Feb. 12, 2014
Nine Innings with
Miami (Ohio)'s Danny Hayden
Foley Fuels Chippewas
By Chris Webb
Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com
seems every three years a pitcher emerges at Central Michigan,
an ace who guides the Chippewas through the Mid-American
Conference. It’s actually more than a notion.
2007, current Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Josh Collmenter was
named the MAC Pitcher of the Year, helping the Mt. Pleasant,
Mich., program to a 35-21 regular season.
2010, right-hander Jesse Hernandez went 8-3 on his way to
receiving the conference’s top pitching honor, guiding Central
Michigan to the program’s 12th MAC championship.
wasn’t a Chippewa who took home the MAC’s Pitcher of the Year
honor last season, but there was one who stepped into his own
and enters this season eyed as the conference’s top pitcher:
junior right-hander Jordan Foley.
a fastball that can be dialed up to 97 mph, the 6-3, 223-pound
Foley was a buzz saw as a sophomore. In 90.2 innings, Foley
struck out 90, held opposing hitters to a .209 average and
carried a 3.08 ERA in his first season as a full-time starter,
stepping into the role of staff ace. If one looked at Foley’s
production as a freshman, they would have been hard-pressed to
believe such a role would be placed upon the native of The
Colony, Texas. But Foley’s performance – an 8.20 ERA over 37.1
innings and a .311 batting average against – was secondary to
the process behind Central Michigan’s development of pitchers.
look back two years ago, and Jordan Foley didn’t have very good
numbers,” Central Michigan pitching coach Jeff Opalewski said.
“He was basically a one-pitch [fastball] guy. We could have
thrown him 12 innings, or a different situation that wasn’t
completely dedicated to developing the player.
go back to a game against Michigan State, it was the sixth
inning, we were protecting a one-run lead. He was completely
unprepared to do that, but he needed to get out there and do it.
He walked the bases loaded, we end up losing the game but it is
what it is, we got a No. 1 pitcher out of it last year.”
Opalewski knows a thing or two of
pitcher at Central Michigan from 2001-04, Opalewski enters his
sixth season leading CMU’s pitchers, providing the tutelage that
led to the MAC Freshman of the Year in pitcher Dietrich Enns,
the same year Hernandez was the selected conference’s pitcher.
Nine pitchers have been selected in the MLB Draft club under
Opalewski’s watch, with Foley, Baseball America’s No. 37
prospect in college baseball’s junior class, on the cusp of
being the highest drafted of the bunch.
kind of have a specific mold,” Opalewski said. “We look for
projectable guys with athleticism and or length. Then you just
have to try to create a culture where they’re going to put the
work in to make that projection happen. It’s not magic or
anything, the kids are working really hard.”
has allowed Foley to meet the projection, to make the jump
between years one and two and enter year three as one of the
nation’s top pitchers, is what Opalewski stated, getting out
there and doing it.
a lot of opportunities my freshman year, then I went out in the
summer, I started every five or six days,” Foley said. “The
biggest thing is just the mental side. I gained so much
experience my first year of college baseball, I gained a lot of
confidence and belief in myself that I belong here, after a
pretty rough spring. Coming back my sophomore year, just having
from Texas, Foley’s family was in the process of moving to
Michigan. Knowing the Great Lakes State would be the family’s
permanent home going forward, Foley looked at schools in the
region in an attempt to stay closer to home. Central Michigan’s
facilities, the relationship established with the staff and the
ability of the program to develop pitchers, were the reasons CMU
would be home for Foley, a 26th round pick of the New
York Yankees in the 2011 draft.
came on a visit, really liked the overall atmosphere of the
campus,” Foley said. “It’s small, but still a lot of people
which is nice. The facilities are some of the best I’ve ever
seen. Being a smaller school, I didn’t expect it to be as nice
as it actually is, that was attractive, too. The relationship I
was able to build with Coach Ope, Coach Jaksa, they made me feel
also made Foley comfortable was how pitching fueled Central
Michigan’s success, from seeing former Chippewas in the minors
to being at ease with whom he was trusting with his development.
weather, it doesn’t really matter,” Foley said. “They’re still
sending guys out, two or three every year on average. The
overall confidence he made me have in him, the evidence that
speaks for itself they’re going to develop guys, if you buy in
and do your work, you’re going to have a good chance get to the
Opalewski feels Foley has bought in and
done the work to put him in the position he is.
been a process like it always is, and he’s worked really hard to
do it,” Opalewski said. “It’s been a very, very steady process,
and if he takes another step forward like I think he’s going to,
he’s going to be really good.”
next step in Opalewski’s mind is for Foley to have the ability
to throw all three pitchers, fastball, slider and change up, for
strikes – three pitches Opalewski feels have the potential to be
plus-pitches. If he does so, with the ability to carry fastball
velocity of 89-94 over 100 pitches and reach back for a little
more when needed, Foley can find himself climbing up draft
of no concern to Foley. As Central Michigan seeks its first NCAA
Tournament appearance since 1994, Foley is focused on the task
days, it’s impossible to not see those things because of social
media,” Foley said. “It’s just knowing how to limit your
exposure and remove yourself from certain situations that can
get in your head a little bit. I’ve just been focused on keeping
the outside out, just doing my business and whatever happens,
Staying within himself is an area he feels he can improve upon.
think I let it get a little too big,” Foley said on being the
ace. “Just being put in that situation, I didn’t really know
what to expect. Learning from that, this year it’s going to be a
lot more laid back and relaxed approach. Going out there and
competing as long as I can knowing I have eight guys behind me,
and a dugout full of guys that have my back. I’m going to focus
on doing my job, and my job is going out there every Friday and
winning a ballgame for us.”
Foley’s mentality is music to the ears of his head coach.
said it right, in doing his job, not put too much on himself,”
CMU coach Steve Jaksa said. “He probably said it best that he
started putting too much on himself that he had to do this.”
as he has developed physically under Opalewski’s eye, the head
coach, too, sees a change.
put himself in a great position, he’s worked hard to improve his
game,” Jaksa said. “He’s also worked hard to improve that mental
aspect that, you know what, I’m going to sustain this every game
out, I’m not going to let the outside get in, get in the way of
what I want to accomplish and that’s being the best I can be
every time out there.”
the best he can be each and every time out will send another MAC
honor to Mt. Pleasant.
(photos courtesy of CMU Media