Boy of Summer

Jesse Meaux hasn't had a summer vacation in a while.

Sure, the 2007 Glendale High graduate's last few summers have been filled with travel – from Minnesota to Alaska to Cape Cod – but business has always preceded leisure as the top priority.

This summer figures to be no different, although Meaux, a 6-foot-5 right-handed pitcher, will be logging innings in his current home in Santa Barbara, where he just completed a breakthrough junior season at UC Santa Barbara.

"It's great, I'm very happy I'm here," says Meaux, who plans to spend the summer playing for the Santa Barbara Foresters of the California Collegiate League. "The team is very good, so I'm happy with how the team's doing. The coaching staff is great and I'm happy to be in my favorite place to be, which is Santa Barbara."

Meaux's arrival with the Foresters coincided with a nice run of success for the team, one that Meaux immediately found a part in.

He pitched seven strong innings to get the win with no earned runs allowed and eight strikeouts in the Foresters' 6-2 victory over the Urban Baseball Academy Barons on Friday to get the team into the championship game of the Rawlings California Cup Tournament.

Santa Barbara won the title game on Sunday and locked up a berth in the National Baseball Congress World Series, which begins on Friday in Wichita.

"He's pitching really well [as] one of the starting five," says pitcher Bryce Uhrig, a former UCSB teammate of Meaux, who also plays for the Foresters. "He's doing well and we've got a lot of talent, so it's good to see him shine with so much talent on the team."

For the time being, it's unclear whether Meaux's summer with the Foresters is an extended tune up for his senior year with the Gauchos, for whom he won eight games and garnered All-Big West Conference honorable mention last season, or for the beginning of his professional career with the Philadelphia Phillies organization, which drafted Meaux in the 44th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft on June 9 largely because of those accomplishments.

"We're still in touch and I'm still hopefully looking for an offer that would work for me," Meaux says of his status with the Phillies. "But, if not, I'm more than happy to come back for my senior year."

Meaux has until Aug. 15 to decide whether to sign a contract, should the Phillies decide to offer him one by then, and he has said he will let the summer run its course before making any decision about what the fall might hold. But whatever contemplation he's done since being drafted has happened on the go.

Santa Barbara is Meaux's second team of a summer that has already taken him to the East Coast and back. His debut with the Foresters on June 12 was followed by a brief but formative two-game stint in the Cape Cod League, where he ventured with a temporary roster spot waiting for him and made a June 17 debut.

"You're always looking for your guys to work to get better," UCSB Coach Bob Brontsema says. "His time in the Cape, even though it was short, was valuable for him and I think he'll be able to utilize that. I wish he could have stayed there a little bit longer.

"I'm sure he would rather be pitching in the minor leagues right now than anywhere else, but it is important for guys to go out with a little less pressure on them in these summer ball leagues and work on things and have success. Most of these leagues are now wood-bat leagues and especially if you're a pitcher, it allows you to trust your stuff more and you gain a little bit more confidence."

In two appearances with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the prestigious amateur league, Meaux held his own, tossing a combined 5 1/3 innings and tallying a 3.38 earned-run average. His roster spot was reclaimed when players with permanent spots returned from their college playoff runs, however, and he was soon back on a plane home, but with no regrets about the trip.

"I knew it was gonna be a couple-week deal," Meaux says. "It was definitely a good experience, that's the best college summer league in the nation. It was good playing at that level and I was very happy with the way I performed.

"I wasn't upset when I had to come home because I gave it all I got and I did pretty well."

Meaux says the Red Sox left an opening for him to possibly return if injuries create another vacancy on their roster.

"I'm happy where I'm at right now, I'm in a pretty good situation and I don't think its worth going across the country again," says Meaux, who made his return appearance with the Foresters on July 3 and went five innings for his first win with the club. "But I thought it was valuable for the time that I was out there."

Meaux may not be eager to fly back and forth across the nation for temporary stints in the Cape, but he's shown in past summers he's willing to travel and spend some time far from home in order to keep playing baseball.

Following his freshman year at UCSB, Meaux journeyed to Minnesota, where he spent a season in the Northwoods League. Last summer took him all the way to the Alaska Baseball League for a two-month stint with the Goldpanners of Fairbanks.

"That was a great experience," Meaux said of playing with the Goldpanners. "Everybody has got different ideas about the game and [summer collegiate leagues] are really similar to minor league ball, so it gives you an idea of what life as a baseball player would be like."

Meaux's time in Alaska also gave him a chance to get comfortable as a starting pitcher, a role he would assume when he returned to UCSB for his junior season after coming out of the bullpen his first two seasons.

"I don't want to say he was our savior, but, boy, he pitched on Sundays and the Sunday game is the swing game, the game you want to hit the road on to win the series," Brontsema says. "So that role was pretty big and he was just outstanding when we needed him most.

"No question, he really came into his own. He showed a lot of promise in his first couple of years, but he really turned the corner this year and became the guy that we knew he would. If he does come back next year, we anticipate him being most likely our Friday night guy."

Meaux would turn in two complete games as a junior and was in the top-10 in the conference in innings pitched and fewest walks. He would finish the year 8-3 with a 4.41 ERA and was named a College Baseball 360 Primetime Performer after going the distance to beat UC Irvine, 2-1, on May 19.

"He had a huge impact," Uhrig says. "He did terrific, he pitched amazing. He was a dominant force on the mound and when he went out to pitch, we all had a lot of confidence behind him."

Meaux feels his summer job paved the way for his success with the Gauchos.

"Last summer I had a chance to really establish myself as a starter," Meaux says, "and that gave me a lot of good experience and pretty much set me up to do well during the season."

Says Brontsema: "Part of it is I think he just got in better shape, he changed maybe his demeanor a little bit in regards to having to be a starter. He was anticipating it being a big year, so I think he just changed his whole mindset and his work ethic and that, along with what he did over the summer, made a big difference."

Close to home and closer by the day to the next big phase of his career, whether it's a senior farewell tour at UCSB or a leap into the world of pro ball, the only certainty for Meaux right now is where he'll be this summer.

And judging by the leaps and bounds he made over the previous summer, Meaux figures to be an even more complete player wherever he ends up in the fall.

"This year I'm just gonna keep doing what I did last year and refine my skills," Meaux says. "Summer's kind of a time to work on things. …[I want to work on] just consistency. I've done well and I've had times where I've struggled a little bit. Just being consistent and dominating 100% of the time is what I'm going for."

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