After bouncing around eight big league organizations in eight seasons, 51s infielder Kevin Howard wasn't invited to spring training this year.
Undeterred, the former Miami Hurricanes star signed with the Lancaster (Pa.) Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League.
"There are a lot of good players in that league who just can't get jobs. Once you get older, that's kind of what happens in this game if you haven't found a home yet," said Howard, who turned 30 on Saturday. "I wasn't happy about it, but I was determined to keep playing.
"If you play well enough, people are going to notice. That was the attitude I took."
Howard, who was reunited on the Barnstormers with Terry Tiffee -- his former 51s teammate and the 2008 Pacific Coast League batting champion -- hit .381 for Lancaster before the Blue Jays signed him to help replace injured Las Vegas third baseman Brett Lawrie.
In 15 games since joining the 51s on June 13 for his third stint with the team, Howard has thrived, batting .339 (19-for-56) with three home runs and eight RBIs while playing solid defense. He went 1-for-4 and extended his hitting streak to seven games in Thursday's 2-1 win over Colorado Springs in 10 innings at Cashman Field.
Howard's second-inning single was the only hit allowed by Sky Sox starter Billy Buckner during a seven-inning stint.
"He's a very good ballplayer at this level," 51s manager Marty Brown said. "He's not great at any one area, but he gets the most out of his ability and he plays the game the right way. He plays hard."
Howard had a stellar career at Miami, where he was named the national Freshman of the Year in 2000 and helped lead the Hurricanes to the 2001 College World Series title.
Drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the fifth round in 2002, Howard's future looked promising. He still hasn't reached the major leagues, but doesn't seem the least bit bitter about it.
"When you get drafted when you're young, everybody thinks they're going to be in the big leagues in a couple years," he said. "There was a point around when I was 24, 25, 26, I stopped looking at success as getting to the big leagues. I just looked at it more as playing baseball and doing what you want to do.
"If you look at it like that, you're having fun and you're happy about yourself and where your life's at, it's a lot easier to relax and go out there and play."
Howard, who hit a career-high .326 for the 51s in 2009, said poor timing is part of the reason he has yet to make it to the majors.
"Jumping organizations every year doesn't really help," he said. "You don't really get a team to know you and stick with you through the bad times, so you have to play well all the time and I've had times in my career where I haven't played very well."
A career .283 hitter, Howard broke his wrist playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic before last season, when he batted .242 for Triple-A Memphis.
"That kind of killed my whole last year. My wrist was bothering me," he said. "You need to be ready and playing well at the right times. I've had opportunities some times when I haven't been playing well and other times I have been playing well and the opportunity wasn't there.
"In baseball, you need both of them to meet."