Professional baseball player, ETHS alum on athletics amid the pandemic

Professional baseball player, ETHS alum on athletics amid the pandemic

Photo Courtesy of Jack Anderson

Peter Barbato, Sports Editor

When Jack Anderson graduated from Evanston in 2012, he never would have guessed that he’d be back on the ETHS baseball field to man the mound. Fast forward to eight years and one pandemic later, and the submariner has returned to help seek change in his hometown community.
From 2012 to 2016, Anderson attended and pitched at Penn State University. As a submarine pitcher, he has always held unique value to programs, bringing a change of pace to hitters. This, combined with an improved roster by his senior year, helped him get the necessary looks he needed to make it to the next level.
“My senior season was my best baseball by far. Our team was better, which always helps you put up numbers. I had a couple records there—career appearances, single season saves, and, for like three days, I was leading the country in ERA,” Anderson explained. “Following that season, I got drafted in the 23rd round in 2016 by the Seattle Mariners.”
In his first season, he was sent to Everett, WA. for an abbreviated schedule in the minor leagues. After only two outings, he was sent down to play Rookie ball in Arizona.
“To me, that felt like a big demotion. And in July and August when it’s 110 degrees during six-hour practices, I had to grind,” Anderson said. “I had to look at myself in the mirror and be like, ‘Hey, you’re getting paid to carry out your dream, and you’re going to have to try to enjoy it as much as you can along the way.’ I started really focusing on just the aspects of baseball that I fell in love with, and once I made that mental switch, it really helped my career take off in a positive way.”
After a solid first half of his 2017 season, he was called back up to High-A to play for the Modesto Nuts in California. It was there that he and his team won the High-A championship, which Anderson described as a big peak in his professional baseball career.
The 2018 season was not as welcoming. His team was less talented than they had been the year before, and Anderson wasn’t making all the strides he was hoping to. However, a huge opportunity came his way at the end of that season.
“The silver lining was at the very end, a cool thing that the Mariners were doing was that they set up like this March Madness bracket-style tournament for the top 64 arms in the program at any level,” Anderson explained.
The tournament worked like this: Pitchers would compete head to head in situational counts. The Mariners organization prides itself on first pitch strikes, as well as not allowing a hit or walk in 1-1 counts. Whoever did the best given each count between the two pitchers that were matched up would advance.
“So I ended up winning that tournament,” Anderson said. “The prize of winning was a big league camp invite, and that’s to the following spring training.”
Anderson spent the 2019 season in Double A, where he had his best professional season to date. Although his team ended up losing in the playoffs, Anderson was invited back to Spring Training for the 2020 season, this time on his own merit.
However, Spring Training this season obviously looked different, seeing that on March 12, everything shut down.
“One day I was locked in to shaping my slider, and the next day, I’m back in Evanston. I can’t stress enough how quickly things changed,” Anderson said. “I quickly locked in since I was going to be home for March, April, May, and into June. I set up a gym in my garage, and I threw with my brother Matthew every day. I really would have had no shot at staying in the shape that I did without him.”
By late June, the MLB was starting to put together a season, which included the Mariners. Seeing that the MILB (Minor League Baseball) was still cancelled, Anderson would have had to make the 40-man roster for the Mariners.
“They were coming to some agreements about who would play, and it was something that I knew that I had a shot at being a part of, so I’m not going to say I wasn’t disappointed when I didn’t get selected. But it literally is just part of this game. It’s a real cutthroat industry, so I can’t take that personally, I just have to be better for the next time they have to make that decision.” Anderson said.
After he wasn’t selected to play for the Mariners’ major league team, and minor league baseball was cancelled, Anderson looked to fulfill his time elsewhere while still keeping his arm loose. Being back in his hometown, one idea he had was to simply pitch to his childhood friends who had always claimed they could get a hit off of him.
He decided that he’d go through with it, but wanted to make it a charitable event. He ended up hosting a fundraiser at ETHS, where, for $50, anyone could get in the box to try to get a hit off him. He threw six at-bats per day for multiple weeks. All the proceeds would be donated to the Evanston-based organization Young Black and Lit, whose goal is to put diversity on the bookshelves of elementary School children by providing students with more books with Black protagonists.
“I’ve always known which side I stand on when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement and everything that’s been going on in that regard. I don’t want to call it a perfect storm, because it was a couple of really tough circumstances that created this. But it really was a perfect storm of circumstances to really get something like this off the ground,” Anderson explained.
He ended up raising over $8,000, which he hopes will help bookshelves become more representative of the real world.
“I just think it’s incredibly important, because you’re so shaped in your youth years by what you’re reading and seeing,” Anderson said. “Hopefully, we can make a difference by making those resources a little bit better.”
Anderson is now starting to prepare for 2021 Spring Training, and, although he won’t receive confirmation until much closer to the date, he remains hopeful.
“I really think just having perspective and being resilient are the two things that really carried me through these times,” Anderson said. “I now have those experiences to take with me and reflect on to better myself.”
If 2021 Spring Training does indeed occur, and Anderson is indeed invited, it will be his fifth season as a professional.
Although the challenges of COVID-19 have been very difficult for many athletes, it restores hope to see pros such as Anderson using their unexpected off time to help make a change in the community.