CARY, N.C. – With the draft quickly approaching, there are a plethora of factors that each young high school prospect has to take into consideration when trying to decide between going to college or entering the professional realm.
Cody Bellinger, this year’s top player from Hamilton High in Chandler Ariz., has made a commitment to the University of Oregon, but grows increasingly excited as draft day draws nearer.
“I’m excited for whatever comes,” Bellinger said. “Obviously it’s been my dream my whole life to be a major leaguer and to start as young as I could, that would be great. But whatever happens, happens.”
But what happens to the perspective of a player whose father was drafted in the second round and then didn’t make his debut for an entire decade, not achieving his big league dreams until the ripe old age of 30?
That’s where Cody’s head is at, filled with the stories and experiences that his father, Clay, had. The elder Bellinger was drafted 44th overall by the San Francisco Giants in 1989 but did not reach the major leagues until he joined the New York Yankees in 1999.
“As long as you’ve got a jersey on your back and somebody hopefully eventually is going to like you, that’s what happened for me,” Clay said. “It took a long time, ten years, and finally I found somebody who liked the way I play. It’s a great experience getting there.
“The first day in the big leagues, it made all 10 years worth it. As long as you’re playing, as long as you think you can still play, as long as you love the game, keep going. Keep playing and hopefully somebody will give you a shot.”
Cody is hoping for his shot sooner than later, but then again, so was his father. Clay’s path could potentially play a factor come draft time when his son is deciding between the college experience and the pro game, but Cody will have the added advantage of knowing exactly what his father went through and where things might have been different.
“I’ve honestly learned everything from him,” Cody said. “He’s taught me everything, all the little tricks to do, to get you mentally prepared; physically prepared. Everything he’s taught me I’ve taken advantage [of]. It’s been helpful.”
What wisdom has his dad tried to impart on him?
“It’s a grind,” Clay said. “That’s what we try to tell these kids. Literally in the minor leagues you’re playing 28 out of 30 days; you’re lucky to get a day off. It’s helping you stay mentally prepared. Road blocks are guys in front of you, guys who they like more behind you in Double-A, they call them up.
“My thing is, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. You never know who’s watching. You’ve literally got to go out and play all nine innings – all seven innings in high school – four at-bats, make every ground ball like it’s your last one.
“There are tons of obstacles out there, whether it’s on the field, off the field, who you’re hanging out with, your beliefs as a player and as a person; all the good stuff will work itself out.”
Despite the difficulties that he endured, Clay is confident that pro ball will work out for his son, at one time or another. And no matter what his father has gone through, Cody’s path is his own.
“It’s really going to come down to him,” Cody’s father said. “And somebody gives him the opportunity, if he’s ready to go, which I think he is, I think he’ll do just fine. He’s been a baseball rat all his life.
“It’ll be a different bird obviously, playing every single day, playing against guys who are older and stronger and throw harder, but you’ve got to learn to adapt from one at-bat to another. I’m looking forward to it, if it’s June or if it’s three years from now, I think he’ll be ready either way.”
With the draft still a couple of months away, Cody is looking forward to finishing up his high school career and fulfilling is college commitment.
“I’m really excited,” Cody said of being a Duck. “I’ve always wanted to go to a D-I school and I got the opportunity to go up there and they offered me and I committed right away.”
The infielder/outfielder/lefthander will continue to gain the attention of scouts for the rest of his season with the Huskies. He’s done a good job of that at this year’s National High School Invitational. Known for his bat and defensive prowess, he showed an impressive arm in a four-hit complete-game shutout, racking up 10 strikeouts along the way.
“We don’t expect a 10-strikeout shutout [every time] but we expect him to do a very good job, which he did today,” Hamilton coach Mike Woods said after Thursday’s game. “He’s taken the ball three times possibly as a starter this year and [he’s done a] super job. Like I said, we don’t expect shutouts but we expect him to pitch as well as he did.”
The expectations are high no matter what position Cody takes on the field, but the most exciting place to watch him remains in the batter’s box.
“Cody’s a hitter,” Woods said. “He can really hit. He pitches on the side. He’s a complete ballplayer. He’s a competitor and the team needed him today and he stepped up.”
As one of the coaches for the Huskies, Clay Bellinger is looking forward to see what more his son can do to help his high school team in his swan song at Hamilton.
“His No. 1 priority is to help Hamilton win a state championship,” Clay said. “After that, he said it’s been his lifelong dream [whether] it starts in June or if it starts three years from now. I just want him to go out and play well, have fun; enjoy his last couple months.”
At least for now, Cody shares the feelings of his father.
“Honestly right now, I don’t know for sure 100 per cent,” Cody said of his pending decision. “I’m trying to focus on high school right now and have fun in high school in my senior year. So I’m just having fun right now and hopefully win a state championship.”