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Season of adjustment continues for Locke

Kennett grad riding ups and downs of first full season of AA baseball

JEFF LOCKE chats with family and friends prior to Thursday’s game against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in Manchester. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
June 27, 2011
MANCHESTER — In what has been a season of adjustments for Kennett grad Jeff Locke, it was only fitting that his first return trip to New Hampshire in his capacity as a professional baseball player would feature a lot of adjustments.

Locke's team, the Altoona Curve, the AA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, arrived in New Hampshire on Monday, June 20, and Locke was not expecting to pitch in the series, having just pitched in the team's previous series.

Then, word came down on Tuesday that the club had moved him up a day so he could pitch in front of his hometown fans in Manchester. He was slated to pitch Thursday night against the Fisher Cats.

Then, Mother Nature stepped in. Wednesday night's game was postponed and moved to a doubleheader on Thursday and Locke was taken off the starting list for that day.

However, even if he had been scheduled to still start the doubleheader's second game, fans would've been disappointed, as the game was rained out after the first game was completed.

"I wasn't supposed to pitch, but then it kind of fell in line," Locke said after Thursday's game, in which the Fisher Cats beat his Curve by a 2-0 score. "I wanted to, that's what I was geared up for."

Instead, he drew his sixth start of the season on Friday night against Harrisburg, after enduring an eight-hour bus ride from New Hampshire back to Pennsylvania.

"It would've been nice to see a new team, especially being from here," the lefty said. "It's kind of disappointing in a sense, but it's always been a game of adjustments.

"It's unfortunate, but it would've been a nice opportunity to pitch in front of your home state," he continued.

For Locke, his first full season at AA baseball has been a period of adjustment and he is becoming a bit more of a leader in the clubhouse, having more than 25 starts at the level under his belt.

"Last year I was kind of a pup, this year I'm a little more of a veteran or a leader," he said. "I'm not where I want to be right now, but I have to get myself there. I have to earn it, nobody's going to give it to you."

Locke entered the series in New Hampshire with a record of 5-6 on the season and an ERA of 4.65. His five wins had him tied for the team lead with Aaron Pribanic. He leads the team in starts with 14.

For Locke, it's not about how he has fared so far, but what he has to do going forward to get better.

"It doesn't matter what you do in the first half of the season," he said. "It's how you finish, not how you start. There's a lot of ups and downs."

The former Kennett star admitted that he's adjusting all the time and this year has been no different.

"Sometimes you have to take a few steps back," he said, but noted that he continues to work hard. He gets to the ballpark everyday by noon for 7 p.m. games. He has a set routine he likes to follow and hopes that he can give his team a chance every time he's on the hill.

"I go out there and compete and give myself and the ball club a chance to win," he said.

This year the southpaw has added a sinker to his repertoire of pitches and said he is working on building up his confidence in the pitch.

"You have to have confidence in it, you don't just try throwing one in a game," he said. "You work on it, you work on it and you work on it till you feel it's ready. If you don't believe in it, it's tough."

But, beyond the adjustments he's made, Locke says he is feeling good and that is the most important thing.

"The number one things is always health," he said. "It's been a tough start to the season, but I'm feeling good healthwise."

Locke also freely admits that he knows he's been given an amazing opportunity to do what he loves and he doesn't take that for granted.

"This opportunity I've been given won't last forever," he said. "I have to take advantage of every opportunity I get."

Being back in the Granite State was a nice change of pace for Locke, who last played at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium as a senior at Kennett when the Eagles dropped the state championship game to Con-Val in 2006. Locke didn't pitch in that game.

When the team arrived in New Hampshire on Monday, Locke took the chance to head north to visit family and sleep in his own bed at the home of his parents, Alan and Pam Locke, in Redstone. He stopped in at Horsefeathers in North Conway and was able to catch up with a few people before heading back to the park on Tuesday.

"What I like so much about doing what I do and being from where I'm from is not a lot of people do it," he said, noting that coming home can be a brief escape from the life of Minor League Baseball.

At the same time, if he's back in the Granite State, he doesn't have the ability to workout with many teammates, which means he often is only home for short periods of time in the offseason.

Locke also noted that he had been asked about Jordan Cote, the righthanded pitcher from Winnisquam High School who was drafted by the Yankees this year. While Locke and Cote have never met and Locke admits knowing little about his counterpart, he knows the comparisons will be drawn, given as they both went to small high schools and were drafted relatively high. And Locke offered a little advice.

"Work hard," he said. "There's a lot of things I'd take back and some things I'd do different, but you need to find ways to want to come to the park every day."

He noted that it feels good to win, but you can also learn when you don't win.

"I've learned a lot from failures," he said. "I've had to deal with failures and that's something I wasn't used to.

"High school was checkers, this is chess," he said, pointing out that once you reach professional baseball, you're looking at the players who were all the best on their team in high school.

Follow the ups and downs of Locke's team at www.altoonacurve.com to keep up with the Kennett graduate's progress throughout the season.

AJ Coleman
Varney Smith
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