Boise Hawks Media Day

Boise Hawks pitcher Jesse Stinnett stands during media day on Monday at Memorial Stadium.

BOISE — Jesse Stinnett almost didn’t pick up the phone call that changed his life.

While playing independent league ball last summer in Michigan, the pitcher saw a phone number with a Denver area code he didn’t recognize. But something inside him told him to pick it up.

On the other end of the line was the Colorado Rockies.

“When I got the phone call I was like ‘that’s a random number, I’m not going to answer it,’” Stinnett said. “Thank God I did. They said ‘we’re with the Colorado Rockies, are you healthy?’ My heart started pounding. I started pacing around the room saying ‘I’m healthy, I’m healthy.’”

After signing a minor league deal with the Rockies in mid-August, Stinnett finished the final weeks of the season with the Rookie League Grand Junction (Colorado) Rockies and was along for the ride as the team advanced to the Pioneer League Championship Series.

He starts this season moving up to the Rockies’ Short-Season ‘A’ affiliate the Boise Hawks, who start their season on Friday at Salem-Keizer.

“I’m pumped, this is awesome,” Stinnett said about his first professional season. “This is the opportunity I’ve been working for for awhile now. To get into an organization like the Colorado Rockies is amazing, and I’m just looking forward to showing them what I can do for them.”

The right-hander made six appearances for Grand Junction last year, finishing the regular season with an ERA of 4.15 and 14 strikeouts over 13 innings.

He got his first professional start in the regular season allowing four hits and two earned runs while striking out six in a six-inning no decision.

“He’s got arm strength, and that’s what you look for in a pitcher,” said Supervisor of Development Fred Ocasio. “Hopefully he’ll come in and help us out.”

For Stinnett, the road to the Colorado Rockies organization has been anything but easy. After starting his college at Maryland Eastern Shore, a small NCAA Division I program, the Madison Heights, Virginia, native transferred to North Carolina Pembroke, a Division II school. The Braves had had two players in the previous 10 years drafted, and Stinnett hoped he could join the list.

But in 2017, his senior season, Stinnett went 5-5 with a 6.75 ERA. He went undrafted.

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“I knew going in that was the type of program I could move up from,” Stinnett said. “But at the end of the day, my numbers weren’t there. It wasn’t a complete shock, but I was hoping maybe in the later rounds I could go.”

The pitcher wasn’t ready to give up on his dream, though. With a deep love for the game still in him, he signed with the Santa Fe Fuego of the Pecos League, starting a two-year journey thorough independent baseball.

“It was definitely a long, bumpy road,” Stinnett said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get discouraged now and then. But I always went back to talking with my dad. My dad (Jimmy) was there, he played in the Yankees and Pirates organizations, so he knew what it takes to get there. I knew that I could make it, I just didn’t give up. All the experiences, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

He started the 2018 season playing for the Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League. The USPBL is different from other independent leagues in the fact that it features four teams and all games are played at the same stadium in Metro Detroit.

The format provided stability for Stinnett, and he thrived.

“It’s amazing, knowing where you’re going to be, knowing you have practice here at this time every week, and you’re going to play here against this team at this time every week, it’s awesome,” he said. “You get to know all the fans at the stadium and you get to settle into a groove. That helps your whole baseball game."

After a shaky start to the season, Stinnett went on the disabled list in June, starting the season with a 11.05 ERA. He was out for nearly a month, but once he got back things started clicking. His first five appearances, he didn’t allow a run. By August, he had brought his ERA down to 2.97.

That caught the attention of the Rockies.

On August 15, 2018, all the trials Stinnett had gone through resulted in a contract inside a farm system.

“It’s something you obviously appreciate and have a lot of respect for,” Boise Hawks manager Steve Soliz said about Stinnett’s journey. “Like I tell everybody, in order to play this game, you can’t like it, you have to love it. You play it every day, there’s a lot of ups and a lot of downs. So when you see a guy whose road wasn’t drafted in the first round, he may have taken a longer road and he’s able to stick with it and continue to love the game — because this game will beat you up a little bit — it’s something you respect and somebody you definitely root for.”

He made a short stop in Boise after getting signed, undergoing tests for the Rockies before being assigned to Grand Junction. But while he was in town, he started imagining what it would be like to get called up and play at Memorial Stadium.

“This field feels like home, it’s got a very homey feel to it,” he said. “I’m ready to get going, I’m ready for the fans to fill this place out and get a little adrenaline back into us.”

John Wustrow is the assistant sports editor of the Idaho Press. He is a Michigan native and a graduate of Indiana University.

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