Story by Bob Romantic
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Mark Jarrett still gets nervous every time he goes to the mound for the Grand Canyon University baseball team.
In fact, the more nervous, the better.
“That’s usually when I do my best,” said Jarrett, the Antelopes’ all-conference closer. “I love that feeling of adrenaline and being nervous. I don’t get a feeling like that outside of baseball.”
Part of that feeling stems from his role on the team, as he’s counted on to come in and protect leads in the ninth inning. Simply put, there is no room for error.
But, deep down, it also comes from the fact that Jarrett always has had to prove himself on the field.
He’s not 6-foot-5, doesn’t throw 90 mph or have a wicked curveball that freezes batters – traits that scouts look for in a pitcher.
Jarrett is a 5-11, 175-pounder who was more of an outfielder than a pitcher at Red Mountain High School in Mesa. With no four-year scholarship offers after graduation, he went to Mesa Community College and honed his craft as a pitcher. He was successful in the closer’s role at MCC. But because of his lack of size and radar-popping stuff, recruiters still weren’t banging down his door.
He made some inquiries to NAIA schools but was starting to think about giving up on the sport he loved.
That’s when GCU's coach, Andy Stankiewicz, called and invited Jarrett to an open tryout.
Jarrett says he was pretty nervous at that tryout. As you can probably tell by now, that means he also pitched pretty well. In fact, he pitched well enough that he was invited to join the team as a walk-on non-scholarship player.
“It was one of those no-harm, no-foul situations,” Stankiewicz said of the tryout offer. “He had nowhere to go, but he had such a great work ethic. It’s fun to see those kinds of guys have success.”
Walk-ons generally don’t play key roles like closer or become all-conference players. But Jarrett isn’t your typical walk-on.
In his first year at GCU, all Jarrett did was lead the Pacific West Conference with nine saves while sporting a 1.91 ERA and striking out 24 in 28 1/3 innings pitched. That was good enough for first-team all-conference accolades as a junior.
That earned him a scholarship for his senior year, and he has lived up to it with six saves already while sporting a 2-0 record and 3.09 ERA in 11 2/3 innings pitched.
In this week’s two-game series against Cal Poly Pomona (one of the better Division II programs in the West), Jarrett got the save in a 3-1 victory Monday after pitching a 1-2-3 ninth inning. The next day, he came on with runners on first and third and none out in the ninth and induced two groundouts and a strikeout without allowing a run. He ended up with the win after GCU rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth.
Not bad for a kid who supposedly doesn’t have the “stuff” to succeed at this level.
“He doesn’t throw 90 mph, but he gets great movement on his fastball,” Stankiewicz said. “It’s got great sink.”
That induces a lot of groundouts.
“I don’t even know (how fast) I throw,” said Jarrett, who also throws a slider and a changeup. “I throw strikes, let the hitters hit it and rely on my defense. … My changeup is real effective. It has good arm speed and keeps hitters off-balance. I can pretty much throw it whenever I want in the count.”
Jarrett is one of the reasons GCU is 22-5 (15-1 in the PacWest), has won 13 straight games and is ranked No. 23 in the nation (No. 2 in the West).
“It’s awesome,” Jarrett said of the team’s success this season. “We just have a bunch of guys who love to play ball. We are really good friends and we’re always loose and have a good time, but we also know how to prepare in practice.”
The Antelopes’ schedule gets much tougher from here on out, with series against Fresno Pacific, Dixie State and Cal Baptist looming after this weekend’s home games against Holy Names.
That could make for some nervous moments. But in Jarrett’s case in particular, don’t mistake nerves for a lack of confidence.
“I work hard in everything I do,” Jarrett said. “I believe in myself a lot. That’s why I have been successful.
“I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished at GCU, and not just the accolades or first-team all-conference or whatever. I am just glad that I have grown not only as a pitcher, but also as a player and as a person.
“I just really appreciate the confidence of the coaching staff and the fact that they believe in me.”
Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or [email protected].