Sometimes, your future doesn’t happen quite like you planned. Sometimes, after years of planning, wondering, hoping, and waiting, you don’t choose it; it chooses you.
For an 11-year-old Tyrell Jenkins, “the future” seemed filled with football and basketball – his two primary sports. Baseball, in fact, wasn’t even on the radar.
Even as a senior in high school, Jenkins signed at Baylor University to play football – again, leaving baseball mostly out of the equation.
So how does something not in “the plan” become the present?
Well, he may not have chosen it (at least to begin with), but it certainly chose him. Or, more accurately, the Cardinals chose him.
As a junior in high school, Jenkins noticed the scouts coming around on a regular basis, both for football and baseball – a dream for any multi-sport athlete.
“It was kind of surreal there,” Jenkins said. “[Then] my senior year, seeing my name in draft talk, and playing travel ball, there were scouts there also.”
It was a pick-up baseball game with some friends that first introduced the 11-year-old to the game that would soon be his world. His friends needed an extra guy, he took the chance. And it’s a good thing he did. His mom, seeing how much the young Tyrell enjoyed the game, signed him up to play on a team. That team turned into traveling teams. The travel turned into a high school career. And after that …
“Next thing you know, I had scouts watching me in high school, and I’m here,” Jenkins said. “Here,” of course, meaning a spot in the starting rotation for the Quad Cities River Bandits.
But despite the chatter about his obvious talent, Jenkins wasn’t prepared to be a first-round choice in the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft.
“I was actually swimming when my name got called,” Jenkins said.
He’d gathered some family and friends together for a draft party, of sorts, without any intention of hearing his name called with the 50th overall pick. He was headed to Baylor to play football, at least that was the original plan. Instead, the St. Louis Cardinals opted to see what the uber-talented, hard-throwing right hander could bring to the table.
“Not many people get that chance to go in the first round, let alone [when] not even thinking of going there,” Jenkins said. “So, it was really surreal. I’m glad I have the opportunity and I’m trying to make the best of it.”
The opportunity brought him to the Quad Cities, where he headlined the preseason buzz about the defending Midwest League Champion River Bandits. It’s been an uphill battle at times, but for Jenkins, it’s all a part of the process that brought him from a pick-up game to professional baseball.
“It’s been like a light switch, on and off,” he said. “Sometimes you have your good games, sometimes you have your bad. I’m still learning. This is my first time to ever just play one sport, or focus on one thing. So that’s a big thing.”
Another “big thing” for Jenkins is simply continuing to master the game, learning its intricacies, all while performing in front of sell-out crowds.
“The big thing is just, being at the level where everybody is just as good as, and maybe even better than you,” Jenkins said. “You can’t just throw it by everybody here. You’ve got to learn how to pitch, [and] you’ve got to learn how to deal with the media, the fans and all that.”
Playing for a crowd is nothing new for Jenkins. High school football games in Henderson, TX brought in thousands of fans on any given night. But the pressure of being one of Cardinal Nation’s top pitching prospects brings with it a roller coaster of reactions from fans and critics alike.
“I know sometimes here we’ll have a sell-out crowd and you think it’s loud, but as you move up, it gets more and more loud in Springfield, Memphis and of course St. Louis. It’s just great to have people behind you sometimes,” Jenkins said, noting that, inevitably, there’s a voice or two crying out from the crowd with nothing but negative things to say.
“Sometimes I hear comments when I’m pitching, having a bad game, and you know, it just kind of goes with it,” he said. “It’s all part of being drafted where I was and it kind of fuels me sometimes, but it’s nothing that’s going to affect my play. I’m just excited [to] just try to prove [the Cardinals] right.”
Good or bad, he’s surrounded by a group of ballplayers who love what they do, and that they are doing it all together. Even at the end of a six-game losing streak early last week, Jenkins didn’t hesitate to say the guys were still loose and having fun. But, they all have a job to do, and goals to reach.
“I know I’ll get better, and I’ll fix the things I need to work on,” Jenkins said. “I’m just excited to keep moving on and seeing how good I can be … You can never have this game figured out. There’s always something different. The main thing is to stay humble.”
So, what can you expect from a football player, poised to share the field with Robert Griffin III whose world changed with the Cardinals’ first round pick?
“Expect to see a smile always.”
No, sometimes the future doesn’t go quite like you’d planned. Sometimes, it’s better.
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.