Fulfilling dreams: Geoff Baldwin thriving in baseball after high school
It didn’t take very long for Geoff Baldwin to do in professional baseball what he’d done at Grand Junction High School.
Baldwin was the 10th round pick of the Kansas City Royals in June’s amateur baseball draft. After being drafted, the talented first baseman made the decision to forgo his opportunity to play at the University of Nebraska and join the Royals in late June.
In his first game with the Rookie League Arizona Royals, Baldwin displayed the power that made him so coveted out of high school, hitting a two-run home run in a Royals win.
“It was the coolest feeling in the world,” Baldwin said. “I’m sure I probably had my eyes closed, and didn’t know where I was swinging, but it was definitely cool.”
It was a pretty good start for an 18-year-old kid starting his first professional game only one month after his high school graduation.
But the next 55 games were filled with ups and downs, highs and lows, as Baldwin found out what it takes to be a pro baseball player.
Baldwin signed with the Royals on June 12, and by June 16, he was in Surprise, Ariz. participating in the final day of minicamp. Baldwin was given a No. 53 jersey and sent onto the practice field for six hours of baseball.
“I was absolutely lost when I got there,” Baldwin said. “I was the youngest kid, and I was trying to roll along with everyone and figure things out for myself. It took a while, and the first four or five days I was trying to figure out where to go, and just trying to get accustomed to a whole new lifestyle.”
While getting used to where to go and what to do, Baldwin had to figure out how to be a professional baseball player. After hitting a home run in his first game, Baldwin was brought back to reality the very next night. Facing the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rookie club, Baldwin went 0 for 5 with five strikeouts.
“I thought I was just legit because I hit a home run in my first game, and it was going to be like high school, where every game I was going to get three to five hits, and if you aren’t hitting .300 you are not doing something right,” Baldwin said.
“That was a big wake-up call for me. My agent called me after that game, and said it happens to the best and not to worry. That’s when I realized I have to buckle down and work hard.”
Through the first part of the season, Baldwin struggled to get the feel for professional pitching. Through the first 20 games, he was striking out more than once a game, and saw his average drop to .208. At this point, the doubts began to creep into Baldwin’s head before advice from another Royals prospect got him back on the right track.
“We always had rehabbers coming in and out, which was really helpful, and I was doing terrible at the time,” Baldwin said.
“I think it might have been Brian McFall who came in and he told me a story about his first year where he ended up hitting .190. He said he was thinking he should have gone to college, and it’s only natural to think those things because I was at the same place where I was like, ‘I should have gone to Nebraska.’ He told me it takes time to get adjusted to this, nobody’s coming in and going straight to the majors.”
The advice worked. On July 16, Baldwin went 3 for 4 with two home runs, a double and no strikeouts. By Aug. 1, Baldwin was hitting .317 and establishing himself as one of the top hitters in the Arizona League. Baldwin was ready for the final month of the season, and was hopeful he would end the year with his average well above .300.
But life isn’t always that easy. Early in August, Baldwin fouled a ball off of his shin and fractured the bone. A small but significant injury, Baldwin was determined to play through the pain.
“After that I was having a hard time walking, and was focusing too much on my injury,” Baldwin said. “I struggled the last two weeks and my average dropped a ton. I shouldn’t have been playing, but I wanted to work through it.”
Although the final month was tougher for Baldwin than planned, he ended the year on a high note, going 2 for 3 in the final game, which allowed him to end the year batting .251 in 48 games.
“I could have shut it down and hit .320 on the year after my injury,” Baldwin said. “But I’m glad I didn’t, I was still able to play and I figured some things out about playing with an injury.”
Even though the season is over, Baldwin is staying in Phoenix this fall. He’s working with the strength and conditioning coaches to not only rehab his injury, but to make up some ground on his teammates. Baldwin admitted he is behind most of the players who were drafted out of college.
“I need to be physically more sound,” Baldwin said. “I have to get to the level of those 21, 22 year-olds that have been through the college workouts.”
The next important date for Baldwin is in late February, when he reports for his first spring training. For now, he will continue to work on trying to improve.
“I’m always trying to do what’s best for my career,” Baldwin said. “But who knows where I could end up, and the best part is I’m getting to see a lot of new places and meet new people.”