In front of an empty Oakland Coliseum in July, after nine seasons in the minor leagues since age 18, Jordan Weems ran to the mound in the top of the fifth to make his MLB debut.
The Weems family has experienced three different draft days, but Jordan’s MLB debut was their first. Being a catcher runs in the family, but pitching is what ended up bringing Weems, 27, to the big leagues.
Weems was recalled by the A’s Monday from Sacramento after a stint on the 10-day injured list for a strained back after two relief appearances. His return to the majors marks the latest chapter of an extended journey.
Jordan grew up in baseball. His father Rick and older brother Chase were drafted out of their hometown Columbus, Georgia as catchers. Rick, a 15th rounder to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1980, and Chase, a sixth-round pick of the New York Yankees in 2007.
Then ironically, just four years later, Jordan would be drafted by the rival Boston Red Sox in the third round.
After two seasons in the minors, Rick Weems put baseball aside to start a family when his wife, Lisa, was pregnant with Jordan’s older sister, Whitney Edwards, 35.
Even though both of Rick’s sons were drafted as catchers, the two were never forced to play catcher growing up. They naturally gravitated to the position and always wanted to be leaders behind the plate, “the captain of the game.”
Jordan struggled offensively after two seasons in Double-A with Boston, so the Red Sox had him strictly focus on hitting which put a lot of pressure on him, he said:
“When they did that, I kinda saw the writing on the walls and thought, alright, I kinda have to do something offensively here or they are gonna move me or release me. So I put a lot of pressure on myself that I shouldn’t have and to say the least, I didn’t hit very well.”
About a month into the 2016 Double-A season, Weems was called in to talk with Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett, who offered the possibility of making Weems a pitcher. Luckily for the A’s, and Weems, Crockett’s gamble paid off. After five seasons in the minors as a catcher, the Red Sox get full credit for turning him into a pitcher, Weems said:
“That was kinda the crossroad, the turning point where I was like, do I take this leap of faith and say I think I can pitch? I haven’t pitched since travel ball when I was 15 years old or 14 years old … Kinda just going with my gut feeling and trying to see what I can do and prove it to myself.”
He put his faith in the Red Sox, who had never led him down the wrong path, and took the opportunity. Weems mentioned three times in his interview how thankful he is for the Red Sox organization for giving him multiple opportunities.
It is no secret that having an ex-catcher on the mound is a weapon. Weems broke down what the advantages are being on the mound after spending majority of his life behind the plate:
“Just to simplify things and not over analyze things as a pitcher. Sometimes your on the mount, the moment can kind of get to you. You try to trick a hitter, you know you wanna do something different. What has been working, cause you think the hitter is gunna figure you out. Just being a catcher, reading swings, plays, what kinda works, that simplifies things on the mound, that catcher mentality.”
When he transitioned to become a pitcher, it was like starting all over again in the minors. Weems worked his way through the Red Sox system before multiple teams became interested in him. He was granted free agency three days before his birthday, Nov. 7, 2019 and signed with the A’s a month later.
Weems explained his start in the minor leagues:
“I might have had 20 AB’s and the following year, I went to full-season A-ball in Greenville, South Carolina. So I never really experienced short seasoned A-ball or Rookie ball to the fullest and I was fortunate enough not to have to do that cause those are some tough times. They are just different then full-season A-ball.”
He injured his oblique during the transition from catcher to pitcher but the longest time he had spent on an injured list was in 2014 for a thumb injury. Throughout the injuries and position change he never gave up on the dream:
“No, I never really thought about giving up. I just knew I was kinda making the road more difficult for me but I was always set out to prove people wrong and know that I belong. Just the consistency really didn’t work, you know my hitting when I was a catcher. It never really came around for me. So I was fortunate and I thank the Red Sox for the opportunity on the mound to go out there and prove people that I am an athlete and I can do it. I can get to the biggest stage of baseball there is and Im still trying to learn as much as I can.”
Weems explained how and why he chose the A’s:
“The Athletics were really the first team to reach out to me. I think it was the Athletics, the Astros, the Dodgers and I think the day that I signed, the Royals reached out to me. … From day one the Athletics were making it known they really wanted me and they were out to get me. I liked that a lot and I talked it over with my agent and we just kinda agreed that knowing the Athletics have a great bullpen, we still felt it was a great fit for me.”
He decided to sign early because he didn’t want to let it linger:
“I wanted to get it done, know where I was going so I could get back to working out and just get to setting in and know exactly where I was going for [Spring Training] and we did that. I am thankful for making that decision because I feel like it was a good one.”
He immediately called his mom. He laughed and made it known that this change was a big deal to the family after spending so many years with one team. It was a big step to go somewhere else, but Weems made one of the biggest decisions of his life and it quickly got him into the bigs:
“But I just left like it was weighing on me that I needed to do that and I felt like my opportunities with the Red Sox, they gave me a lot of opportunities but I just felt like I believed in myself and I felt like I deserved more opportunities at a higher level. I felt like I was going to take that leap and I signed with the Oakland A’s and I was glad I did.”
Weems was the last reliever to make a 2020 debut. He knew going into the season the A’s have a strong bullpen and that his time would come. He walked me through the lead-up to his first debut appearance:
“The first series, was with Anaheim and like I said, we have a great bullpen and so I knew my time would come, just had to be patient and wait for my opportunity. It finally came the next series against the Rockies. … I felt like I had a great opportunity to pitch that night so I was ready, just staying ready. When they called my name down, I started getting ready like normal. I ran out there and it really didn’t set in until my last warm up pitch.”
He said he gave himself a pep talk before he ran out to the mound for the first time in the majors:
“I came set, deep breath between throwing the pitch. ‘Well, here it is… This is it. This is what you have been working for.’ So I kinda just took a deep breath and stepped on the back of the mound. Took another deep breath and just kinda said it again, you know, ‘this is everything you have worked for so go out there and enjoy it.’ Then I kinda went into competitor mode, wanted to compete.”
Weems has appeared in two games this season and pitched a total of five innings with a 3.60 ERA. After giving up two runs, after he struck out Trevor Story. Liam Hendricks collected the baseballs for him, his first ever strike and his first ever strikeout.
Oakland A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson said he was impressed with Weems:
“We are excited to have him. He has a really good fastball. We’ve gotten a couple things with his split finger and his slider, I think for the better. I think his debut was awesome. He gave up two early, we teased him a little bit … I think Chappy and him ran into each other and the inning kinda got away and gave up two but I think he has really good stuff. For a guy who doesn’t have much high level pitching experience I thought he did a heck of a job. To go three innings, he saved the bullpen that day.”
“I was coming into the game and my goal is go right at those guys and give the team some length so to go start off with a K, that’s kinda awesome. When it all happened you don’t think about it in that moment but now that the games over, it is kinda cool. I struck out Trevor Story on my first batter in the MLB.”
Without any fans, noise or even his family in the audience, it was emotional for him after the game when asked about his family:
“To say it was everything that I dreamed of would be not the correct words I guess, just cause, you know when you are little and dreaming of being in the big leagues, just going into that moment with everybody screaming and loud noise but it was exciting.”
Weems may have to wait until 2021 before he knows the true feeling of what it is like to pitch in front of a screaming crowd with thousands of fans. 2020 is a season like no other and his family not being there would be hard on anyone. Weems said, holding back tears:
“It’s bitter sweet. I told my family I was going to be a big leaguer and they wont be able to see it for the first time. It’s sad cause its something you work for, it wouldn’t be possible without my mom and dad. Kinda getting emotional talking about it, I know they would have done anything to be here. It just feels good.”