Imagine growing up a Duke fan your entire life. You have all the gear: the hats, the jerseys, old game stubs. You shout “Laettner!” as you take the game-winning three in your driveway. All of your friends are Duke fans, too. You live right around the corner from Durham, North Carolina, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina might as well be a thousand miles away. Imagine you are a star basketball player, an All-Area Player of the Year, in fact. Now, imagine you go to check the mail on signing day and there is only one letter in the mailbox.
The University of North Carolina.
What do you do? What do you tell your friends? Or your family, who are also die-hard Duke fans?
You sign your name, show them the check and tell your family to buy some new shirts and jerseys. That is what you do.
Take all of the above and switch Duke with the St. Louis Cardinals, and North Carolina with the Chicago Cubs. Now, their rivalry might not be as intense as their college counterparts, but you get the idea.
Garrett Schlecht was born on February 15, 1993 in Millstadt, Illinois, which is basically a suburb of St. Louis with a population of around 3,000. He played baseball, was a Cardinals fan, and no doubt shouted, “Pujols!” at some point while launching a home run. He was, after all, just eight years old when Albert made his debut with the Cards in 2001.
Schlecht starred at Belleville West High School for three seasons before transferring to Waterloo his senior season. He hit .391 as a sophomore, .326 as a junior at Belleville West. He then exploded as a senior for Waterloo. He hit .500 with seven home runs, 40 RBI, 13 stolen bases and 23 walks over 122 plate appearances. His .623 on-base percentage would be a sign of things to come for the 6’-2″, left-handed hitting outfielder. He was also brilliant on the mound for the Bulldogs, going 6-2 with a 3.36 ERA and 72 strikeouts over 41.2 innings. He was named Class 3A-4A Player of the Year for his efforts.
He made his presence known during his first game against rival Gibault by smashing two bombs in a 14-0 rout. He also threw three scoreless innings, striking out seven.
He clearly understands what rivalries are all about. He also understands how to hit a baseball. His advanced approach at the plate led Highland coach, Joel Hawkins, to say this: “He’s so confident and so comfortable, you don’t know what pitch to throw. Ball four is the best pitch you can throw to him. Every time you made a mistake he pounded it for an extra-base hit.”
The Chicago Cubs noticed that ability, as well. Even with a strong commitment to play baseball at Middle Tennessee State, they made him their ninth-round selection in the 2011 draft. His family wanted him to get compensation for the years he would miss skipping college to pursue his dreams. You can always go to college, but the life experiences you gain there as a young adult are priceless. In the end, baseball won out, and Schlecht became the highest paid ninth-round pick in the history of the draft.
Just like that, Cardinals red was replaced with Cubbie blue.
The family did have a connection with the Cubs. Randy Wells, a native of Belleville, was a 38th-round selection by the team in the 2002 draft. Garrett’s dad, Jim, played with Randy on the Waterloo Buds of the Mon-Claire League, an amateur summer league in the St. Louis area. Wells is now a starting pitcher in the Cubs rotation and took Garrett under his wing from day one.
Schlecht made his pro debut at the Arizona Rookie League in August, 2011. Over nine games, he went 6 for 27 (.222) with five runs and two RBI. He hit the ball hard, but sometimes the ball just doesn’t find the holes. He did, however, show that advanced approach at the plate that turned heads in high school. He walked nine times, posting a .417 on-base percentage.
He then went to the Florida Instructional League in the fall. Over 14 games there, he went 6 for 24 (.250) with five runs, a double, two RBI and played a flawless outfield. He walked nine more times for a .455 OBP, again showing an outstanding understanding of the plate not seen in many players his age.
He was invited to early spring training this year, only a select few prospects get that opportunity. He will get a chance to show the team the progress he has made, while also giving fans in Mesa a chance to see what the future holds for the Cubs. After that, he will most likely head to short season Boise or Class-A Peoria to begin his first full season as a professional.
At 6’-2″, 190 lbs, the power is coming. His arm can reach 88 mph, ideal for right field. He has the speed to catch up to any ball while also keeping pitchers honest on the base paths. He hits left-handed and sprays the ball to all fields. And his head is screwed on straight with one of the most supportive mothers you will ever see, Melissa, who made many a sacrifice to put him in position to get him where he is at.
The rest is up to him now.