After packing up his baseball cleats, glove and other necessities, Wymore native Jacob Diekman was to take the next step toward realizing his dream of becoming a professional baseball player today (Tuesday).
After signing a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies late last week, Diekman was to board a plane in Omaha this morning headed for Clearwater, Fla., and the Gulf Coast League Phillies.
Drafted in the 30th round of the recent Major League Baseball Draft by Philadelphia, Diekman and the Phillies reached a tentative contract agreement early last week.
Phillies scout Jerry Laferty was in Wymore Friday to sign Diekman.
Laferty said it's easy to pinpoint what drew his attention and that of the Phillies to Diekman.
“He's a big, tall, athletic left-handed pitcher that throws the ball very hard,” Laferty said.
The Phillies took Diekman as the 18th pick in the draft's 30th round. He was the 923rd player selected overall.
Immediately after the draft, Diekman, “disappointed” he wasn't drafted higher, planned to continue to play for the Beatrice Bruins baseball team this summer and head to Lincoln and the University of Nebraska for the fall semester.
But the Phillies made Diekman an offer he felt he couldn't refuse, especially since he said he's dreamed of being a professional baseball player since starting his playing career as a child.
Once he signed the contract Friday, Diekman said he was “so glad” the waiting was over.
“There was so much stress, but now it's off,” Diekman said.
Diekman knows, however, the biggest challenges still lie ahead.
“Minor Leagues are going to be way different,” Diekman said. “I'll have to get used to the organization and all the responsibilities I'll have down there.”
Laferty said the Phillies' expectations for Diekman are “very positive.”
This season, in Clearwater, will be a “get-acquainted season” for Diekman, Laferty said.
“His baseball life will be so much different than anything he's ever experienced,” Laferty said.
Laferty said the Phillies like their first-year players to get established and learn.
The Gulf Coast League Phillies are a Rookie-level team.
Laferty said the Gulf Coast League season runs until the first of October, including post-season championship play.
When Laferty discussed plans with Diekman Friday, he told him he could step off the plane Tuesday and two days later be pitching in his first professional baseball game.
“That sounds really good right now,” Diekman said. “I want to go out and show my stuff.”
At times, Diekman said it all seems like a “crazy ride.”
Just last summer, Diekman was pitching for the Wymore American Legion Seniors, helping the team to a berth in the Class C State tournament.
Carey Henrichs, Diekman's Seniors coach, has no doubt his former player has the talent to make it professionally.
“The last two years, he has blossomed so much into an excellent pitcher,” Henrichs said. “With his ability, it doesn't really surprise any of us.”
Henrichs said Diekman has “always” been a good pitcher, but has gotten stronger over the last several years.
“His work ethic is like no other,” Henrichs said. “He's self-motivated. He knew he had to work out to get better. He knew he wouldn't get better if he didn't make himself better.”
After graduating from Wymore Southern, Diekman spent his first year out of high school at Doane College in Crete where he played for the Tiger baseball team.
Not satisfied with where he was or where he was going, Diekman decided to make a change after his freshman year, going from the four-year school into a two-year program at Cloud County Community College in Concordia, Kan.
While at Cloud County, Diekman was recruited by Nebraska and signed a letter of intent last fall to play with the Huskers starting in the fall of 2007.
But also while at Cloud County, Diekman started drawing attention from professional scouts.
Laferty said the first time he saw Diekman pitch was last fall during a junior college baseball tournament at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“That's all I needed was that day,” Laferty said. “I've been latched on ever since that day.”
Diekman had his first contact with the Phillies organization during his second semester at Cloud County.
Playing with the Bruins this summer was another step toward reaching his ultimate goal for Diekman.
Bruins manager Bob Steinkamp said Diekman's signing was good for the Bruins program, as well as for Diekman, himself.
“He's obviously a very happy young man and we're happy for him,” Steinkamp said.
Steinkamp said the Phillies had the opportunity to watch Diekman pitch several times with the Bruins during the early part of their season and were impressed by his talent.
“The Phillies were in here early and he happened to throw really well,” Steinkamp said.
Diekman, who started his final game for the Bruins last Wednesday night in Marysville, Kan., probably wouldn't have gotten the offer he did from the Phillies if they hadn't been able to watch him pitch this summer, Steinkamp said.
The Phillies' offer to Diekman was “considerably better” than what is offered to most 30th-round picks, Steinkamp said.
“My guess is it's around seventh-round money,” Steinkamp said.
Steinkamp said Diekman “improved” just during the early part of the summer.
Bruins pitching coach Ron Cullison, who also happens to be Diekman's uncle, worked with him on his breaking “stuff,” getting him to throw it for strikes, Steinkamp said.
Cullison said Diekman has good arm strength and “tremendous” potential.
“When he has somebody who can work with him every day and help him get more command of his secondary stuff, he's got unlimited potential,” Cullison said.
Developing his breaking pitches and locating his fastball are two things Diekman will need to continue to work on in the Phillies organization, Cullison said.
“Mr. Laferty said they think he can be in the big leagues in three years, so we're hoping to see that happen,” Cullison said.
In reality, Laferty said playing baseball in Wymore, Neb., isn't that much different than playing at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia.
“At the field in Wymore, it's 60-feet 6-inches to home plate,” Laferty said. “At Citizens Bank, where the big Phillies play, it's 60-feet 6-inches.
“It's all baseball.”