Nick Gardewine: “I believe I can make it”
News Report Staff
Nick Gardewine was expecting a call, so when the phone rang, he wasn’t surprised.
But when he answered, it wasn’t the voice he was expecting to hear.
“Boston had shown the most interest in me,” said Gardewine, recalling the days prior to the 2013 Major League Baseball draft. “But it was the Texas Rangers on the line. They hadn’t shown much attention in me at all.”
But the 19-year-old was still excited. His dream of being a “big leaguer” was about to begin after the Rangers made him a seventh-round draft pick.
“I wrestled with that decision a little,” Nick admitted. “Some people were telling me to go back to college for another year. But I had made a promise to myself. If I was selected in the first 10 rounds, I was going pro. I was only 19 years old, but I was ready to go.”
Since that time, Nick has played baseball from coast to coast — in towns like Surprise, Spokane, Hickory, Adelanto and Frisco; in the states of Arizona, Washington, North Carolina, California and Texas.
He was initially a starting pitcher, but transitioned to the bullpen two years ago. He has produced good results at each stop and has been promoted from Rookie League to A to AA.
Like everybody wearing a minor league uniform, the goal is to make it to “the show.” In Nick’s case, that would be Global Life Park in Arlington, Texas; home of the Texas Rangers.
“That’s been my goal ever since I was a little kid,” Nick said.
Nick was born and raised in Effingham. He is the son of Ted Gardewine and Amy Donaldson.
He was a standout athlete at EHS, where he graduated in 2012. During his senior year in baseball, the right-hander turned in a stellar season, going 8-1 overall with a sparkling 0.76 ERA, and recording 74 strikeouts in just 55 innings of work.
Nick then spent one year at Kaskaskia College. He was 9-1 with a 2.12 ERA and threw a no-hitter against Lake Land College. He helped lead Kaskaskia to the NJCAA Division I World Series that year for the first time.
But when the telephone call came in June 2013, Nick was ready to move on.
“The area scout called, congratulated me and welcomed me to the Rangers family,” he remembered. “He told me when and where to report.”
Nick was headed to the Rookie League in Surprise, AZ. But he didn’t know if he would be used as a starter or reliever.
“The Rangers don’t like to label you right away,” he explained. “They want to see how you develop.”
For his first three seasons, Nick was primarily a starting pitcher. He features four pitches – a four-seam and two-seam fastball, curve and a change-up. His fastball is generally clocked at 93 to 96 mph, “but I touch 97 every now and then,” he noted.
He posted a 3-3 record with a 3.21 ERA in 14 games with the Arizona Rangers. In 2014, he went 6-3 with a 4.54 ERA with the Spokane Indians (A Short); followed by a 6-8 campaign in 2015 with the Hickory Crawdads (A Full).
“That very first year in Arizona was one of the highest development years for me,” Nick said. “There were some things the coaches wanted to change with my mechanics.”
One of those coaches was former Major League pitcher – and Effingham High School graduate – Brian Shouse.
“Brian got me to use my front side a lot better,” Nick explained. “That one little tweak set me up to where I am today and how I throw my fastball.”
Nick said everything started to click during the next season in Spokane.
“I had to learn how to use my pitches to get guys out,” he noted. “I ran into some bumps in the road that year. I consistently had long pitch counts and some rough outings. But then things started to click.”
Two weeks in a row, Nick was named the Northwest League Pitcher of the Year.
“In high school and college, I just threw harder than most of the guys,” Nick said. “I got away with things. I could overpower the hitters and get them to swing at terrible pitches.”
But he quickly found out that wasn’t going to happen at this level.
“I had to become a more intelligent pitcher. I had to learn to set guys up,” he admitted. “For example, I began throwing my fastball inside and then going down and away with my slider. These hitters are smarter and don’t swing at dumb pitches. They battle. So I had to be smarter with my pitching in order to get them out.”
The following year in Hickory, Nick suffered an ankle injury in the spring and started the season in the bullpen. He returned to the starting rotation, but a shoulder injury at the end of the season changed everything.
During the off-season, he found out he had a tear in his supraspinatus.
“Basically, that’s your decelerator,” Nick noted. “It’s what helps slow your arm down after you release the baseball. If it doesn’t work properly, your arm will go further than it’s supposed to. That’s what happened to me.”
And like many players, Nick tried to rush his recovery and returned to action too soon. That resulted in further complications and a stint in Arizona for rehabilitation.
As a result, he joined his new team – the High Desert Mavericks in Adelanto, CA – about a month into the 2016 season. They were the Rangers’ A Advanced team in the California League.
“At first, I was struggling with my fastball,” Nick remembered. “I couldn’t even hit 90 mph. So I was told I would be a reliever and work long relief until I was able to work my arm back into shape.”
He hasn’t started another game.
In his season with the Mavericks, he appeared in 29 games – all in relief – and compiled a 5-1 record with a 2.47 ERA. He was 7-for-7 in save opportunities. He also helped High Desert win the league championship. He appeared in three games of the series, got the final out in all three and recorded two saves.
This season, he was promoted to the Rangers’ AA team in Frisco, Texas. Nick says a solid spring training opened that door.
“I actually got a chance to face Major League hitters and also got a save,” he said. “That opened some eyes and helped get me assigned to Frisco. I was really excited.”
The now 23-year-old has had a good season with the Roughriders. He is 0-1 with a 2.82 ERA and has recorded two saves in three opportunities. He recently had a stretch of 10 straight outings without allowing a run. He struck out 15 batters over 11.2 innings during that stretch.
“I hit a rough patch the last two outings, but now it’s all about bouncing back,” Nike said. “I made some good pitches, but things didn’t end up going my way. Overall, it’s been a pretty good season.”
Nick was also reunited with Shouse, who is the pitching coach for Frisco.
“Brian has taught me a lot, both on the field and off,” he said. “We click pretty well together. We’re pretty close. And this year, he’s helping prepare me for the Big Leagues.”
Making the switch from starter to reliever was a big change.
“A starter has a lot of time to prepare for the game and figure out how he’s going to get the hitters out,” Nick explained. “As a reliever, you’ve got to be ready in five pitches to either hold the game or save the game. There’s a lot more pressure.
“Anybody that tells you it’s not is lying to you,” he added. “There are butterflies and an adrenaline rush. At first, I had to calm myself down on the mound.
“But now I feel super comfortable in the role of a closer. I’m relaxed. It’s my job, my passion. I like the role. It’s where I’m supposed to be.”
Nick said Effingham coaches Rod Wiethop, Chris Fleener and Ron Reed each had a positive impact on him.
“My family also helped me out a lot,” he added. “When I was younger, people knew I was a hothead. I had a bad temper. That’s what held me back a little. I needed to be a better person.”
When it came to pitching, Nick credits his dad.
“He made me work on my mechanics as a young kid,” Nick said. “He didn’t care if I got a win, gave up hits or struck anybody out. He wanted me to be able to place my pitches where I wanted them. Without that, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.”
Someday soon, Nick hopes to be in the Major Leagues.
“You just have to continually prove you can do well at the lower levels,” he noted. “If not, they aren’t going to bring you up. When you get an opportunity, you have to show them what you’ve got. It just takes time and patience.
“Right now, I’m just trying to enjoy everything. But I believe I can make it.”