Baseball players don’t dream of playing in the independent leagues. They want to wear the uniform of a team affiliated with a major league organization.

Shortstop Ryan Fitzgerald is in his second year in the Red Sox organization after playing in the independent leagues.

But what if you can’t find an organization interested? For Ryan Fitzgerald, the independent league meant opportunity. As an infielder at Creighton University, he hoped to be drafted after his junior year. It didn’t happen.

Then came an ill-timed slump during his senior year in 2016. No doors opened for a .230 hitter. That didn’t stop Fitzgerald.

“I was going to play until they took the jersey off my back,” said Fitzgerald, who signed with the SouthShore RailCats in Gary, Indiana, in 2017.

Fitzgerald was ready to begin a second season in Gary in 2018 when the Red Sox called. Now, in his second year of affiliated ball, he’s close to a promotion to Double-A Portland. Fitzgerald, who turns 25 next week, is batting .315 with an .815 OPS.

“He’s just a good hitter,” said Greg Norton, the Red Sox minor league hitting coordinator. “We’ve had some success with independent league guys.”

The Red Sox seem to like signing players from independent leagues; there have been four with the Sea Dogs this year.

Others have found success. Daniel Nava signed with the Red Sox out of the independent leagues, suited up for the Sea Dogs in 2009 and played on Boston’s 2013 World Series champion.

When the Sea Dogs were affiliated with the Marlins, they welcomed an independent-league slugger named Kevin Millar. He also owns a Red Sox World Series ring, from 2004.

In previous years the Sea Dogs featured independent-league pitchers Curtis Martin (now pitching for Texas) and Aaron Wilkerson (up and down with the Brewers).

Fitzgerald made the All-Star team in his only year in independent ball, although he batted .239. It was enough to impress Boston.

The Red Sox sent him to low Class A Greenville, where he played 80 games (.274/.733 OPS), almost exclusively at shortstop.

Fitzgerald considers himself a student of hitting and continued to tweak his approach – “a lot of offseason work.” It’s paid off.

“He came to us and really did a lot of work on his swing,” Norton said. “Since he stepped on the field with us, he seems to have an advanced knowledge of hitting … He controls the zone, knows his swing and has really performed for two years.”

At Creighton, Fitzgerald played both middle infield spots. His best way to advance in the pros may be as a utility player. As long as he keeps hitting, the Red Sox will keep him around.

THE INDEPENDENT players now in Portland are getting adjusted. None was with the Sea Dogs when the season began.

“It’s really good baseball (in the independent leagues) but it’s not where everyone wants to be,” said pitcher Konner Wade. “You have to remember, going out to the field, to really have a plan, and then execute that plan so you can get back to an opportunity like this.”

Wade, a seventh-round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies in 2013, was released last spring and pitched in 2018 for the Sugar Land (Texas) Skeeters – the team that once included Jeremy Barfield, a former Sea Dogs slugger.

Wade, 27, signed with the Red Sox three weeks ago. He’s made only three appearances with Portland (5.52 ERA).

Cody Asche, 28, has five seasons and 390 games of major league time but found himself without a job this spring. He landed in Sugar Land but had to be talked into it.

Signed by Boston on June 1, Kevin Lenik is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA with two appearances in Portland. Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh

“I don’t think any player has that as a goal, to play independent ball. It sure wasn’t mine,” Asche said. “It took some convincing from people I trust around the game, and my family, for me to give it a shot.”

Asche didn’t stay long, signing May 3 with Boston and being assigned to Portland. He’s currently on the injured list with a bruised shinbone.

Dylan Thompson and Kevin Lenik recently joined the team. Thompson, once with the Rockies’ organization, was a three-year starter for the Sioux Falls Canaries before the Red Sox signed him last month. He won his first start for Portland last week but was sent down Monday to Salem.

As for Lenik, well … Lenik’s been around. An undrafted free agent, Lenik was signed by Texas in 2016 after participating in a tryout. Released in 2017, Lenik went independent with the Windy City Thunderbolts before the Royals signed him.

Lenik stayed in the Royals’ organization until April. Released, he dropped back to the independents, joining the Kansas City T-Bones. Boston signed him June 1. He’s 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA with two appearances in Portland.

“They say the minor leagues are a grind, Lenik said, “but they don’t know grind until they’ve been in the independent leagues.”

IN SALEM, PRIME pitching prospect Bryan Mata (1.83 ERA) returned after a one-month stay on the disabled list with a sore shoulder. He pitched five shutout innings Friday, allowing two hits and one walk, striking out five.

THE LOWELL SPINNERS’ short-season schedule begins Friday.

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