Yesterday, we posted that guest bloggers will be taking over the site during the season to bring you a little more insight into the life of a professional baseball player, coach, or owner.
For an introduction, each guest blogger will be writing a post giving the reader some background information and getting everyone up to speed on where they’ll be spending the summer.
Our first writer is Jackson Metcalf, a 23 year old pitcher, who is planning on playing his first professional season in the Pecos League this summer.
This summer I will be leaving the beautiful white sandy beaches of Wilmington, NC for the desert of New Mexico to throw a little white ball for next to nothing. You are probably wondering why, so I’ll give a little background.
My name is Jackson Metcalf, 23, and I just finished my collegiate career this past May. I played at Division 2 Francis Marion University in Florence, SC. My baseball story is an interesting one. I went the Junior College route as so many D2 players do. My career at Francis Marion was pretty uneventful if you were to look up my stats, but my two years there were actually very eventful.
My first year at Francis Marion I led the team in ERA, because I only threw one inning – a scoreless one where I hit the first batter, walked the next two then weaseled my way out of damage. I threw okay, around 84-87, but my problem was that I was just out of shape; standing at 6’1 but weighing in around 226 lb.
We had a group of guys at school who were all 215 lb and above. We called ourselves the ‘Beef Crew.’ Although happy to be a member, it wasn’t the best for me baseball wise. Towards the end of the year, I developed a certain interest in a blonde volleyball player at the school. As much fun as being the fat funny guy at parties is, it was time to get my ass in shape. Not only to impress the girl but to be better at baseball. Right before we all departed for the summer, I had my end of the year meetings with my coach, which did not go very well: “Too fat. Don’t throw hard enough to play here. Have you ever considered throwing side-armed?” Needless to say I went into the summer optimistic and full of hope…
Much to my surprise, I was assigned that summer to go play for the Wilmington Sharks of the Coastal Plain League where I met coach Parker Bangs (now the pitching coach for Presbyterian College in South Carolina). Coach Bangs is that rare type of coach that allows his players to cut up and have fun while getting them better at the same time. He saw something in me and pushed me to get better, so instead of sleeping in till 1 p.m. and heading to the ballpark, we were getting morning lifts in and getting to the field early.
I went from 226 to 195 in a matter of weeks. My velocity went from 84-87 to 88-90. I was amazed, and one day at the gym I told him “Lifting and working out actually makes a huge difference.” He laughed and said “Holy shit, crazy how that works right?” So for the rest of the summer I put up good numbers in one of the best summer leagues in the nation and went into the school year with confidence for the first time in my life.
It all clicked that fall at school. Scout day came along and I garnered interest from the Yankees and Giants. It felt good to check your email and see scouts telling you that you’re a prospect. Life was good. I was throwing well in intersquads, my velocity was up, and I even got the girl. Then I got all too complacent and just starting enjoying my senior year a little too much. Working out less and less and living for Thirsty Thursday instead of getting my work in. The season came around and my arm and body weren’t ready let alone my mindset. I got roughed up pretty good and my appearances came few and far between.
I even lost the lady, so I decided to live up my senior year instead of pushing harder to get better. You often hear someone say they majored in beer and girls when they were in school. I tried to live like that my last few months in college. I realized that the chances of a D2 kid getting picked up with as little of innings as I had was almost impossible. So I gave up on the dream and tricked myself into thinking I was okay with that.
We played our last series at Flagler down in Florida. I knew it was going to be my last three games, but I was ready for it to be over. When the last out was recorded and I was walking to get my stuff (I actually forgot my glove, that’s how focused I was) my buddy who was walking beside me said, “Well Jack, it’s been a pleasure man. I’m going to miss you next year.” That really hit me, but I kept it together. Leaning over the fence with my head down, one of my fellow seniors put his arm around me and told me he loved me. I lost it. I cried and cried and cried. I wasn’t ready for it to be over. I took it for granted. I had disrespected the game.
After that I moved back to Wilmington and got a job with a moving company and as a coach for a 15U travel team. It was good to be back into the game. I noticed my arm still felt great throwing with the kids and carrying people’s stuff up to third floor beach mansions. It all really made me miss the game. I texted Coach Bangs asking if he knew of any Independent ball opportunities and whether he thought I could even make it onto a team. He told me to try and keep playing until you physically have to stop. So, I found an open tryout for the Pecos League. I started getting ready for it with the kids I was coaching. As an added bonus, working with the moving company had actually made me a little stronger.
The day of the tryout, I squeezed into the only baseball pants I owned, which were from high school, and headed to the tryout. At a field in the middle of nowhere North Carolina I threw a bullpen in front of about five coaches; 15 pitches without a word said. The tryout ended, and on the way to my car I was stopped. They liked what they saw and signed me. I had been given a beautiful second chance with my first love, the game of baseball.
So there you have it… The reason I’m leaving the good surf, beautiful women in bikinis, and the beach for the dry arid desert of New Mexico – to go play in a no name league with a paycheck that barely covers my cell phone bill. Money isn’t why we play the game. All the long road trips, the brotherhood, and the bullpen antics, it all gets to come back. I know this league isn’t luxurious. There will be no ESPN coverage of the games. The conditions will be less than ideal, even playing in some ballparks that look like the grandstand will fall over on a windy day. It will be a test of my love for the game.
I gave up on the game when I had everything being handed to me. Now is my chance to give back to the game that gave me so much. In this league your love and desire will be tested because you are given almost nothing. So come this May, I will happily drive across the country to throw that little white ball.
Jackson will be guest blogging all summer long about his experiences in the Pecos League.
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