Advertisement

Wright Still Has Stuff to Escape a Tough Jam

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jaret Wright could have cracked. It would have been the easy thing to do.

Wright had runners on second and third and no outs in the first inning. Normally, it would be no sweat. He’d just blow the next three batters away, just as he had done for Katella High School this spring. But this was different. This was for money.

He was pitching for Burlington (N.C.) in his first professional game. People were watching, people from the Cleveland Indians’ front office who had dished out a $1.2-million signing bonus.

“My nerves got to me,” Wright said. “I figured I better do something. I needed to get my head straight right then.”

Advertisement

Three batters, three strikeouts. Problems? What problems?

“It was a normal game after that,” Wright said.

Wright overcame his jitters quickly against Martinsville (Va.) in his debut Wednesday. He struck out the side in the first, showing the Indian officials in attendance why they had paid such a hefty fee for his services.

Some scouts have predicted that Wright will be in the major leagues within three years and he took a first step toward living up to those expectations.

Advertisement

Wright, who was scheduled to throw 60 pitches, went 2 2/3 innings, striking out four. He gave up two hits, walked three and left with two runners on base. Both scored. Martinsville won, 5-4, but Wright was not involved in the decision.

“He’s a big, strong kid and has great stuff,” said Jim Cabella, Burlington’s manager. “That’s the makings of a pretty good pitcher.”

But Wright, who left with a 2-0 lead, was just happy to be done with that first outing.

“I don’t remember when I’ve been more nervous,” Wright said. “I walked the first guy on four pitches. That didn’t help. There was such a buildup to the whole thing. It’s been that way for a couple weeks.”

Advertisement

But it was hard for Wright to avoid such treatment. He was, after all, under a microscope.

The Indians drafted Wright with the 10th pick overall in the June draft. Like everyone else, they had been impressed with his 90 m.p.h. fastball.

Wright was 7-2 with a 2.98 earned-run average for Katella last season. He struck out 100 batters in 75 innings.

Potential costs a bundle and negotiations dragged on. Wright finally signed July 21 amid much fanfare at Jacobs Field.

Advertisement

“They brought me to the stadium that night and flashed that I had signed on the message board,” said Wright, the son of former Angel pitcher Clyde Wright. “I got a tour of the ballpark and threw some in the bullpen. I was there three days and it was great.”

Getting back there is going to take some work.

Wright was assigned to Burlington, a Class-A team. His reputation, or at least the size of his bonus, preceded him.

“I got there and the guys wanted me to buy a new team bus,” Wright said. “I kind of had to put my foot down. I told them, ‘I’m making the same amount of money as you guys.’ ”

Advertisement

Well, give or take a million.

“OK, I have a little more money,” Wright said. “But the bus looked in fine shape to me.”

Wright believed he was ready to pitch immediately. He had worked out at his father’s pitching school and pitched in a couple of Connie Mack games for the Orange County Cardinals.

But the Indians were taking no chances with their investment. Wright pitched in simulated games and threw in the bullpen before he was allowed to start.

Advertisement

The time allowed him to adjust off the field.

“This is the first time I’ve lived away from home,” Wright said. “It’s a change. For one thing, I have to go out and buy some food. The fridge is empty.”

That problem was easy. Wright and his three roommates live across the street from a fast-food place.

“There’s a McDonald’s and a mall,” Wright said. “That’s it. Burlington is a small place.”

Advertisement

It was a 1 1/2-hour bus ride to Martinsville. Wright did his best calm his nerves. It wasn’t easy.

Jay Robertson, the Indians’ scouting director, was coming to see Wright’s first game. Back in Orange County, his parents were listening to the game over the telephone. A family friend who lives in the Burlington area placed the receiver next to the radio so the Wrights could hear the broadcast.

So much attention didn’t help.

“I slept on the bus, but when I woke up, I got nervous again,” Wright said. “After I walked the first guy, I figured I better find the strike zone.”

Advertisement

Things didn’t get much better when the second batter reached on an infield single. A double steal left runners on second and third, but Wright overpowered the next three hitters.

Said Cabella: “Yeah, he was a little shaky at first. But after that first batter, he settled down and just let it go.”


Advertisement