Pitching his way to the big leagues
Relative of local residents pitches first pro game
ESCANABA — Just about every young boy has a similar dream: play Major League baseball.
A relative of Escanaba and Bark River residents is living that dream, and in fact made a huge step in his first professional appearance Thursday night in Phoenix.
Nathan Patterson was signed by the Oakland A’s shortly after a video of him throwing 96 mph at a speed pitch venue in Denver went viral, to the tune of 2.5 million views. Patterson is now a right-handed pitcher for the A’s rookie team in Phoenix.
“At first it was pretty surreal, now I’m a professional baseball player,” Patterson said in a telephone interview Friday. “This is real, you are an athlete. You are a professional baseball player. I’m going to absorb it, like a sponge.”
His dad, Tom Patterson, is married to Katie Good, a daughter of Art Good, formerly of Bark River and one of nine siblings (Bill, Art, Jim, Doreen, Janet, Karen, Jean, Lois and Bonnie). Area cousins include Chris and Keith Anderson, Kim Carne, DeeDee Skradski, Kris Anderson, Greg Good and John McDonough.
Patterson has been all over the place since graduating from Blue Valley High School in Overland Park, Kan. He played a little second base as a high school junior, then was sidelined by an elbow growth plate injury as a senior. After a year of rehabilitation and recovery, he played for a midwest travel team.
“Eighteen months later I was still rehabbing and threw in the towel,” he said, noting he started a landscaping business with a junior college friend. He did that for 18 months, six days a week, sunrise to sundown. He left that and moved to Austin, Tex., noting “I was young and single and it was a cool place to live.”
He worked outside the office for a sales company, then got into a software company making sales phone calls because “I needed a better financial situation.” Then he progressed to a franchise sales rep and worked the corporate level for three years.
His girlfriend moved to Nashville last year and he soon joined her, keeping the sales job remotely. His first big baseball break came at a Nashville Sounds Class AAA baseball game where he joined family and friends in the pitching speed machine cage.
“I was watching guys throw 60-75 mph. The first ball I threw was 90 mph. I was in shock,” he said. He threw five balls, topping out at 96 mph. “An assistant coach (for the Sounds) took me aside and said ‘you need to go play baseball.'”
Patterson did begin training with a weighted ball and was hitting 90-92 mph. Then on the way home Dec. 12, 2018 while riding his Boostee electric long board, he was hit by a car and broke his left wrist. His family encouraged him to stick with his baseball dream and he would throw bullpen pitches with his left arm in a cast, with some views on twitter.
A couple of college teams reached out “but I had no expectations, really,” he said. Then an agent/pitching coach, Jared Harper, set up a pro day tryout in February. “I threw an incredible bullpen,” he said, adding the A’s were among teams that expressed interest. He kept in touch with an A’s scout in Nashville who encouraged his participation in live baseball games.
“In June I got into my first game and threw very, very well. All this stuff was with no expectations,” he said.
Then the family gathered in Denver for his grandmother’s 80th birthday, which included a visit to a Rockies game at Coors Field. During a rain delay, the group toured the stadium and stopped at the speed pitching cage.
“My brother (Christian) threw 83 mph,” he said, noting that drew some interest until he said to see what was next. “I threw five-six balls well over 94 mph. It was pretty exciting.” Patterson said of the viral version of his performance that was posted on twitter, complete with audio from his brother’s girlfriend beseeching him to hit 96 mph, which he did twice.
A’s scout Anthony Aloisi contacted Patterson, who ended up signing a one-year contract. “A lot of guys get in (to baseball) in unorthodox ways and he said to take advantage of the opportunity. My number one priority is to make it to the big leagues.”
With his software company vice president telling him to chase his baseball dream with the knowledge his job would be available later, he decided to sign.
He stressed this improvement was not an overnight deal, noting “I put in a ton of hard work and sacrifice to get here.” He also referred to rebounding from his broken arm and said this “makes the battle more meaningful and more exciting. Everything happens for a reason. If I can get through that adversity, why not get through the next one?”
Growing up was also in the mix with hard work. He was a 5-foot-8, 140-pound second baseman in high school and is now, at age 23, at 6-1, 185. “I had a late growth spurt that came from the Man outside,” he said.
His first professional start Thursday lasted just one inning, but he struck out all three batters. “It was really cool, but my nerves were really flowing when I got on the mound,” he said, noting a fraternal aunt and uncle attended the game.
“It was an unbelievable first outing, truly a blessing,” he said. “My coach told me to just go out and do the job and get outs. I went out there and pounded the zone.”
Patterson says he is unlike many young pitchers with limited experience. “I’m a pitcher. Last August I was a thrower,” he said. “I have a full arsenal (change-up, curve, slider, two-seam and four-seam fastball). I try to get the hitter off-balance. I’m able to mix in all five of my pitches.”
He said his pitching delivery “is like a symphony until my foot lands, then it is heavy metal. Attack and fire.”
Patterson tries to maintain command of the strike zone and hit his spots, such as his favorite player, Dodgers’ pitcher Walker Buehlow. “I live on the corner,” he said.
In his initial days of professional baseball, his goal remains the same as it was years ago. “I want to make it to the big leagues,” he said. “Effort is free, passion is free. I can control my work ethic. My performance, I focus on things I can control, that can put me in positions where I have that opportunity.
“This is real. This is happening,” he said, still surprised at where his life has moved while playing with and against high draft choices and top prospects. “I have the same opportunity (as them). I have to go out and earn that spot,” he said.
The rookie league season ends Aug. 26, and his team has qualified for the postseason. Then he expects to pitch in the instructional league for three weeks, then hopes to get assigned to a team after spring training. He would prefer to be a starting pitcher, but realizes his mound repertoire could signal an assignment to the bullpen.