If you've caught any of the action this week from our local paper The Conway Daily Sun, you may understand the sudden fervor for the Pittburgh Pirates baseball organization as local standout Jeff Locke makes the first start of his Major League Baseball career. To quote a friend, "How many times in life do you see someone reach their dream?"
In his senior year while pitching against the backdrop of the Moat Mountains in Conway, big league scouts pointed radar guns, scribbled furiously in notepads, and made phone calls back to their organizations. At 97 - 98 mph and hurling from his left side, the lanky kid was dominant and it was an easy stretch to imagine him 10 lbs heavier and pitching under the lights in a sold out stadium.
When Jeff left Redstone, NH to join up with the Atlanta Braves (subsequent trade bringing him to the Pirates) his ability, dedication, and character were never in question to those who knew the kid. Rather, the immense pressure, money, and grueling schedule on the road were the real elements of concern. Let's not for a minute forget that Jeff was 18 at the time he was drafted.
But good and honest news, Jeff is still the grinning and wide eyed kid with a mop of curls under his straight brimmed ball cap with a heart of gold. While he has elevated his pitching game and mental focus to professional status, perhaps more importantly he still loves the game, the dream, and the opportunity.
Several winters ago, Jeff returned to his alma-mater Kennett High School to play some toss with his catcher and lifelong buddy Todd Frechette in the gymnasium. One might have expected a series of high-level drills or arm conditioning exercises in the off-season, but no, the two pals lobbed the ball and ran pass patterns imitating football routes and yelling "touchdown" in mock celebration -- a kid, a game, and a dream.
No matter the outcome of tonight's competition with the Florida Marlins, Jeff Locke is going to spend some time in the Major Leagues and you can expect dedication, professionalism, and an athlete who will not take the journey or his fortune for granted. Go get em' Jeff!