For some, playoff baseball is nerve-wracking. For others, it is when they flourish. Jack Steele is an example of the latter.
Jack Steele, set to start his sophomore season in 2020, is a right hand pitcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He was given the nod by Head Coach Alex Dion to start game one of the Future Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) championship series against the Bristol Blues.
But how did he get there? Despite a regular season record which saw Steele go 1-4 with a 5.78 ERA in seven appearances, he managed to pull off his best performance of the summer in one of the most important games of the season.
“I went into the summer trying to perfect my mechanics and develop two new pitches at the same time,” Steele said. “Trying to get these down while pitching in game proved to be hard for me because I was focusing on too many things as opposed to just naturally pitching.”
In his first start of the season on June 6th against the newly minted Westfield Starfires, Steele hurled 5 innings of two hit, two run baseball, but was ultimately tagged for the loss. Tyler Kelly, the ‘Hearts pitching coach, noted that the staff was not worried.
“Jack was one of the hardest working and most intelligent pitchers on the staff last year,” Kelly said when asked about Steele as a pitcher last season. “His mechanics were extremely sound and we all knew he was bound to breakout at some point.”
In the 28 innings that he pitched in the regular season, Steele had 26 strikeouts, 18 walks, and 18 earned runs tagged on him, along with 38 hits.
Steele, however, wasn’t all too worried about how the statistics looked. He believed that the way he was throwing was a lot better than what the scoresheet showed. The confidence that came with looking more at how he felt than the statistics helped him down the line, as he noted that “towards the end of the summer I began to figure out [the new pitches] and once I finally got my mechanics down I began to throw better.”
Kelly noted that the coaching staff, when looking ahead to the first game of the championship series, was planning to use Steele in an emergency situation if they felt that their starter couldn’t go the distance. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the scheduled starter was unable to go out, and the staff knew it was Steele’s time to shine.
That shining, breakout moment came on August 10th, 2019 in Worcester against the Blues.
“During the playoff outing I was focused on just getting quick outs and not trying to do too much,” Steele noted. “I really focused on my breathing to calm myself down and go pitch by pitch.”
This approach seemed to work for him, as Steele logged four strikeouts, along with just four hits and three free passes through 5.1 innings. Additionally, he held the Blues to just a .200 batting average, a season best for himself. Partnered with his teammates’ defensive and offensive performance, Steele set the team up for an eventual 2-1 win to put the team in position to win the championship in Bristol the next day.
“The start that Jack had that night was the best pitching performance all summer,” Kelly said of the outing. “Given the playoff situation and time to prepare we were so impressed with the 5 1/3 innings he gave us. Every Braveheart fan, coach, and staff member was so happy for him. All of the time and work he put in culminated in an amazing performance.”
Looking forward to the 2020 season, Steele is excited for the opportunity to come back to Worcester to compete. “I want people to know I’m a new pitcher than I was last year because I’ve finally refined my craft, and I believe I’ll be a lot more successful than I was at times last year. I’ll have even more confidence because I know the situation I’ll be coming into because I’m comfortable with the organization as I know what they expect out of me and the team.”
As for what the coaching staff sees for him next year? Kelly hopes he will have another chance to pitch in a big time game in the playoffs.