His next featured article is on Chad Pierce, the Panther pitcher who was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 38th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft after earning Horizon League Pitcher of the Year honors as a senior.
With his permission, here is the text. If you want to see the full article with pictures, click HERE.
When the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Opening Day roster was paraded out in early April, the media darling was local product Chad Pierce (@pierce_chad). A former 38th round pick of the Brewers, the right-hander had a following in Fond du Lac as well as Milwaukee, where he pitched for the Panthers in college.
Pierce provided the feel good sound bites of spring, hoping that the positive vibes would trickle into the season moving forward. Looking back to his Pioneer Rookie League campaign was not an option.
“Right now, the confidence is there, but last year at Helena, if I had a bad outing it played on my mind,” said Pierce. “That’s not how I really am, and this year I’ve been able to bounce back after a bad outing. If I have one, I look forward to righting the ship.”
Losing was a shock to the system for Pierce, who possessed a bulldog mentality pitching for the Panthers. His senior season was stellar, named an All-Conference first teamer and tabbed the Horizon League Pitcher of the Year. But the roll he was on came to a screeching halt in Helena.
“Last year my confidence was completely shot,” said Pierce, who went 2-4 in 15 games with an ERA of 6.64. “I don’t know if I was worn down from the college season or what but things were rolling around in my head and they shouldn’t be. Especially in this game where you fail so much you can’t have bad thoughts in your head.”
Pierce kept rewinding the tape to his high school days. His accolades included All-State, All-District and Fox Valley Athletics All-Conference honors three times. Baseball America listed the Fondy ace as the fifth best Wisconsin prospect. When his scholarship at the University of Arkansas didn’t seem like a solid fit after two seasons as a pitcher and a catcher, his transfer back to his home state was a rebirth.
But the past for Pierce couldn’t compensate for a 2011 present that jeopardized his future.
“Last summer I even had doubts in my head if I even belonged there because it was bad outing after bad outing,” said Pierce. “When you have failure that much, it gets into your head if you belong.”
His tonic was a simple return trip to his roots. Pierce insulted himself with a blanket stuffed with positive cushion. He also changed the scenery from the mountains of Montana to the campus life of Milwaukee.
“During the offseason I cleared my head, worked out hard back at school where the coaches confirmed to me that I belong,” said Pierce. “I talked to (Head Coach) Scott (Doffek) and (Pitching Coach) Cory (Bigler) quite a bit throughout the season. My parents told me how much they cared…told me I could do it.
“I just got after it and came into this season with the confidence that I had in high school and especially at UWM. I wanted to get back to who I was.”
The Pierce of the past has taken the hill in the Midwest League with a renewed purpose. The 24-year-old has been able to strap himself in and ride the baseball rollercoaster with no fear, able to exit the ride, turn right around and maneuver his way through the turnstile for another spin.
“Last summer, I can’t say I was like that,” said Pierce. “I was tip-toeing around a lot and didn’t have that mentality in me. This year, I’ve been able to clear my head and get that back.”
Confidence and consistency are the buzz words Pierce dispenses in his daily vocabulary. Beefing up his offerings to opposing hitters also assisted Pierce to a statistical turnaround.
“This year it’s all about my confidence compared to the way it was in Helena,” said Pierce. “For most of my outings I’ve been able to throw three pitches for strikes. At UWM last year, it was just my fastball and my changeup, or some days, just my fastball. This year, for the most part, it’s been more consistent…my confidence is there.”
The proper mindset has allowed Pierce to keep an even flow and counterpunch the highs and lows of professional baseball. His best start to date was on July 26 at Kane County, hurling seven shutout innings allowing just three hits and striking out eight. But two starts and two weeks later, Beloit belted Pierce off the bump scoring seven runs on eight hits in just four innings of work.
“Even in a couple of outings where I struggled, I still competed,” said Pierce. “That’s the mentality that I need. Now, even the times when I’ve gotten lit up a little bit our coaches told me ‘Way to get out of it…way to compete.’
“That’s who I am, that’s who I was in college where I would have outings and give up five or six runs in eight innings but they kept on throwing me out there because I’m still competing.”
The undo pressure of performing in front of the homefolks didn’t compound the problems Pierce was dealing with a season ago. Where some players might press to impress, Pierce lapped up the friendly surroundings of friends and family.
“I’ve felt better at home than I have on the road, and I don’t know if it’s comfort or what, but I just believe in my abilities this year,” said Pierce. “Being able to throw in front of your friends and your family all the time, it’s not an added pressure, it’s an added bonus. It’s made this season one that I’ll remember for a very long time.”
Home cooking, literally at times, helped jog the memories Pierce accumulated as a prep and collegiate standout. An easy road trip down Highway 41, Pierce has been home a handful of times this season, grabbing a meal, sleeping in his own boyhood bedroom.
“This season has definitely been one to get me back on track to be the pitcher I’ve been,” said Pierce.
Besides the comfort zone environment, Pierce was also eased into the Timber Rattlers rotation by piggy backing with right-hander David Goforth to start the season. Even though it was out of the norm for Pierce, getting a taste on the tail end of a start proved to be a settling force for the future.
“When I was coming in after Goforth, I was coming in usually in the seventh inning, sometimes in the sixth, so I didn’t have as many innings to cover,” said Pierce, who made 15 relief appearances, winning one game, saving two more. “I don’t know if my body was a little more amped up because it was only three innings I had to get through. But to be inserted into a starting role is something I have embraced. I’m a player who has a lot of routine and now instead of having to worry about my routine coming in after a guy, I now know exactly when I’m going to go in.”
Pierce has not only reclaimed his bulldog demeanor, he has pushed himself to go deep into ballgames, relishing the role of an innings eater. And while the season and postseason are still in play in Appleton, Pierce is already looking forward to an offseason on an uptick.
“Throughout the year, you always think about something I might change in the offseason,” said Pierce. “I’ve been working on a little cutter here and there and that might be something I work on in the offseason. Right now, I’ve got my three pitches and I’m trying to work with them the best that I can and leave the tinkering to after the season.”
The offseason is also where Chad Pierce will set aside his time to dream. For a kid from Fond du Lac, who grew up attending and admiring games involving the Brewers, the fantasy seems all too real and tangible at times.
“I don’t even know if words can describe it,” said Pierce. “Ever since I was a little kid I dreamed about playing at County Stadium and now, Miller Park. I’m getting that opportunity right now and it’s definitely a dream. I’ve always wanted to play for the Brewers, and right now, I’m having a good season and hopefully people in the organization have seen that and they realize I have something I can bring to the table.
“It’s a surreal moment, and people that come to the games, whether they are 20 or 70, are wishing they were still out there playing. I’m out there and it’s a dream to play here and hopefully make it up to the big club.”