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Where Are They Now? Joey Devine

Joey Devine’s golden right arm carried him through parts of five seasons in the big leagues only to see his career short-circuited by a pair of Tommy John surgeries.

His career in baseball almost never got off the ground.

He was largely overlooked by college recruiters and amateur scouts as a pitcher at Junction City (Kan.) High. Upon graduation in May 2002, Devine received no notice from scouts that he might be drafted. He made unofficial and official visits to six colleges but drew little interest and no scholarship offers.

Then came a call from Billy Jones, the recruiting coordinator at North Carolina State.

“Are you committed anywhere?” Jones asked.

“No, I haven’t heard from anybody in a long time,” Devine responded.

Devine was playing in the summer college Jayhawk League, and Jones arranged a trip to see the 18-year-old pitch for Salina. Devine played third base in the first game of a doubleheader but was unable to pitch when the nightcap was postponed.

So Jones followed Devine back to Junction City, where Devine’s high school coach Bob Strahley was waiting to arrange a makeshift tryout. When Strahley was unable to turn on the lights at the high school field, the tryout was moved to North Park, a Little League field with no mound. Devine’s older brother Matt donned catcher’s equipment.

Devine threw 14 pitches.

The foursome then headed to a 24-hour Denny’s restaurant, where Jones offered Devine a scholarship.

“If it wasn’t for Billy Jones . . . ,” Devine has said often over the years.

If not for Billy Jones, Devine never would have been a three-time, first team All-Atlantic Coast Conference performer. By June 2005, every major league team knew of Devine, the sidearm reliever who pitched in the mid-90s. Taken 27th overall by the Braves in 2005, he signed for $1.3 million.

Two months later, Devine was in the big leagues.

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“It was fast. It was extremely fast,” Devine said. “Physically, I think I was ready for it, but mentally I was not.”

On his rapid climb to Atlanta, Devine pitched in four games for high Class A Myrtle Beach and 18 games for Double-A Mississippi. Then came the callup to the Braves, where Devine became the only pitcher to ever give up grand slams in his first two appearances. He also allowed a game-winning home run to the Astros’ Chris Burke in the 18th inning of the National League Division Series clincher.

Undeterred, Devine produced a career season with the Athletics in 2008, when his fastball touched 100 mph for the first time. He recorded with a 0.59 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 45.2 innings.

“It was one of those years where everything went right,” Devine said. “I felt like I was starting to really understand the big leagues and understand myself and what it takes to be successful at that level.”

Two Tommy John surgeries later and Devine was out of baseball. He first worked for Rep1 Sports agency, then returned to school and earned a degree in May from N.C. State, where he was a graduate assistant coach.

Devine, who is married with three young children, would like to continue coaching, but has a fallback plan of working in real estate.

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