Stewart Ijames (pronounced like the pet food – Iams) has always had a hard time with announcers and fans alike saying his last name. He’s heard it all, but it doesn’t even phase him anymore. After finally getting his shot at affiliated baseball with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he hopes to never have that problem again.
Following a successful high school baseball career, Ijames was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 46th round of the 2007 MLB Draft but opted to continue his playing career with the University of Louisville. After a shoulder injury forced him to sit out the 2009 season, he came back strong in 2010 and was once again selected in the MLB Draft; this time by the New York Yankees in the 29th round. Once again, Ijames decided to turn down the offer and return to Louisville leaving many questioning his decision.
“I’ve been asked numerous times why I didn’t sign out of high school or college. Turning down more money than most people are offered wasn’t an easy decision but one that I made,” said Ijames. “I just didn’t think I was ready. It wasn’t my time yet.”
Despite a solid four years and .292 career batting average, Ijames went undrafted following his senior season in 2012. He then began to look towards independent ball to keep his dream alive. He signed his first professional contract with the Washington Wild Things for the 2013 season and never looked back.
“Indy ball allowed me to see just how bad I wanted it compared to others. I would get ridiculed and made fun of on a daily basis because I went to the gym every day before games. I didn’t care though. I made it known from day one that I was here to get out and was not content on being here for the rest of my career” Ijames explained.
“Mentally though, it was awesome. It was a lot more laid back. If you wanted to do extra work, you did it. If you wanted to get better, you did it.”
Ijames became a breakout star with the Wild Things – playing in 90 of 96 games, batting .297 with 16 HR and 45 RBI, while earning a spot on the mid-season All-Star team.
He returned to Washington in 2014, but he wouldn’t end the season there. In just 50 games, Ijames had already collected 15 HR and 45 RBI with a .319 batting average. He was once again named as an All-Star and was a Home Run Derby participant before he caught the eye of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“I took advantage of every day that I was there, and that was what made the difference for me. I was able to continue to get better in a place where people are content with ending their career. I didn’t want to end it there.”
Ijames signed his first affiliated contract with the Diamondbacks on July 18th. After just five games with their Arizona League rookie team, he was sent to their rookie affiliate in Montana, the Missoula Osprey. In 30 games, Ijames batted .327 with 12 HRs before he was promoted to the Class-A Hillsboro Hops. He played in two regular season and four post season games with the Hops, helping the team win the Northwest League championship.
After the season ended in the states, Ijames wasn’t done just yet. He traveled to Colombia to play winter ball with the Leones De Monteria. For the second time in 2014, he was named to a mid-season All-Star team and participated in the Home Run Derby. After a rough start to the season, the Leones went on to win the LCBP (Liga Colombiana de Béisbol Profesional) championship and represented Colombia in the Latin American Series, which they also won, held in Panama.
“Winter ball was a unique experience for me. I enjoy going to the gym, and I like having the weights, the mirrors, and the music. But it was good to see people finding ways to get better with just stuff that they had – taking cleats, gloves, or bricks, hanging them from a string and attaching the string to a bat to do forearms or running and jumping up and down the stairs. It just gave me a new perspective on how other people want to get better using only the materials they had available.”
Ijames has a couple of weeks off from baseball before traveling to his first spring training with the Diamondbacks organization where he’s looking to do what he’s always done and make the most of yet another opportunity.
“My goals with spring training are the same as any day that I show up to the ball park – Have fun, enjoy what I do, and do it with a smile. That has seemed to be the difference maker for my abilities. Work hard and enjoy it. Keep playing without pressure, relax and understand that baseball at my age is a privilege.
“With that being said, I’ll probably go to spring training ready to soak it in as much as I can because spring training is what makes this whole dream I started a reality, from indy ball to affiliated. As a kid, I dreamed of this and fell asleep thinking about being a professional baseball player. Spring training with be the solidification to know that it is now a reality. The chase to my dreams is now in reach.”
Work hard, play well and keep grinding, and eventually everyone will know your name.
Ijames is projected to begin the season with the High-A Visalia Rawhide but could move up quickly due to his age and hitting ability.