At first, I was real bitter, but I'm over that now, and I'm happy to be here."