In late January, Bob Wheatley signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and started his own business.
The left-handed pitcher had spent about three months as a free agent after being released by the Toronto Blue Jays. He wasn’t happy to receive the news, but he didn’t give any thought to moving on from the game. His business was directly related to maximizing his potential on the mound.
“I have more baseball to play,” Wheatley said.
The Cardinals gave him that opportunity when they signed him this winter.
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Wheatley is now working to prove himself with the State College Spikes. The left-hander made two relief appearances in the first week of the season, throwing five scoreless innings and earning a save in State College’s win Friday night.
Wheatley was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 26th round of the 2014 MLB Draft.
In his first professional season, Wheatley went 1-5 with a 9.37 ERA in the Gulf Coast League. He was 2-2 with a 4.99 ERA in 30 2/3 innings of relief for the Vancouver Canadians in the short-season Class A Northwest League last season before being released.
But the Southern California product felt he had more baseball in him. He made the five-minute trip to his high school or returned to USC to train for the upcoming season.
Wheatley approached spring training with the Cardinals as a tryout.
“There are no guarantees in this game,” Wheatley said.
Right now, Wheatley is focused on developing his fastball, specifically his command of the pitch. Wheatley throws four pitches, but he knows he’ll need a reliable fastball to climb higher in the Cardinals organization. Wheatley said his fastball usually sits in the high 80s and low 90s.
In his first appearance with the Spikes, two scoreless innings against Hudson Valley on Monday, he said he topped out at 91 mph.
“One thing that we say is that when you’re in the big leagues you have to be able to throw your fastball when the hitter knows the fastball’s coming and get him out,” Wheatley said. “… In order to do that, basically you just have to have really good command, so you got to be able to throw it wherever you want.
“And that’s a skill that takes time and takes a lot of practice to develop.”
Wheatley developed his business idea — making and selling protein bars — in an entrepreneurial class his senior year at USC. He had an interest in nutrition as an athlete, researching what foods to eat and what foods to avoid.
He read “The Warrior Diet” by Ori Hofmekler and talked with the author on the phone.
“That research had nothing to do with the protein bar or the business at all,” Wheatley said. “It was purely about me as an athlete. What can I do to better myself?”
The more he worked on his business plan for the class — interviewing people and going to a trade show — the more he could see himself making it a reality.
It all led to the creation of I AM Bar.
Wheatley keeps some bars in his locker and has them ready for road trips this summer.
“It all comes back to baseball,” Wheatley said. “I’m trying to be the best baseball player I can be so I’m always thinking about it.”
Up for the challenge
In 172 games during his Tennessee career, Vince Jackson stole 26 bases.
Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez wants to see Jackson approach that total this summer.
Rodriguez has set a goal for Jackson to get 20-25 stolen bases.
“We’re going to run him,” Rodriguez said. “We’re going to run, run, run, run. I already told him that.”
Jackson was Tennessee’s cleanup hitter this past season, finishing tied for first on the team with eight home runs and second with 57 RBIs.
His job was to drive in runs, so stealing bases wasn’t a focus. He was 7 for 11 on stolen-base attempts in 57 games for the Volunteers in 2016.
“In college, I stole every now and then, but I was a good ball-in-dirt reader,” Jackson said. “I’ve always been a decent baserunner.”
Rodriguez plans to maximize the 6-foot-4 outfielder’s potential on the base paths, believing his long strides and ability to accelerate will translate to stolen bases.
In his first seven games, Jackson had four stolen bases in six attempts.
“I’m definitely up for the challenge,” Jackson said.
Nittany Lions who returned to Medlar as pros
Jim Haley joined the list of former Penn State players to play professionally at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park last week.
Haley visited his college stadium with the Hudson Valley Renegades to take on the Spikes.
In 2006, Scott Gummo returned to the Penn State campus to face the Spikes as a member of the Renegades during the first season at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. The Nittany Lions played their first season in the stadium in 2007. Former Nittany Lion catcher Joe Blackburn played at the stadium with the Williamsport Crosscutters in 2008.
Gary Amato and Matt Cavagnaro both played for the Spikes after being drafted by the Pirates in 2007. Amato pitched in 15 games for the Spikes during the 2007-08 seasons, and Cavagnaro played in 68 games for State College in 2007.