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  • Metro-east native is one step from big leagues

    Born to pitch: Cut from his high school team, metro-east native is one step from big leagues

    BY STEVE KORTE

    News-Democrat

    Every time pitcher Justin Mallett takes the mound, it's a testament to perseverance.

    Mallett, who is playing for the Louisville Bats, the Cincinnati Reds' Class Triple A farm club, could have given up on baseball a long time ago.

    He was cut from the baseball team as a senior at Belleville West High School, was extremely lucky in landing scholarships to Meramec Community College and Sterling College and was signed by the Reds after showing up for a private tryout for a college teammate without an invitation.

    He's spent the last six years toiling in the minor leagues chasing his dream of being a Major Leaguer.

    "I've always heard all through my life that I'm not going to be able to do that, I'm not going to be able to do this," Mallett said. "I just think that is bull. Nobody is going to tell me what I can't do. Only I can tell myself that. I've had that mentality my whole life. My mom told me never to give up. This is my passion. I love this. I've loved baseball since I was 4 years old."

    The defining moment

    Mallett transferred from Lincoln High School in East St. Louis to Belleville West prior to his junior season with the hope of playing baseball for the Maroons.

    Mallett made the squad as a junior, but he spent most of the season on the bench.

    "I only played six innings the whole year," Mallett said. "I'd never been in that situation. Growing up and in little league, I'd always been one of the guys to call on. I'd never been a guy who was pushed aside or not looked upon when it was a big game or a big situation. I'd never been that bench guy. I didn't know what to do, but I just took it as it was. I was just satisfied to be on the team."

    Mallett was stunned when he was cut by coach Chuck Hasenstab before the start of his senior season in 1999.

    "When I got cut, I thought the world was over," Mallett said.
    That's when Jesse Swift, the Maroons' strength coach and the father of Mallett's friend, Bryan Swift, began mentoring Mallett.

    "When he came to me, he was quite devastated," Swift said. "I had to motivate him to keep him involved in baseball. A lot of times when you get cut, you really get disheartened. I told him, 'Don't worry, you'll be OK."'
    Swift said he could see Mallett was a diamond in the rough.

    "Justin was really young," Swift said. "He graduated from high school when he was 17. I took him under my wing and taught him work ethic. Then he developed. He developed really, really well. When you spot talent, you grab it, you nurture it, you build it and strengthen it, and you put it out on the stage and see if he makes it."

    Swift, whose son played for Meramec College and who later served as a pitching coach for the Magic, drove Mallett to St. Louis for a tryout.

    "Once I got cut, I didn't play summer ball or anything," Mallett said. "I was just sitting around the house. Bryan's dad came and picked me up and told me to grab my spikes. He took me for a tryout at Meramec Junior College. I threw like six pitches and got a scholarship."

    After two years with the Magic, Mallett wasn't sure what he was going to do next. He had an offer to play baseball for the University of Missouri, but he' would need to sit out of baseball a semester to get his academics in order before joining the Tigers.

    That's when Scott Norwood, the coach for Sterling College, a small school in Sterling, Kan., took the extraordinary measure of personally picking up and delivering Mallett for a campus visit.

    "That guy drove eight hours and came and picked me up and took me back to the college," Mallett said. "That's a 16-hour drive, and then he took me all way back home. I kind of felt obligated to sign."

    Becoming a pro

    When his All-American third baseman got invited to a tryout with the Reds in 2003, Norwood had four of his other players, including Mallett, tag along.

    "The other four weren't on the list, so at first they weren't going to let us in," Mallett said. "All of the sudden another guy comes out and says, 'They're already dressed, let's just see what they've got."'

    It was a short tryout for Mallett.

    "I was supposed to throw an inning, and I only threw eight pitches," Mallett said. "He pulled me off to the side and asked me the dumbest question I've ever heard in my life. He asked me, 'Do you want to play pro ball?' I was like, 'I live for this, man. This is what I was born to do. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life."'

    Mallett went home without getting a contract offer, but two days later, he got a call from the Reds.

    One step from the Big Leagues

    A combination of determination and sheer physical talent have enabled Mallett, 26, to steadily advance in the minor leagues.

    The 6-foot-7, 235-pound right-hander has a repertoire of five different pitches, but his sinker is his break-and-butter pitch.

    "Once you get to pro ball, you have to learn something that is different from the next guy that is going to keep you around," Mallett said of his sinker. "When I signed I was topping out at 88-89 mph, now I can run it up to like 96 mph. It's just time, and getting to know yourself and getting to know your body."

    Mallett has a 4-1 record with a 4.72 ERA since being promoted to the Bats from the Class AA Chattanooga Lookouts in late May.

    He has been used as both a starter and reliever with the Bats, tallying 49 strikeouts in 68 2/3 innings of work. He's allowed only four home runs.

    "I'm a groundball pitcher," Mallett said. " I can get strikeouts, but that's not what my game is all about. I'm trying to get some action within the first three pitches. I'm going to throw sinkers all day until you prove that you can hit it. I don't make the adjustment. I make the hitter make the adjustment."

    If he continues pitching well, Mallett could be called up by the Reds when Major League rosters expand on Sept. 1.

    "Honestly. the first thing I would do is call my mom," Mallett said of what he got promoted to the Major Leagues. "I wouldn't even tell her. I'd just say, 'You need to get plane tickets together."'

    Mallett's mom, Jackie Mallett, a teacher at Dunbar Elementary School in East St. Louis, was happy to hear that she was the first person on her son's call list if gets sent to the Major Leagues.

    "He better, I'm his No. 1 fan," Jackie Mallett said. "I'll probably pass out on the floor."

    Jackie Mallett said her son's interest in sports kept him out of trouble growing up in East St. Louis.

    "I was so glad he was into baseball because that kept him from getting into anything around here," Jackie Mallett said. "Justin was always a very sports-minded kid. He was into a lot of stuff, and that kept him out of trouble. That's what I always worried about."

    Mallett said he got the chance to thank Hasenstab, who died in December, 2006, for cutting him.

    "I got to see him three years ago," Mallett said. "I went up to the school and he was there. He wasn't coaching anymore. I was telling him, 'Thank you for cutting me because if I didn't get cut, I probably wouldn't be where I am.' Reality kicked in, you know."

    http://www.bnd.com/389/story/411340.html

  • #2
    Go Maroons, baby.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Maverick View Post
      Go Maroons, baby.

      My mom is a BTHS grad, '61....There was no "East", it was a cornfield! Carlyle Ave., 2 lanes, maybe even 2 lane blacktop.

      BTW, goddammit, bring back the "devil" mascot!

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Maverick View Post
        Go Maroons, baby.
        Hey Jeffro,

        I'm guessing you know Mr. Tallman?
        Of course you do.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by ShortHop View Post
          Hey Jeffro,

          I'm guessing you know Mr. Tallman?

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by ShortHop View Post
            Hey Jeffro,

            I'm guessing you know Mr. Tallman?
            Know of him. I never had him and he wouldn't know me.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Maverick View Post
              Know of him. I never had him and he wouldn't know me.
              Gotcha.

              Don't worry - I wasn't going to go asking him about the kid in the coconut bra or something. Just curious.

              He's a good friend of mine. Not sure how that might reflect on me...
              Of course you do.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Maverick View Post
                Know of him. I never had him and he wouldn't know me.
                Oh - and I think you guys would get along pretty well, by the way.

                In a non-homo teacher-student non-sexual relationship kinda way. Just to be clear.
                Of course you do.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by ShortHop View Post
                  Gotcha.

                  Don't worry - I wasn't going to go asking him about the kid in the coconut bra or something. Just curious.

                  He's a good friend of mine. Not sure how that might reflect on me...
                  He seemed like a good guy. He wasn't one of the BW social studies teachers I ran into at a party my first year of college so that's probably good.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I played basketball with Bryan Swift. His dad is a great guy.

                    Good story.

                    No idea who this Mallett kid is/was though.
                    Official Lounge Sponsor of Candy.


                    "When you say 'radical right' today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye."
                    -Barry Goldwater

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by El Birdo 1 View Post
                      Good story.

                      No idea who this Mallett kid is/was though.
                      ++++

                      Comment

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