Most Division III athletic programs would be lucky to see one athlete play their sport professionally.
The University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point baseball program has not only one player that currently plays professionally, but three former Pointers still playing baseball.
The most recognized of the three, and the only one currently on a major league roster, is Jordan Zimmermann, the Washington Nationals’ big right- hander from Auburndale.
Besides Zimmermann, there are two other Pointer ball players still fighting for their chance to one day get called up to the majors.
Plover native, Cody Koback, may one day get that call. Koback finished the year at the Boston Red Sox Advanced A affiliate in Salem, Va.
Justin Jirschele is the last former Pointer baseball star still playing. Jirschele started the year with the Chicago White Sox Low A affiliate in Kannapolis, N.C., but finished up his season with the team’s Rookie League affiliate in Great Falls, Mont.
Pointers baseball head coach, Pat Bloom, is proud of the players that have graduated from his program and experienced success in professional ball.
“It’s absolutely a great source of pride for me of having seen them play in high school, having recruited them and then working with them and being able to help them grow as ballplayers, and now the fact that they are representing UW-Stevens Point at the professional level is an honor for me,” Bloom said.
Jirschele finished the year with a .275 batting average between the two levels this season, while collecting 80 hits and 33 runs batted in.
Jirschele believes that his days in a Pointer uniform certainly helped him prepare for the grind of a minor league schedule.
“UWSP baseball helped prepare me for pro ball by playing through the grind of the everyday schedule,” Jirschele said. “Playing in college can feel kind of like a job with practice and games almost every day and it’s the same at the next level.”
Jirschele also cited Bloom as a major reason of him being where he is today.
“Coach Bloom helped my career in more ways than one,” Jirschele said. “He developed my leadership and brought my individual game to its highest potential.”
While he has made it this far, it hasn’t been easy. Jirschele explained that there is definitely a sense in professional baseball that Division III players are looked at as underachievers, but that just increases Jirschele’s motivation to succeed and makes him prouder of his accomplishments.
“I think coming from a small college in Wisconsin and having some success in pro ball is definitely a sense of accomplishment,” Jirschele said. “Every time I step on the field I want to prove that I belong and a lot of other DIII players do as well.”
Something that both Bloom and Jirschele cited as a big help in getting him this far in baseball has been his family’s constant involvement with the game.
Jirschele’s father coached in the minors for many years and his brother also played minor league baseball for the Kansas City Royals organization.
“I knew that he had great blood lines,” Bloom said. “But also looking at his skill set, certainly he had a lot of the tools needed to play pro ball, including all of the intangibles.”
“Growing up, I didn’t know anything else in the spring and summer other than baseball,” Jirschele said. “I remember going to spring training in Florida to see my dad, and my mom would take me to Disney World and after a couple hours I would ask her to take me to the ballpark. My dad is my best friend and if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
In Koback’s third year in the Red Sox organization, he finished the year with a .252 batting average between two levels, a career high 104 hits and 16 stolen bases.
“I worked with Cody since he was a 13 year old in our camps and lessons, and had developed a good relationship with him and his parents before he even started attending UWSP,” Bloom said.
Koback is the next closest player to making the majors from the UWSP baseball program. When asked about his possible prospects of making the majors someday, Bloom said it certainly could happen.
“I think, in terms of his overall tools, Cody certainly has as good a shot as anybody to advance up,” Bloom said. “The big question is whether his bat will come around enough to merit continual advancement.”
Bloom stated that if Cody can show that he can hit at the AA level, he surely could get a call up to the majors someday.
Then there is Zimmermann, who put together the best season of his career this year. Zimmermann finished tied for the National League lead in wins with 19. He posted a 3.25 earned run average, while striking out 161 batters.
Zimmermann was also selected to play in his first All Star Game and will undoubtedly finish in the top ten in the NL Cy Young Award voting.
The question that Bloom is often posed with now is if there any players on his team that compare to Zimmermann, Koback or Jirschele?
This year there is such a player. Bloom explained that junior pitcher J.P. Feyereisen’s performance in the summer Northwoods League and his rise to popularity among scouts is very similar to Zimmermann’s.
“J.P. is getting a lot of attention now,” Bloom said. “Obviously they both throw hard and have some athletic ability on the mound.”
Feyereisen was named the number 8 prospect in all of the Northwoods League, one of the top two summer leagues in the country. Feyereisen’s name can be seen right next to highly recruited players that play for Division I programs.
Even with Feyereisen’s success, Bloom finds it hard to compare anyone to Zimmermann.
“I hate comparing anyone to Zimmermann, because in terms of ability and overall stuff I would hesitate to compare anyone to Jordan, because he was one of a kind,” Bloom said.
According to Bloom, one thing is certain. The Pointers baseball program definitely hasn’t sent its last player to the professional ranks.
“I would fully expect that we will continue to produce some pro guys here in the near and distant future,” Bloom said.