The Baseball Transfer
It’s a cool summer night in Madison, Wis., in July 2009. A sizable crowd shows up to Warner Park to watch the Madison Mallards take on the Battle Creek Bombers in a Northwoods Summer League matchup. Some of the top college baseball players in North America play in this summer league.
As the game progresses, the Bombers prepare to call on relief pitcher Joe Van Meter to get a few late-game outs. Not only does Van Meter accomplish this task, but he also stuns everyone in attendance by hitting 97 mph on the radar gun.
Fans begin chanting the name of the hard-throwing righty, even though he is on the visiting team. Here, the legend of Joe Van Meter is born.
Just 10 months later, the Texas Rangers selected the Oyster Bay native in the 21st round of the 2010 MLB Draft. He’s spent the past two summers as a relief pitcher (with a few occasional starts) for the Hickory Crawdads, the Rangers Single-A affiliate.
But his journey to success did not follow the typical path of a Long Islander who reaches the next level.
From a young age, Van Meter dominated the Bethpage Little League. Beginning in 2002, he was the starting shortstop for St. Dominic’s High School for four years, including the rare feat of starting his freshman and sophomore years.
Like Prokopowicz, Van Meter, now 22, was a baseball god on Long Island. At St. Dom’s, he was ranked as the No. 1 shortstop in New York State by Baseball America, a magazine that covers baseball at every level with a focus on up-and-coming players.
Though Van Meter initially committed to Marshall University on a baseball scholarship, Arizona State University (ASU) contacted him with the chance to play for a top-10 ranked team.
“ASU was always my dream school,” says Van Meter. “I always wanted to play baseball there. I felt like it was a rare opportunity.”
Upon his arrival at ASU in 2006, the wide-eyed, baseball-loving freshman was given a rude awakening about the competitiveness of baseball at a top-rated school. After having Van Meter sit out his first year, ASU Head Coach Pat Murphy planned on using him in a limited role the following season as a platoon right fielder, splitting time with a left-handed hitter and only getting about a third of the total at-bats for the season.
His coach’s decision tore up Van Meter. He was at his dream school, yet without the chance to play everyday, how would he achieve his ultimate goal of playing big league baseball?
“Joey likes to be on the field,” says Rich Garrett, head coach at St. Dominic’s. “When he talked to me about it, I said, ‘Joey, your passion is to play every day.’ Platooning wasn’t what Joey wanted.”
Van Meter filed the necessary paperwork to transfer schools following his freshman year. He chose Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) as his new home, since he saw that the program had developed several Major Leaguers in the recent past—Brandon Inge, Cla Meredith, Scott Sizemore and Sean Marshall. More importantly, Head Coach Paul Keyes offered him the chance to be the starting third baseman.
“I knew if I wanted to be drafted, I needed to go somewhere I could play,” says Van Meter. “That’s the only way you can give yourself a chance to succeed at the next level.”
Despite setting the school record with 136 RBI during his three seasons at VCU, Van Meter started gaining notoriety as a pitcher, especially after he developed an overhand curveball and a change-up coupled with his performance that fateful night in Madison. Professional scouts took notice of his poise and presence on the mound, which led to the Rangers’ selecting him in the draft.
Still, the road between pitching for Single-A Hickory and for the Texas Rangers in Arlington is a long journey. Relief pitching is generally considered a volatile position, because players are traded or released frequently.
But if Van Meter has learned anything from his baseball experience, he knows that both tireless dedication and a little bit of luck can get him to the majors.
“Nothing comes easy in this world, and that’s Joey’s story,” says Garrett. “He just keeps on working and working and working.”