Check out this Wise guy
By: Cameron Varnau
The road we take to our respective careers will most likely take a few un-anticipated turns. Whether you’re an accountant, a lawyer, a salesman or for J.T. Wise, a baseball player, life throws us curve balls. The latter comes quite literally for Wise as he continues a rejuvenated pro-ball career with the Texas Rangers.
The catcher and first baseman played collegiately at Louisiana State University and was drafted in the 45th round of the June 2009 draft by the Oakland Athletics. Wise turned down the early opportunity to go professional and instead transferred to play for the Oklahoma Sooners for his junior and senior seasons. The Florida native took off in the Big 12 conference and was the 2009 Big 12 Player of the Year, and was also named the 2009 Johnny Bench award winner, which is earned by the nation’s best college catcher.
As a senior he played in all but two games for the Sooners in 55 starts with 50 as a catcher, and he registered a hit in 46 of those games. From a defensive stand point he committed only two errors, which was good for a .996 fielding percentage, and he threw out a conference-best 30 potential base stealers. He credits the competition he faced day-to-day as to why he was able to play at such a high level.
“Playing at Oklahoma was fun. We had a really great program with a lot of really great players on our team, especially during my last year. I played with a couple of guys that I think are in the big leagues now and playing in that competition was great,” Wise said.
“I played in the Big 12 and in the SEC before that so playing in that competition and getting drafted into minor league ball wasn’t much different. We faced a lot of big name pitchers so it helped prepare you for major league ball,” Wise added.
“That’s not saying the other conferences don’t have good players because we played a lot of really good teams out there like Washington State, Arizona State and UCLA. They all just generate baseball players there so the majority of the games in and outside of our conference got you ready for the competition.”
J.T. batted .297 during his four-year collegiate career and was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fifth round of the 2009 MLB draft after his award-winning senior season.
He spent four years in the Dodgers’ farm system and worked his way up to Double-A Chattanooga. The prospect, however, struggled in 2013 and his production dipped below what the Dodgers were comfortable with.
He was released by Los Angeles and began 2014 with the Wichita Wingnuts of the American Association of Independent Baseball. The catcher and first baseman played in 47 games for the Wingnuts and scored 33 runs on 55 hits with 42 RBI. He popped 14 doubles to go along with 12 home runs, caught the attention of Texas’ front office, and was signed by the Rangers in July 2014.
On his experience away from affiliated baseball Wise said, “I guess you don’t want to go to independent ball but you still get to play baseball and hope that you get another chance somewhere. From my perspective, it definitely humbled me and opened my eyes a little and helped me respect things more, like this opportunity that I’ve been given right now. You don’t want to take it for granted and you want to bust your butt so you can take full advantage of it.”
“The independent league wasn’t a pushover either because you’re playing against quality opponents and guys that are just out of affiliated ball and close to the big leagues,” he said of his competition. “Wichita had a good set up and the coaching staff was awesome and they definitely made it fun to play there every day.”
When he got the call and was informed that Texas was interested in acquiring him Wise said, “I really didn’t know what to do because it was my first time getting released and then resigned back on so I didn’t know what to do. I called my wife and parents and told them not to get too excited, because I still hadn’t signed my contract, and I didn’t want to celebrate before it was done. It was definitely a really cool day and it’s great seeing all the hard work you did pay off.”
Wise made his organizational debut by playing first base in one game for Triple-A Round Rock on July 8, 2014, and was then sent to the RoughRiders where he’s played since. It seems that he is closer to where he was during his first few minor league seasons as through his first 21 games with Frisco he’s hit .295 with 23 hits, 18 RBI and four home runs.
He’s made an almost instant impact in the middle of the Frisco batting order and has found a way to make it on Jason Wood’s lineup card all he possibly can, and has done everything the club has asked of him. What has the past month been for the player? “Fun,” he says.
“The coaching staff is awesome. Woody (skipper Jason Wood) and Harty (hitting instructor Jason Hart), Jeff Andrews (pitching coach), they’re all really cool guys and when I say that I mean they’re players’ coaches. They have great relationships with everybody and the entire team is awesome.”
“They’re level headed kids and being a little bit older than them I get to mentor the younger guys with some stuff and try not to let them get in their heads. For the most part it’s been fun, I’ve met some good people here, they seem to treat you right here and they made it easy for me.”
The life of a professional ball player is never set in stone or solidified by any means. In a career where there’s no guarantee of what the future holds, J.T. Wise is guaranteeing one thing. That hard work, repetition, passion and energy pays off. As for the metaphorical, and quite real, curve balls that life has thrown Wise, he plans on continuing to hit them out of the park.