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‘Bear’-ing Down with Birdball’s Jacob Stevens

Through three starts, the right-hander is holding opponents to a .194 batting average.

Image courtesy of BCEagles.com
BCEagles.com

The way Jacob Stevens speaks is very much the way he pitches. One can tell that after speaking with him for only a few minutes by phone. His words are well thought out, and each is spoken deliberately. There is no wasted time or energy, no “uh’s” or “um’s”, and there are absolutely no false pretenses. He knows what he wants to say, and he says it. Such is the way he attacks hitters every Friday for the Boston College baseball team.

The 6’3 right hander from Darien, Connecticut arrived at Boston College last fall after a postgraduate year at prestigious Choate Rosemary Hall, ready to begin his career in the Maroon and Gold. It didn’t take long for the big righty to make an impression on his teammates and coaches, as he quickly earned a spot in the Eagles weekend rotation as a freshman. Having a freshman hold one of the spots in the rotation for an ACC team is rare; having that freshman then turn in a dominant season is something that turns heads. And that’s exactly what ‘Bear,’ as he is known to his teammates, did in 2016.

Last season saw the true freshman start 14 games for the Eagles, compiling a 2-2 record with a 2.54 ERA in 74.1 innings pitched. Stevens struck out 70 batters while only issuing 33 walks through the course of the season and let up a measly 21 earned runs on the year. For his efforts, Stevens was named to the Freshman All-America Second Team by D1Baseball and Baseball America, ACC All-Freshman Team, and was named the NEIBA Rookie of the Year. So how exactly did that happen? According to him, it all starts in the offseason.

“We [the BC pitching staff] do a really good job of working hard in the offseason, the fall, and in the bubble so we can start the season off hot,” he said. “For pitchers, a huge key is preparation. Getting your work in during the offseason really translates into success during the year.”

And, by all accounts, no one works harder than Stevens. Whether it’s watching film of opposing hitters or working on his mechanics during practice, Stevens is always looking to improve and gain an edge. Through in his first two seasons on the Heights, he’s had two different pitching coaches: Jim Foster, now the head coach at Army, and Alex Trezza. While some would find having that kind of turnover so quickly to be confusing and hectic, the mature Stevens has found a way to find the similarities in both men’s philosophies, and apply them to his game.

“When you really get down to it, what both are trying to teach is competitiveness and the importance of throwing strikes,” Stevens said. “I’ve tried to remain as openminded as possible and keep the mindset that I’m always learning. After that, the focus is just on executing my pitches.”

Aside from the guidance of both Foster and Trezza, Stevens credits a former Eagle with helping him acclimate to the college game as quickly as he did.

“Mike King really took me under his wing last year,” said Stevens. “He really helped me understand that the college season is a grind, and being able to watch him work every day really helped to show me what it was all about. He was a guy that could throw a complete game every time he went out, and I wanted to mirror that.”

Stevens also pointed out that the members of Boston College pitching staff relish working together and helping one another. Whether it’s ideas regarding mechanics or talking about how to handle an opposing lineup, the BC pitching staff, according to Stevens, is always looking out for one another.

Through three starts this season, Bear is up to his old tricks. He’s sporting a 1-0 record with a 1.37 ERA and 19 strikeouts. Opposing batters are hitting a paltry .194 against the right hander, and in Friday’s game versus Central Michigan, he finally had his innings without an earned run streak snapped at 19.2. To hear him tell it, it’s no big deal; just doing his job. However, if you listen to his coaches and teammates, his success is a big deal, and is the direct result of the work he puts in daily. That work isn’t limited to the mound, either. Both head coach Mike Gambino and pitching coach Alex Trezza have openly lauded the shape into which Stevens has gotten himself prior to the 2017 campaign.

“It really was something I knew I needed to do,” said Stevens of his dietary changes during the offseason. “At the end of last year, I could tell I lost some zip on my fastball, and just felt like I wasn’t in the best shape. So, this year I decided to become healthier; no more desserts or fried foods. I limited my portion sizes. It was definitely challenging, but I can already see some of the benefits, especially in recovery time after I throw.”

Whether it’s his new diet, the work he puts in every day, or a combination of the two, whatever it is he is doing, it’s working. And while he knows that he’ll only get to pitch once a week for the Eagles, Stevens is confident that his team can win consistently and get back to the postseason.

“If you look at our season so far, all our losses have been by a single run,” Stevens said. “And in those games, we had opportunities to either push the tying run across or bust the game wide open, and for whatever reason, we didn’t. Maybe a hit didn’t fall in, or we left someone on base, but we’re right there. We’re really close.”

Jacob Stevens has no doubt the Eagles will win some ballgames this season. It’s just a matter of time, according to him, until they hit their stride and go on a tear. With him on the mound every Friday night, that tear could begin on any given week. While Stevens’ future likely includes playing professional baseball, right now, he is focused on the 2017 season and getting Boston College back to where he knows they belong. And, no matter what this season throws at him, you can bet he’s done his homework and will be prepared.