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Salt Lake Bees: Hank Conger says jump from high school to minors a difficult one

SALT LAKE CITY — Life in the minors: a seemingly tangled web of league transactions, long road trips, and the goal of making it to the big leagues.

It's a boy's childhood dream, and though exciting, it's a life that not many truly understand.

Salt Lake Bees' Hank Conger said the journey can be "grinding and monotonous." Especially when you are young, on the road, and playing every single day.

The 24-year old, who went 3-for-4 at bat and scored one run in Wednesday's 6-4 victory over Las Vegas, is well aware of both the hardships and thrills that accompany the following of those boyhood dreams.

He began his career in 2006 when the Los Angeles Angels drafted him out of high school in the first round. He packed up his things and moved out on his own — an experience he called a "big shock."

"You pretty much have to take care of yourself as an 18-year old," he said. "A lot of your teammates are 21 and 22, going out to bars and stuff. It was a big jump for me."

The catcher was forced to grow up early as he worked his way up through the organization. He faced injuries, changes of scenery and a grueling schedule — minor leaguers cram 144 games into a six-month season, taking very few days off.

"I would probably be lying to you if I said every step of the way was joyful," Conger said. "It was a lot of hard work. A lot of self motivation."

The process was a maturing one, and it was a process that Conger hopes younger athletes will consider before making the big decision.

"As many people as you see mature and grow, there are a lot that can't handle it. You really have to evaluate yourself honestly. … Ask yourself, am I really ready to be out on my own with no parental supervision?"

Though not always easy, Conger has no regrets about his decision thus far — especially after his stint with the big leagues last year.

The versatile catcher, who dominates both behind and at the plate, was promoted to The Show as part of September call-ups in 2010, making his debut with the Angels on Sept. 11 as a pinch hitter for Hideki Matsui.

"I think back to two years ago when I finally got called up. … I look back at all the work that we put into it, even since I was a child, and it made everything so worth it."

Conger was optioned back to Triple-A after four months in Anaheim, but played one more month with the Angles in September for a total of five in the majors.

He deemed his time in the majors a good learning experience. "One of the biggest things I learned is that you have to put in a lot of hard work to get up there, but you almost have to put in twice as much work to stay up there."

Conger is currently enjoying an 11-game hit streak, batting .383 with 18 hits. With such impressive numbers, he may soon achieve his dream of making it to the big time for good.

email: jwilde@desnews.com