At around 7:00 AM this morning, I took a seat at my desk and began to make the final preparations of my notes for the phone call to take place in just over an hour. “Actually,” I thought to myself. “I think I’ll go grab a glass of tea from the kitchen. I’ve been ready for this interview since it was scheduled yesterday.”
The interview was set for 8:15 AM. On the other end of the phone? The 41st overall selection in the 2012 Major League Draft, Lance McCullers Jr.
No sweat. I’ve got plenty of time.
My plan was to sound professional. After all, this was a potential future star! I had my questions typed and prepared to ask, my cell phone and computer fully charged, and I was walking back to my room to fire everything up and wait for the call.
Halfway down the hall I could hear my phone ringing. I assumed it was someone from Climbing Tal’s Hill calling to throw in a last minute piece of advice for the interview. The phone call was coming from Florida.
I had forgotten about the time zone difference. McCullers was calling promptly at the scheduled time of 8:15. From my end of the phone, 7:15.
As I heard “Hey it’s Lance” from the other side of the phone, I hurried to start up the computer and arrange my notes. My goal to sound professional was already failing and as the computer booted up at speed comparable to frozen molasses I was beginning to panic.
Before the questions started we began to talk about his upcoming tee time that morning, and I casually let out a line of “dude, I am terrible at golf.”
Lance laughed before saying “I can’t always get the ball to go straight either.”
Once he said that, the panic went away. Accepting the interview was quite gracious of Lance, but in its simplest form I realized this was just a couple of kids talking about baseball. Lance turns 19 in less than a month, I won’t turn 20 until February. With that thought, we began the interview.
Most players are dedicated, but none actually live on the diamond. I wanted to know what McCullers life was like from the other side of the foul lines.
“Off the field, I’m just like everybody else,” McCullers said. “I like fishing and hanging out with friends. I love basketball and spending time with my family. Where I went to school (Jesuit High School) was a good opportunity to be introduced to a lot of charity work and to help people in the community. I’m not a real high maintenance guy, I’m just here to have fun and play baseball. I’ve made a lot of life long friends by playing baseball.”
The 6’1″ righty from Tampa, Florida has been on the radar of major league scouts since he was a freshman in high school. After seeing the “hard work and the late hours pan out” when his name was called on draft night, McCullers was very excited.
“When I got drafted I didn’t know I was going to sign, but I was really hoping I was so I could get my baseball career started. If the new CBA wasn’t in place I think I could possibly still be negotiating which is crazy to me because I’ve already had pro starts,” said McCullers. “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else this summer. I love playing baseball and love playing for the Houston Astros. It’s a great organization full of great people. I’m excited about being drafted and about playing.”
Lance has compiled a 1.42 ERA in 19 professional innings of work. He is currently with the Greeneville Astros but is on the right track to continue moving up through the system in the coming years.
Ever since McCullers was little, Lance’s family has pushed him to be the best he could be. “My parents, brothers, and definitely my grandfather. Those people have always been there to support me and have always been by my side.”
McCullers’ dad also played professionally. Lance Sr. was drafted 41st overall, just like Lance, by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1982.
“My dad has been everything in my baseball career. He introduced me to baseball but never forced it upon me or my two younger brothers. He is a role model and a mentor and is someone I have always looked up to. Having a father that played major league baseball is unbelievable. The insight he can give me both mentally and physically is a tremendous advantage. He has been there for me through the ups and downs of my baseball career and I know he will always be there. Without him, I probably wouldn’t have been drafted 41st overall by the Houston Astros and I’m very grateful God has given me a a family that is as great as mine.”
McCullers attended an all boys catholic high school. He learned to recognize God and recognize the huge role that he plays in Lance’s life. “In the off-season I attend church pretty much every Sunday with my girlfriend and her family. It’s something I like to do. I ask God for strength and guidance,” said McCullers. “God is somebody I can talk to about anything and somebody that’s always going to be there to speak my mind to. A lot of people can question this and that, but if you take the time of day to notice things God is present all around.”
Five years from now, McCullers hopes to still be in an Astros jersey and playing in Minute Maid Park “with a boatload of talented young players and hopefully making a push for the playoffs or the World Series.”
“I truly believe in the amount of young talent in this organization as well as the talented guys in the big leagues who could be around for a long time. There’s a lot of guys in the minor leagues that are going to come up and hopefully be studs in the big leagues. I hope to be a part of that and play my role. I want to be an Astro for as long as I can play and continue to move up the ladder of the minor leagues. If I can stay focused, I’m sure my time will come.”
“Justin had connections with our athletic director at the high school and came to talk to us. It was a cool experience and nice of him to come and do that.”
Recalling meeting Maxwell again as members of the same organization, McCullers said “it was funny. They put me next to him in locker room at Minute Maid and he said I looked familiar. We discussed him coming to my high school and that was kind of the ice breaker. I follow him on Twitter and he seems to be doing really well. He’s my favorite Astro.”
As for Rivera, Lance loves the way he goes about himself as well as the game of baseball.
Finally, McCullers and I discussed the fans.
“Guys like myself, Rio Ruiz and Brett Phillips and a lot of others with the Astros do the best we can to respond to the fans. We were younger and would message athletes. Sometimes we would get an answer back and sometimes we wouldn’t. It felt good when I would talk to someone and they would respond to me. If someone takes the time to talk to me, I can take the time to talk back to them. Sometimes I have long conversations with fans, I just want them to see I’m a regular guy who happens to play baseball. Hopefully one day I’ll be playing at Minute Maid Park and they can come out and watch me play and I’ll still be talking to fans then. I don’t have a huge ego or anything like that. I’m here to play baseball and get better as well as show the fans that athletes are people too.”
Lance McCullers has also agreed to join myself, Brian Hamilton, and Alex Sandoval as a special guest on The Nosebleed Section Podcast. Follow @BrandonWheeland for updates on when the podcast will take place. You can follow Lance McCullers on Twitter @LMcCullers_23.