Over his collegiate career at Ole Miss, former baseball standout Stephen Head helped lead the Rebels both at the plate and on the mound, but after spending six years in the minor league system as a position player, Head decided it was time for a change.
This season, he started from scratch as he now focuses solely on pitching.
“With my career as a hitter, I was kind of stuck in a gray area in Triple-A (with the Columbus Clippers, a Cleveland Indians affiliate) being a guy who wasn’t really a prospect anymore because of my age and not having any big league time,” Head said. “I realized I was going to be the first one out the door. I knew I could pitch. Obviously, I did in college (at Ole Miss), so I was like, ‘I’m just going to get after it and dedicate this whole past offseason to pitching.’”
Throughout his years in the minors, Head saw guys make it to the major leagues that he knew he could pitch just as well as, if not better than.
“I saw a ton of guys go the big leagues, (especially) left-handed pitchers that had similar stuff (as myself). So, I dedicated myself, and a guy who scouted Ole Miss games all the time and signed Seth Smith knew I could pitch. So, he got me a shot with the Rockies and they signed me.”
Head is currently on the roster for the Tri-City Dust Devils, the Class A Short-Season affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, and although he has proven his ability on the baseball diamond time and time again, Head isn’t worried about the actual pitching as much as he is about how to pitch correctly.
“Pitching was always really natural to me, so getting back on the mound and becoming a pitcher wasn’t all that difficult. But learning all the little things and actually learning how to pitch with the mechanics and those kinds of things are the things that I am really learning now.”
Another aspect of being a professional pitcher Head had to get accustomed to was throwing nearly every day in the offseason.
“It is a completely different world (for a pitcher) in pro ball than in college. College gets three or four days a week where you don’t play. (In) pro ball, you get (basically) four days a year. So, the adjustment to being able to throw every day is the most difficult thing.”
The season for Head and the Dust Devils began Sunday, and it was not long before Head was called upon to see if his hard work in the offseason had paid off.
In his first outing, Head gave up no runs on one hit with five strikeouts in three innings pitched. He used his experiences of pitching in the Southeastern Conference to get him ready for his first appearance as a professional pitcher.
“That was my first legitimate professional game experience (as a pitcher). It went well. I was effective with just my fastball and changeup. Those were the only two pitches I threw, and I threw them for strikes.
“Pitching (in the SEC) has given me the opportunity to be more successful right out of the gates (this season). I really wasn’t that nervous because I had pitched so much in the past. So, my nerves weren’t really an issue. I just focused on throwing strikes, and I was able to get through those three innings.”
Head hopes to rekindle the success he had while wearing the red and blue of Ole Miss, and make it to his goal of the major leagues.
During his tenure at Ole Miss, Head set numerous school records on his way to being named an All-American three different times, the most for anyone in school history.
After batting a team high .337 and recording a school-record 13 saves on the mound in his freshman season, Head was named National Freshman of the Year by Collegiate Baseball.
In 2005, Head helped the Rebels to a 48-20 record and reach their first ever appearance in a Super Regional, which they lost in a heart-pounding three-game series to eventual national champion Texas. He batted .331 with 18 home runs and 68 RBI and had a record of 7-3 with 8 saves and an ERA of 2.54 for the season.
Although Head and the Rebels came up just short against Texas, he believes there is a bright future for Ole Miss baseball despite the lackluster 2011 season.
“It’s just a matter of time before (Ole Miss) turns it around,” Head said. “It could be as early as next year. Coach Bianco does a great job. I have a lot of respect for him and what he did for me and my career. I wish them the best. They could come out next year and win 48 games.”
As for the timetable for Head to make it as a big-time professional pitcher, he said it best.
“It’s just a matter of time.”