Jack Cleary Joins 'From Phenom To The Farm:' Episode 41
“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.
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Jack Cleary finished his career at Maryland as a four-year starter behind the plate, catching in big ACC games for a program on the rise. Following his stint in College Park, Cleary played two years in the Brewers organization before wrapping up his professional career with a season catching for the Joliet Slammers—a year in which he was a Frontier League All-Star.
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One thing Clearly never lacked during his playing days was faith in himself, but as a junior in high school who couldn’t crack the starting lineup, a starting gig at an ACC school and ensuing professional career seemed a little far out of reach.
“I grew up with a lot of good baseball players in the area, and always knew I could play with those guys and had the goals of doing it,” said Cleary. “I had that vision in my head of where I wanted to go, but it wasn’t looking good there for awhile.”
If Cleary had even an ounce of quit in him, he probably wouldn’t have even reached campus at Maryland. Moments that might’ve made others give up instead spurred Cleary to his eventual success. He got cut by both his longtime travel team and his school’s junior varsity team while in middle school, and even after finding his way to the varsity squad as a junior, he rode the bench while watching his team at James River High in Midlothian, Virginia secure the 2007 State Championship.
As a senior, Cleary finally got the chance to break out, starting on James River’s repeat title team and showing enough to earn a spot as a walk-on at Maryland the summer after his senior year. If anyone could be comfortable in the underdog role that comes with being the last addition to a recruiting class with no scholarship, it’s Cleary.
“I’m just glad I got in the door,” said Cleary. “There’s always that little bit of self-doubt because you weren’t a big-time recruit, but I learned pretty quick that I could hang.”
He redshirted during his first year at Maryland, but was able to carve out enough of a niche as the bullpen catcher to travel with the team. Returning for his second year on campus, Cleary had a new coaching staff to impress, including head coach Erik Bakich.
“That guy honestly changed my life. I definitely bought in,” said Cleary. “He came in and I just clicked with his energy. He was just all about doing things the right way, and the little things.”
Under Bakich’s tutelage, Cleary thrived. He started 54 games as a redshirt freshman and was a steady contributor throughout his time on campus before being snagged by the Brewers as their 39th round pick. After two seasons that involved very few at-bats, Cleary was released, but the one-time walk-on wasn’t giving up on baseball.
“I knew at that point I was motivated to get back and play—I was going to play somewhere, one more year,” said Cleary.
He caught on with Joliet and rode out what would eventually be his last season as the team’s starting catcher—a long way removed from struggling to make his high school starting nine.
On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm’ former Maryland and Brewers catcher Jack Cleary joins to discuss his underdog journey through baseball, the number of bullpens a redshirt freshman catches, and playing for current Michigan skipper Erik Bakich.