By now, you've almost certainly seen the viral video of Nathan Patterson throwing 96 miles-per-hour in a Colorado Rockies speed-pitch challenge. But the A's newest prospect wants to clear a few things up.
"There's kind of a misconception that I threw a ball and got signed," Patterson said. "A misconception that there was no work or sacrifices that went into it, when in reality, there was a ton of work and a lot of sacrifices over the last year that's kind of gone into me being where I am today."
Where Patterson is today is a professional baseball player as a member of the Arizona League Athletics Green. The 23-year-old signed a minor-league contract with the A's last month.
"How can you not be romantic about baseball" -Billy Beane
Words cannot describe this feeling and I cannot thank everyone enough who has been part of this journey so far! pic.twitter.com/E4eSMUDmU5— Nathan Patterson (@npatterson_12) August 1, 2019
Patterson may not have just thrown a ball and signed a contract, but his story is still remarkable. Born and raised in Overland Park, Kansas, he was an undersized middle infielder growing up and never got above junior varsity in high school. Prior to his senior year, he suffered an elbow injury, ending his baseball career. Or so he thought.
After high school, Patterson started a landscape business, literally mowing lawns in his hometown for a living. He would eventually move to Austin, Texas, where he worked in sales for a software company. At the beginning of last year, Patterson moved again, this time to Nashville with his girlfriend. That's where he discovered his arm talent.
At a Nashville Sounds minor-league game, Patterson decided to try the speed-pitch challenge. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound right-hander hadn't thrown a baseball in years, but he stretched out a little bit and let it fly. His first pitch clocked in at 90 mph.
"I was blown away," Patterson said. "I honestly thought it was a joke. I thought they just jacked up the gun to make you pay another dollar to throw another ball. I think I threw about five balls and the last one I threw was 96 mph. I blew my own mind, honestly."
That was enough for Patterson to pursue a career in baseball. He hired an agent and started working with former A's pitcher Jarrod Parker in Nashville, developing a curveball, slider, and changeup to go with his fastball.
Earlier this year, Patterson threw a pro day in front of a handful of major-league scouts, including the A's. They obviously liked what they saw. The famous Rockies speed-pitch video came a few months later, followed by a contract offer from Oakland.
"This is a little unexpected for us, to be honest," said A's Director of Scouting Eric Kubota. "When this process all started, we were just looking at it as, here's a kid who looks really good on video. He's got a fresh arm, even though he's 23 years old. What the heck? Let's take a chance."
Patterson has thrown a few bullpens since arriving in Arizona and the plan is for him to pitch in a game by the end of the week. Incredibly, he doesn't think he'll have any nerves.
"I've just lived for four years on my own, and so I think that helps me manage the anxiety or the pressure," Patterson said. "I look at it as what do I have to be anxious about? I'm here, I'm living my dream, I'm excited to be here. So I think it's more excitement than anxiety."
The A's actually have a similar outlook. From their standpoint, it's a low-risk, high-reward situation.
"I would say our expectations are that it's a roll of the dice, which it is with a lot of the guys we draft," Kubota said. "He's probably no different than many of the guys we draft. We're taking a chance on a body, arm action, and a delivery. What may be counted as negatives for him -- that he hasn't pitched since junior varsity -- you can look at it from the flip side and say, well that means he's got that many fewer innings on his arm."
After the initial shock and jubilation of signing a professional baseball contract, Patterson is starting to feel like he truly belongs. Now he's ready to fully make the transition from fan to pro athlete.
"The first few days and weeks, it was just so surreal," he admitted. "But just talking with my dad, he was like, 'Nathan, this isn't surreal anymore. This is real. You are living this. You are an athlete. You are good, you are talented, you're athletic. Just live this. Enjoy it and absorb every single day. Be a sponge and learn from everybody.'
"It's definitely crazy to think about how I got here. But now I'm here. I'm an athlete. I'm a professional baseball player. Now it's time to make it to the big leagues. That's my number one priority."