Pitching in his genes
Palm Beach State's Underwood follows in footsteps of father, uncle
J.D. Underwood could always hit, but he wants to pitch.
The Palm Beach State (Fla.) College sophomore came into the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series leading the team with a .356 batting average and 48 RBI.
Underwood, though, would rather be a pitcher like his dad, former Major Leaguer Tom Underwood.
“When I was younger, I was a better hitter than pitcher,” J.D. Underwood said. “I always wanted to be a pitcher because of my dad.
“I love being a two-way guy, but I’d rather pitch than hit.”
Underwood is the Panthers’ ace on the mound and pitched Saturday’s opening game of the World Series. The right-hander is 10-2 with a 1.55 ERA, seven complete games, three shutouts and a no-hitter.
“He’s the most valuable pitcher in our conference, in our state, and he threw a complete-game shutout in our championship game,” Palm Beach coach Kyle Forbes said. “We’ve never had a pitcher have a better year than he did.”
J.D. Underwood throws a fastball, curveball, changeup and split fastball — all pitches his dad threw. The only difference was J.D. is a right-hander, and Tom was a left-hander.
“His fastball is 88 to 92 (miles per hour) and he has command of it,” Forbes said. “He has, in our opinion, an above-average breaking ball, split and change. He doesn’t walk guys. He’s a competitor. He competes on the mound. He’s got all the ingredients.”
Underwood, who has signed with the University of Miami, has been heavily scouted.
“The area scouts in Florida are at every game,” Forbes said. “He’s had a lot of people watching this year.”
Tom Underwood pitched in the majors for 11 seasons for six teams: Philadelphia, St. Louis, Toronto, the New York Yankees, Oakland and Baltimore. J.D.‘s mom, Christine (Moora) Underwood was a golf pro.
His uncle, Pat Underwood, pitched in the majors from 1979 to 1983. Pat made his Major League debut against Tom and won 1-0, J.D. said. Pat pitched for the Tigers, and Tom pitched for the Blue Jays in that game.
“We have a video of them pitching against each other,” J.D. Underwood said. “I watched it many times. It never gets old.”
That’s the only way J.D. Underwood gets to see his dad anymore. Tom died in 2010 from pancreatic cancer.
“We were best friends,” J.D. Underwood said. “We were right by each other’s side 24/7.
“He would tell me every story known to man about his playing career. He had every story to tell for me. He’s the reason why I’m the pitcher I am today.”
Underwood has a tattoo on his left rib cage of a baseball with his dad’s initials.
“It’s a keepsake for me,” Underwood said. “I have a quote, ‘Winners always win without your best stuff.’ I pretty much live by that.”
His uncle, who lives in Kokomo, Ind., didn’t make the trip to Grand Junction for the World Series, but he saw J.D. pitch in the Gulf District tournament.
The Panthers made it to the World Series for the first time in the program’s history this year after just missing it last year.
“We were in the state championship game last year and lost,” Underwood said. “To come here, it doesn’t get any better than this.”