Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Getting to Know Astros/Tri-City LHP Steve Naemark

As each Astros draft pick was announced this past month, I promptly did a search to find the player on twitter. Not finding a twitter account for 40th round pick Steve Naemark, I googled him and found this story. Soon the word spread of Naemark's story and he rapidly became that guy who everybody roots for just a little bit harder.

Steve Naemark - July 2015
Photo Courtesy of Rob Witt

I spoke with Naemark last week by phone after his quick promotion from Greeneville to Tri-City.

Naemark was kind enough to bear with me and re-tell his story, "I wasn't really a pro prospect out of high school. I signed a letter of intent to Central Arizona College and the head coach that I signed with and the pitching coach ended up getting new jobs at a 4-year school. So they took the new jobs about two weeks before I was supposed to report. And the new head coach who had been hired called me and let me know that he wasn't interested in me. I felt like it was going to be a waste of time if I wasn't going to be playing."

Walking on for another team was a consideration at this point, but Naemark was loathe to take out loans or place any financial hardship on his family. So he went to work, taking a series of dead end jobs in fast food and at a call center while taking a few classes. But it was difficult to juggle classes with a full time work schedule and he eventually dropped out. That's when things got bleak for Naemark, a college dropout working at McDonald's with no way to break out of the rut.

Did he regret not handling things differently? Naemark said, "I look back and part of you tells you that everything happens for a reason and it makes me appreciate being where I am a whole lot more because of everything I went through. When I was in college, I knew that I was one of the oldest people and I was told that it was going to affect my draftability. There's a lot of regrets about not just sticking with it, pursuing it and maybe taking out those loans regardless and just taking a chance. But on the other hand, it was nice to be able to work and make it a little easier on my family."

Naemark continued, "When I'd be sitting there working my full shifts at McDonald's, the eight hour shifts, five days a week, I was actually stuck in a rut. I wanted to get back to school and I couldn't afford it. I didn't have any help and I looked back at baseball and I said, 'Man, that was my ticket and I blew it.' So there was definitely a sense of regret, especially when I wasn't playing at all."

But while working at McDonald's, a chance encounter gave Naemark the spark he needed. "An old high school friend came through the drive-through. (We) played on the high school team together and he actually got his chance to play professionally with the Pirates. When he came through the drive-through, it just lit a fire again. I (thought), 'I really want to play. I miss the game a lot.'"

Naemark then decided to pull together a little money and join a summer league just for fun. Naemark explained, "I didn't really do anything for enjoyment at that time of my life. I was still trying to figure out what would make me happy. But I knew that baseball was always something that made me happy."

Naemark joined a summer league in Tucson. Of that time he said, "I got lucky to have a good coach who actually let me pitch. I was just out there having fun and pitching again. It was about four games before the season ended and the head coach at Cochise College saw me and offered me a full ride to go to school again. It was all in one night that everything changed."

Of his college experience, Naemark said, "It was just really nice being around people of that caliber again, people with goals, people who were driven (and) had a really good work ethic. It was kind of refreshing is the best way that I could describe it."

Naemark continued, "I didn't really go into it expecting to do as well as I did. I knew I was going to give it 100% and really dedicate myself to it this time. I wasn't going to let myself have the same regrets when I left the game again this time."

But Naemark did extremely well, helping to lead Cochise to the JUCO World Series in each of his two seasons there prior to moving to Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas. He continued to thrive at ASU, accumulating a long list of honors. In his season there, he was 11-1 with two saves, a 1.37 ERA, and a 0.928 WHIP. He walked 23 while striking out 135 in 125 innings of work.

It wasn't until his junior year that Naemark became aware that he was drawing draft interest from a few teams. "I got my first questionnaire from the Mets and after that, they just started pouring in. I probably got interest from a total of seven teams or so. A lot of them didn't really pursue me," said Naemark. And, although he had filled out a questionnaire for the Astros, he didn't hear from them again until he received an invitation to a pre-draft workout. That's when he knew that pursuing a professional career in baseball could turn out to be a reality for him.

Naemark was, however, getting a little nervous by the time his name was finally called in the 40th round. The Astros called him around the 32nd round to gauge his interest, but they didn't tell him what round they were looking at. "I sat there with my fingers crossed and as the 39th round was passing, I was just kind of staring at my phone hoping that it would ring and really just praying that I'd get my shot. And then the 40th round comes along and I saw that (the Astros) pick was coming up. I saw my name pop up on the screen and then they called me after and asked me if that was alright. I said, 'Yep. I'd love to sign and it's just been rolling from there.'"

Since signing with the Astros, it has been a whirlwind ride for Naemark. After only two outings with the Rookie League Greeneville Astros, Naemark found himself on a plane headed to join the Short Season A Tri-City ValleyCats. He's off to a good start with a 1.12 ERA and a 0.750 WHIP in his five outings. The biggest surprise to him so far has been the quality of the ballparks he's played in. "The ballparks are amazing. I've never played at ballparks this beautiful or anything like that. The skill level is top notch," said Naemark.

Naemark, a southpaw, throws a fastball, cut fastball, changeup and a curveball with a 3/4 over the top delivery. His fastball normally clocks in at around 88 to 91, but his velocity is down a little as he makes the adjustment from starter to reliever. His curveball has good movement, but he relies more on speed changes than movement to throw hitters off balance.

Naemark considers himself to be a mental pitcher. "I don't go out there and just try to overpower people with my stuff so much as I try to throw what they're not expecting or throw to their weaknesses. I really like getting to watch a couple outings from other pitchers and see what a team is good and not good at hitting and work off of that. I think my biggest strength is that I can throw all four pitches for strikes in any part of the zone. You've got to pitch to your strengths and that's what I plan to continue doing ... lots of offspeed and fastballs when the hitter's not expecting it."

He continued, "I think a big part of my development lies in the weight room and getting physically stronger and increasing my base velocity that way." His goal is to increase the velocity of every pitch while still maintaining good speed changes.

Naturally, I wanted to find out a little more about Naemark off the field as well. It turns out that he has a hidden skill that most people might not know about. He told me, "I love to play the drums and I'm actually pretty darn good at it. That was one of the few things I did when I was working all those jobs. I bought a drum set out of high school and I played it until I had to go to Angelo State. I sold it off because I knew I couldn't bring it to Texas. I plan on buying another one as soon as possible, though."

Naemark was a business management major in college and once his baseball career is over, he will likely finish his degree and pursue a job in human resources. "I got a bit of an interest in human resources management. I think that's a good universal skill to have across a lot of businesses. I took a class in that and it actually sparked my interest which I didn't expect to happen," said Naemark. His final words on the subject resonated, particularly considering his past. "That would be my first choice, but I've learned not to really make hard set plans because whatever life has in store for you will happen. It tends to surprise you."

Steve Naemark was 25 years, three months and one day old when he appeared in his first professional game on June 24th. He didn't have a twitter account when he was first drafted, but he soon remedied that. Appropriately enough, the pitcher who was over 4 years older than his average counterpart at Greeneville and is three and a half years older than his average Tri-City teammate went with the twitter handle @GrandpaSteve1.

Thank you for your time, Steve, and the best of luck as the season continues. You will have a lot of fans rooting for you.


You can find more on virtually every player in the Astros minor league system in the UPDATED 2015 Houston Farm System Handbook (now at a new low price!) available on Amazon for download to your kindle, iPad, laptop, desktop or smart phone.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome story and a great inspiration! Rooting for you Steve!