Thursday, August 6, 2015

Interview Part 2: Scott Jeffery, Really Excited

A Burlington Bee pitching at Community Field in Burlington, Iowa, in 2010. Scott Jeffery's Cedar Rapids Reds played at Community in 1989. (Greatest 21 Days)
Part 1: Great Opportunity | Part 2: Really Excited
Part 3: Same Way

Scott Jeffery was at his future wife's house in Pennsylvania when his stepfather called.

It was June 1987 and Jeffery recalled his stepfather asking what Jeffery was doing down there. The draft was going on. It could be one of the most important days of his life.

"I'm down here because this is where I want to be," Jeffery recalled responding. "He ends up saying the next breath 'Well, the Cincinnati Reds called. You were drafted in the 16th round. So you need to come home."

Jeffery said his wife Karey, with whom he's been married now for nearly 25 years, could probably tell the story better, or at least properly describe his reaction. But Jeffery was excited.

Barely six months earlier he'd injured his throwing shoulder getting tackled in a pickup football game. Months before that, the Mansfield University of Pennsylvania player had been made a full-time pitcher.

He'd come back from his injury stronger and he took to his new position. Now the Cincinnati Reds had come calling, in the 16th round no less.

"I just think I was really, really excited," Jeffery said. "It was so surreal. I was just a college pitcher a month ago and it's not like I had scouts beating down my door all year round or for years on end or colleges beating down my door to go play for them. It was all just really, really fast."
The former Riverview Stadium in Clinton, Iowa, in 2014. Scott Jeffery's Cedar Rapids Reds visited Riverview in 1989. (Greatest 21 Days)
That started Jeffery's pro playing career, but he also continued his education. By the time his playing career ended short of the majors four years later, Jeffery had his degree. He then embarked on his second career as a teacher and administrator.

That second career has since led him to be a school district superintendent, Jeffery continuing to lead the Lakeland School District northeast of Scranton, Pa.

Jeffery spoke to The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone from his Scranton-area home. He covered his road to the pros, his brief career there and he talked about his educational career since.

Jeffery first heard that the Reds might be interested in him after his Mansfield University of Pennsylvania team's playoff run ended. He'd returned home about mid-May and an area scout for the Reds called.

That scout, Don Mitchell, had seen Jeffery pitch in the college tournament and wanted to see more, Jeffery recalled. Mitchell traveled to Jeffery's hometown of Hornell, NY, to meet with the young pitcher. Mitchell also said he'd bring a catcher to have Jeffery throw some more.

"He actually didn't bring a catcher," Jeffery recalled. "All he brought was catcher's gear for himself."

So, they went over to a field, Jeffery warmed up and pitched. When they returned back to the house, Jeffery recalled the scout saying he wouldn't be there if he didn't think Jeffery was a worthy draftee. The Reds then took Jeffery in the 16th round.

When he was throwing to Mitchell, was Jeffery nervous?

"I was just throwing the ball," Jeffery said. "I don't really remember trying to impress too much. I think I was really caught up in the whole 'I can't believe this guy's here.'"
Old Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, seen in a photo in the new stadium's gift shop in 2012. Scott Jeffery pitched at Veterans Memorial in 1989 and 1990. (Greatest 21 Days)
Jeffery's first stop after signing was Sarasota, Fla., and the Reds' team in the Gulf Coast League. Jeffery recalled the transition being not that big of a deal. All the players, he said, all still marveled at being pros.

The camaraderie, team dynamics and relationships, he said, made it similar to college. Also, he recalled, everyone was really good.

"It was interesting being on a field where everybody is really friggin' awesome," Jeffery said. "That was pretty neat to see. Everybody was super fast. Everybody could hit bombs. Everybody could throw hard. Everybody could field well. The range of abilities is a lot less than compared to college or Little League or all those kinds of places."

On the mound, Jeffrey held his own. He got into 26 games in relief for the GCL Reds, posting a 2.92 ERA. He also soaked up information off the field.

Along with the recently signed guys, the Reds' GCL team in 1987 also got a visit from major leaguer Mario Soto, who was on rehab assignment, Jeffery recalled.

Soto, Jeffery recalled, took the time to teach Jeffery the circle change that Soto threw. "That really became the pitch for me that probably got me my most success," Jeffery said.

Jeffery didn't use it in Sarasota. He was a fastball, slider pitcher there. He still had enough to come out with nine saves and the league's Rolaids Relief Man award. He's still got the award with big fireman's helmet trophy.

But he practiced it and refined in that off-season. He then went into single-A Greensboro in 1988 ready to use it and he did use it.

The result was a season where he got into 38 games in middle relief and posted an ERA of 1.30 and notched eight relief wins.
The former Marinelli Field in Rockford, Ill., in 2014. Scott Jeffery's Cedar Rapids Reds played at Marinelli in 1989. (Greatest 21 Days)
"I just threw a lot of strikes and developed that change up," Jeffery said. "That became my out pitch, especially against lefties."

Jeffery's relief pitching also helped that Greensboro team to the South Atlantic League playoffs. The club clinched the playoff birth in Fayetteville. Jeffery recalled finishing that game. "I just remember being in the locker room, the beer, the champagne and stuff, that was a pretty neat experience," Jeffery said.

Then, after his first two seasons as a reliever, Jeffery turned starter. He wasn't sure exactly how that happened. He thought maybe the Reds' roving pitching instructor Larry Rothschild had a role.

But that change up served him well. He always seemed to be around the plate. The walks were few. He recalled continued that success almost immediately at Cedar Rapids.

Jeffery threw against Appleton at home in his first start. He recalled it being a cold early season Iowa night. He gave up a couple runs and took the loss. He then left the losses behind, winning his next 10 consecutive starts, Jeffery recalled.

In a time before the Internet, players kept tabs on others in the organizations with computer print outs that came every week or two weeks. As Jeffery kept winning and his ERA stayed low, he recalled watching that printout more and more. What he was looking at were the pitcher numbers at AA Chattanooga.

"I can remember just seeing the pitchers in Chattanooga weren't doing that well," Jeffery said, "and I was just wondering when was I going to get called up?"

His personal winning streak finally ended on short rest with a shelling and his ERA jumped as a result, Jeffery recalled. It was only then that he got his call up to AA.

The move to Chattanooga meant Jeffery was just two steps away from the majors. It also didn't work out as well as he had hoped. (Go to Part 3)

Part 1: Great Opportunity | Part 2: Really Excited
Part 3: Same Way

Go to Part 3: Scott Jeffery, Same Way

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