America’s Favorite ROOGY

How a benchwarming, Division III reliever created a nationally renowned baseball blog and is now gunning for the record books in his senior season

| Senior Editor

With a National Team Relief Pitcher of the Week selection, a 0.44 ERA and an undefeated record under his belt, you would think that Jake Mintz could use a stopwatch to time the pitcher’s delivery to the plate. And yet, when the Bears are at bat with runners on base, Mintz stalks the front of the dugout—stopwatch in hand, ready to press the button—only to turn away just before the pitcher’s leg kick starts, time and time again.

The Bears don’t seem to have any problem stealing bases though, despite not always knowing how much of a head start they’ll get before the catcher has the ball in hand, so Mintz’s transgressions have probably been forgiven. Plus, that weekend he threw 5.1 innings of scoreless baseball against then-No. 10 Emory University, earning two wins in the process. This success on the field is foreign to Mintz, who, prior to this year, had never kept his ERA under 9.00.

Jake Mintz follows through on a pitch during the second game of the four game series against Emory.Courtesy of Scott Margolin

Jake Mintz follows through on a pitch during the second game of the four game series against Emory.

“It’s been a bit of a new thing because I’ve spent the last three years kind of just generally sucking at baseball,” Mintz said of his recent turnaround. But despite the sucking, Mintz has always kept baseball as the focus of his life, albeit not in his own performance, but by writing about how other people play the game.

His senior year of high school, Mintz and friend Jordan Shusterman started the baseball blog “Cespedes Family BBQ” and have since accrued national recognition and over 48,000 Twitter followers. A mix of memes and irreverent humor with a smattering of baseball analysis, “Cespedes Family BBQ” has gained such a following that Major League Baseball itself has hired the pair multiple times to cover special assignments across the United States.

One such assignment—covering the All Star Game in San Diego—led Mintz and Shusterman on a road trip from Washington D.C. out to California, with plenty of stops at Minor League stadiums along the way. The trip gave the pair the opportunity to play baseball golf with Carson Fulmer, a top prospect in the White Sox system; attempt to hit home runs in the Grand Canyon; and interview at least a dozen of baseball’s most exciting prospects.

By far the most bizarre experience came in Southwest Arkansas, where Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish was making a rehab start in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Like most highly successful Japanese players, Darvish was obsessively followed by a cadre of 15 to 25 Japanese reporters, even during the rehabilitation process. For a Major League club, that amount of press is no problem, but for a Southwestern Arkansas minor league team without any sort of pressroom, a bit more creativity was required.

“So, it’s us, all this Japanese media, Yu Darvish, in a closet in Southwest Arkansas. And we’re like this far away from him,” Mintz remembers, stretching his arms to show only about a foot of separation. “And I’m like, ‘Jordan, we’re here at this interview, and that’s Yu Darvish and that’s an inflatable bouncy house.’”

For Mintz, it’s those surreal moments that stand out the most from his time as a semi-professional baseball reporter. Well, that and being paid to go to three World Series games in Chicago; but regardless, it’s both the absurdity and fortune that leave Mintz thinking, “What are we doing here, how did we get here?”

***

Helaine Greenfield was in labor at a Baltimore hospital when her mom turned to her and said: “Listen, I got to go.” It was September 5, 1995 and the pair was waiting for Greenfield’s first child while the Baltimore Orioles suited up to take the field across the city. It would be shortstop Cal Ripken’s 2130 consecutive game played, which would tie Lou Gehrig’s 56-year-old record.

“What the hell are you talking about,” Greenfield replied, exasperated that her mom couldn’t be bothered to stay. “I got tickets,” her mom said. “I already have grandkids and I’m going to have more, I’m not going to miss this.”

About twenty minutes after his grandmother got on the train to catch the game, Jake Mintz was born, baseball-blooded and already a diehard Orioles fan.

In high school, Mintz played shortstop and hit .450 his senior year, albeit in a league where no one besides him went on to play college ball. Mintz wasn’t recruited to play at Washington University, but decided to try out for the team as a shortstop, which turned out to be a mistake.

“The old coach said, ‘Hey, it’s either the mound or the library,’” Mintz said. “He didn’t say that, but that was the implication. And for me, I just knew that I wanted to be around baseball so much that I was going to do whatever I could to stay on the team.”

Come February, Mintz was still getting called back to the field even as others were told to hang up their cleats. His mom would call him, curious if he had managed to make the team, and Mintz, honestly curious himself, would reply, “Well, it’s February and I still have the sweatpants and I’m still around, so I guess yeah.”

For the first three years, Mintz struggled to say the least. A pitcher now, Mintz developed an unconventional form in which he starts from a squat with his knees bent nearly 90 degrees, and then rears back and throws sidearm, his fingers just a couple feet above the ground at release. These mechanics, while creating a devastating amount of movement on Mintz’s pitches, ruined any semblance of control he might have had.

Throwing 17.1 innings over 19 appearances in his first three seasons, he recorded an 11.94 ERA (anything about 5.00 is generally considered poor). But the coaches still brought him along to every game, knowing that even if he hadn’t put it together yet, being around older guys who had figured it out would help his development more than staying home.

In the playoffs last year, Mintz was passed over for a relief appearance in favor of a freshman that hadn’t pitched much at all, lighting a fire under him to work over the summer and come back better. Finally, it clicked.

“To finally see him figure it out and have the success that he’s having right now, it’s really special,” fellow senior and ace of the Bears’ pitching staff Bradley Margolin said. “Knowing the amount of thought he puts into everything that he does and the amount of attention he pays during practice or whatever it is that any of our coaches are telling him, it’s really good to see that all finally click for him.”

Before this year though, Mintz’s baseball identity was inseparable from “Cespedes Family BBQ.” Some of the new freshman players each year would inevitably know of him or the blog. Opposing players would come over and ask him about it or, more uncomfortably, point and ask someone else on the Wash. U. team if that was “the Cespedes guy.”

Mintz celebrates an out during the series. The senior reliever earned wins in both appearances.Courtesy of Scott Margolin

Mintz celebrates an out during the series. The senior reliever earned wins in both appearances.

The blog, which displays its posts superimposed on a grainy image of now-Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes’ highlight video and boasts the tagline “It’s a Roast,” began in Mintz’s living room when Mintz and Shusterman decided to move their goofy baseball conversations to a more permanent location. They named their new project after the inexplicable cuts in Cespedes’ video of the outfielder roasting a whole pig in his backyard. After a writer at a Baseball Prospectus conference tweeted a picture of their business card, admittedly a joke in itself, near the beginning of the blog’s run, the pair started racking up Twitter followers.

There was never one moment that catalyzed the blog’s success; it came more from the pair’s dedication to watching games from 7 p.m. to midnight every night during the season and taking summer road trips across the country to watch a mix of Minor and Major League games. The cultural knowledge of the nuances of the American baseball system that emerged from those trips gave the pair legitimacy in the industry. Being able to carry a conversation with guests on the show about why Clinton, Iowa has the worst minor league field in baseball earned the two respect and even more guests.

“That we were privileged enough to afford to get in a car and take a month off of our summers and go do some cool stuff [was] lucky and not a lot of people can do that. But the fact that we were able to go and see these places and experience these things and meet these people in person, was a huge benefit to us,” Mintz said.

Despite the privilege necessary to dedicate so much time to what some would consider a trivial baseball blog, it hasn’t been easy for Mintz to juggle the blog, Division III athletics and a rigorous workload at Wash. U.

When he first arrived in St. Louis, Mintz had no idea what he wanted to study. He dabbled in academic fields all over the place—International Area Studies, English, PNP (Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology)—eventually settling on History with a focus on Islamic studies after taking Introduction to Islamic Civilization and being fascinated by the culture. Mintz knows that his studies probably won’t impact his future career at all—“I’ll be the only person in the MLB office who knows what a jizya tax is and dhimmi status is”—but appreciates that he’s been given the opportunity to just learn what he wants to learn. Also, having a degree from a top-20 University always makes for a good fallback plan.

Beyond responsibilities, Mintz is still the same loudmouthed prankster that comes through on Cespedes Family BBQ.

“He’s so funny,” one of his roommates, junior Amy DeFranco, said. “Everyone always asks me, ‘Is there an on and off switch with him?’ because he’s like crazy. And there’s really not. He’s the exact same way at home.”

Mintz cooks with an affinity for spicy food, religiously listens to Chance the Rapper and wears suits covered with the logos of every MLB team. The first time that DeFranco met him, she remembers that he was wearing a squirrel costume. Mintz knows that college is the time to horse around—“It’s just so easy to do what you want all the time”—but never fully drifts from his professional goals.

Even listening to Chance provides on opportunity to better himself in Mintz’s mind. Every morning, he listens to “Coloring Book,” the rapper’s latest album, on his way to class, modeling his own performance style after that of the Chicago emcee.

“I just felt like the passion of that music and the way that he goes about his life—he’s always smiling; he’s always talking to people; he’s interesting; he’s engaging; he’s captivating in a way that I find so unique,” Mintz said. “In the last year, I’ve started to think of myself more as a performer because that’s what I want to do. So I’ve watched him and other people and seen the ways that they captivate audiences and I’ve tried to take certain things from that.”

More than anything, Mintz and Shusterman are able to captivate their audience through their Twitter account. Beyond simple commentary on Major League games, the account is filled with jabs at former Yankee Alex Rodriguez, admiration for Braves pitcher Bartolo Colon, a continued love for Yoenis Cespedes and even personal life updates.

When Shusterman finished his college thesis, he tweeted out the first sentence with the gag that the rest would follow in another 468 tweets. Following Mintz’s recent run of success, the account has dubbed Mintz “America’s favorite ROOGY” (Righty One-Out GuY)—a reliever who is brought in to face one batter and one batter only. The moniker is not particularly flattering, but embodies the type of “wink wink, nudge nudge” self-deprecating humor that has gained the pair such an impressive following.

“So much of what’s made us successful I think is that when we are talking, whether it’s written or on video, it comes across as genuine and natural,” Mintz said. “I’m potentially going to be waking up every morning and making silly videos about baseball. And that allows me, more than any other job I have, to be me.”

***

“I want to win the f—— national championship,” Mintz says at the end of our interview. Leaving Wash. U., he’s confident in his future writing career and he’s confident in the way he’s playing now, but he wants the big one to put a capstone on his playing days.

After watching a lot of his good friends on the Wash. U. women’s soccer team win a national championship this winter, Mintz knows that the baseball team can do the same.

“If these goofballs can do it, why can’t we?” he said. “If these people that I’m friends with and their lives are in shambles all the time because they have a ton of work and they go to practice and get through it; if they can do that, why can’t we?”

In the midst of a nine-game winning streak and coming off of a sweep of then-No. 10 Emory, Mintz’s confidence in his team does not seem unfounded. All year, the Wash. U. baseball team has worked to overcome various physical and mental obstacles to climb to No. 18 in the national rankings.

“We’re not more talented; we don’t have guys who throw 90; we don’t have guys who are 6’2″ and hit the ball f—— far. What we have is what we can control, and that is effort,” Mintz said.

For fellow Margolin, there’s a sense of relief that Mintz is finally playing well enough to separate his on-the-field accomplishments from those off the field.

“I’m glad to say that more of his team identity is the way that he’s pitching right now than it is his extracurriculars and what he’s doing outside of baseball,” Margolin said. “It’s definitely still there, but I’m happy to say that we can focus on the success that Jake’s having on the mound a little bit more now.”

Outside of the team’s success, Mintz has just one more personal goal for his baseball career—finish with the Wash. U. single season ERA record, currently a 0.69 mark held by Max Zhang for his 2012 season. Mintz approaches the final 18 games with a 0.44 ERA. To Mintz’s credit, Margolin has faith that it’ll happen.

“If he continues to throw the way he’s been throwing, with his movement and throwing strikes, there’s not a team that’s going to be able to get enough hits off of him to score some runs,” Margolin said. “Maybe a hit here or there, but if he keeps throwing the way he does, I don’t really see many teams finding success on him.”

The record won’t occupy too much of Mintz’s headspace though, as the senior is just trying to do everything he can to enjoy the last month and a half of his career. Before even graduating high school, Mintz wrote an essay on what it would be like to give up the game that has been a constant in his life, recognizing that no matter how good a player is, age or ability will eventually take the game from them.

“Ken Griffey gives it up. Barry Bonds gives it up,” Mintz said. “Everyone throws their cleats away at some point.”

But Mintz, by circumstance of privilege, luck and sheer determination, knows that he’ll be around baseball forever. The blog has opened so many doors for him into the game that there’s no doubt in his mind that he’ll find a way to keep making silly videos about baseball. Yet, nothing can ever compare to playing between the white chalk lines.

“I know I’m going to miss it. I know it’s going to be a weird adjustment period,” Mintz said. “But I know that I’ll be googling men’s leagues as soon as the last pitch of the year happens.”

Until then, you can find Mintz stalking the front of the dugout, twirling the stopwatch tied to his belt loop and waiting for another chance to take the mound.

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