- Category: Volume 87 (Fall 2015 - Spring 2016)
- Published: 20 April 2016
- Written by PETER LINN | CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Eat, meet with team doctors, warm up the arm, lift weights, sign autographs, pitch six innings against some of the best baseball players in the world, shower, attend a team meeting, and finally, go to bed. This is a typical day in the life of Hannibal, New York native, Jake Shortslef. Just one year ago, Jake, “Shorty” to teammates, was playing Division III baseball at Herkimer County College in New York. He is now a starting pitcher for the Hickory Crawdads, the Class A minor league affiliate of the Texas Rangers organization.
Baseball has been a way of life for the 21-year-old right-handed pitcher who currently stands at 6’4, weighs 240 lbs, and throws a 95 mph fastball. Growing up in a family of athletes and sports fans, Shortslef was destined to be a ball player. Jake’s older brother, Josh, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2000 when Jake was just 5 years old, making Josh his hero and role model.
Because of Josh’s pro career and the desire to be like his brother, Jake developed a love for the game of baseball at a young age. Over time, he has come to appreciate the game and the emotions that come along with it. “My favorite part is just the ups and downs a game can throw at you,” said Shortslef. “Experiencing failure in baseball is tough, but you learn a lesson from every time you fail and can bring that lesson along with you and use it to reach a level of success that will make you feel like you’re on the top of the world.”
His father, Lynn, was also instrumental in the development of his son’s love for baseball; something that Jake is extremely grateful for to this day. “My dad would come home from a 12 hour shift at work and when I asked him to play catch or hit me pop-ups he never said no,” recalled the pitcher. “He never missed a game, even if it meant missing out on sleep.”
By the time Jake was playing baseball for his local high school, Hannibal High, he had developed an impressive skill set on the mound and began to garner notice from others. When asked to reflect on the best compliment he had received during his career, Shortslef cited an instance during his junior year of high school when the well-respected coach of Hannibal’s rival, Westhill High, approached him after a game. “As we were shaking hands in the line, he told me that I would play pro ball one day,” said Jake.
By 2011, Josh Shortslef had finished his career as a pro baseball player and began serving as a pitching coach for Onondaga Community College (OCC) in Syracuse, New York. He invited his younger brother Jake, a junior in high school at that time, to visit the school and meet the staff. Jake threw a 91 mph fastball that day and was told that he could play for them any day. After his freshman year at OCC, Jake’s coach handed him two letters of interest from the Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners. After an unpopular coaching change took place in the offseason, Shortslef, along with other members of OCC’s pitching rotation, transferred to Herkimer College in Mohawk Valley, New York.
Jake experienced immediate success during his first year at Herkimer. The team went 48 – 6 on their way to becoming Mountain Valley Conference champions. He was the ace in their starting rotation and had four wins, two saves, and held opposing batters to a .157 average (ninth in the nation for 2015) in 10 appearances. Over the course of the season, his fastball had been over 90 mph on a consistent basis. Additionally, he expanded his arsenal of pitches when a coach at Herkimer taught him how to throw a ‘split-grip changeup,’ something Jake calls his “best pitch.”
For Herkimer baseball, this season was one of their most successful. For Shortslef, this season represented a time in his life when he began to feel like <span">baseball could be something he would do for a living. The school hosted a pro showcase where scouts visited the campus and checked out prospects. “That day I threw the hardest I ever had at 94 mph,” he stated. “That's when I got in touch with the Texas Rangers scout personally.”
Shortslef and the Texas Rangers scouts developed a strong rapport; this led him to feel confident that he would be selected in the 2015 Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft. The event is 40 rounds long and later rounds are typically not shown on national television. Interestingly enough, Shortslef was just lounging around his house, playing video games, and listening to the draft on his phone when he heard the big news. “My parents and brother and sister were listening to it in the other room so they got to hear it too and then we celebrated," he said cheerfully. Jake had been selected 767th overall in the 26th round of the 2015 MLB Draft by the Texas Rangers.
This transition from Junior College baseball to the minors has moved Jake one step closer to fulfilling his MLB dreams. This progression obviously comes with new, more difficult responsibilities. “Now that baseball is my job, it takes the seriousness of the game to a new level,” said Shortslef. “The hitters are better, the strike zone is smaller and the game is faster.”
Being drafted has also caused Shortslef’s day-to-day schedule to become busier. “Playing 140 games a year with only one or two off-days a month can get a little stressful and tiresome. I rarely am able to see friends or family,” admitted Shortslef. “But I can't complain about getting paid to play the game I've played for fun all my life.” Jake currently earns $1,500 a month. The team provides three meals a day and players are required to pay for their own apartments.
Joining a professional ball club has also come with additional perks for Jake. One morning, he was the first person to enter the training facility. He was working out alone when he noticed Josh Hamilton, a 5-time MLB All-Star and the 2010 American League MVP, sitting on the bench next to him. The two shared a brief, friendly exchange and spoke about their hometowns and where they’ve played in the past.
“I grew up watching him on TV,” said the star-struck Shortslef. “That’s definitely something I'll always remember.”
The future is bright for Jake. Jason Rathbun, current head coach of Herkimer’s baseball team and 6-time Mountain Valley Conference Coach of the Year, believes that statement too. “<>Jake can be successful in professional baseball,” said the coach. “He definitely has the physicality, the tools, and the right attitude to defy the odds [of being selected in the 26th round from a small college].”
Maintaining a resilient mindset is almost as crucial as staying physically fit in professional sports; all athletes must search internally to find ways to push themselves. When asked about what motivates him to give 100 percent effort on a daily basis, Shortslef shared a touching and very mature answer. “The thing that motivates me the most is my family,” said the minor league pitcher. “If I sign a big league deal, I can financially support my family and make sure they never worry about money again.”
It’s difficult to not like Jake. He is a friendly, talented, and charismatic young man. He works hard and gives everything he has in order to reach his lifelong goal of making it to the big league. This dream causes Jake to be extremely focused on his individual development as a ball player.
This focus, however, has never prevented him from being an outstanding teammate. Brandon Nylin, a 20-year-old college baseball player from Hyde Park, New York, was teammates with Shortslef at both OCC and Herkimer. “Shorty got along with everyone. He was always very supportive and vocal in the dugout,” said Nylin. He went on to cite a time when he and Jake returned to Herkimer for a basketball game and received a warm welcome. “The whole baseball team came running up to hug us,” he said. “It shows that the team really cares about him and sheds light on the kind of teammate he was and the impression he left.”
Somewhat surprisingly, Jake stated that he would be apprehensive to coach professionally in the future. “It does take a lot of your time,” said the New York native. “I would like to just focus on my kids and coaching them.” If Shorty sticks to his plan, he would not only be doing his future children a favor, he’d be taking a page out of his father’s playbook.
Throughout his career, Jake has continued to stay hungry, work hard, and seize opportunities he’s been given. When asked if he could encourage young players to do anything, he said, “Never get complacent with the success you’re having or the level you’re playing at. Playing pro baseball was always something I dreamed about, and I didn't let the fact that I was playing at a Division III Junior College stop me from getting to where I wanted to go or becoming who I wanted to be.”