When the Major League Baseball draft passed last Wednesday and Thursday and his name wasn’t called, Jacob Wetzel took heart.
“I mean, it was only five rounds [due to the coronavirus pandemic],” he said. “It would have been insane to go that high.”
Since the fall, long before anyone knew about what COVID-19 was about to unleash, Wetzel, a former two-sport star for Walkersville High School who had torn the cover off the ball in his first season at Frederick Community College, had been having extensive conversations with an area scout for the Chicago Cubs.
Those discussions had progressed to the point that Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who had a large hand in ending two of the most fabled championship curses in baseball history in both Boston and Chicago, decided to check in with Wetzel on the phone.
“It was exciting,” Wetzel said. “I didn’t think that I would be speaking with the president of the team. Seemed like a normal guy.”
So, Wetzel had a feeling that something was still imminent, a suspicion that was confirmed at 9 a.m. Sunday morning when the area scout, Billy Swoope, called to tell him the Cubs were offering him a minor-league contract.
“There’s this little two-and-a-half-mile trail that I run,” Wetzel said. “I was on my way there when I got the call. Then, I spent the next several hours on the phone. So, I never did get the chance to run.”
Wetzel was back on the phone with Swoope and Epstein and Justin Stone, the Cubs’ director of hitting, who plans to make an upcoming trip to Frederick to work with Wetzel.
There were also family members and friends to contact so he could share the news.
“We are all so excited for him,” his mother, Pam, said. “He’s worked very hard for this. This is something that he’s always really wanted. We’ll continue to support him any way that we can. So, here we go, Chicago Cubs.”
The future of the sport professionally remains cloudy with ongoing issues in labor negotiations. But Wetzel anticipates reporting to Mesa, Arizona, in August or early September to represent the Cubs in the Fall Instructional League.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Wetzel had been training — lifting weights, running, hitting and throwing on local and otherwise vacant fields — with a few of his closest friends.
His second season at FCC was interrupted by the coronavirus shortly after it began. But Swoope had made a trip to Florida to see Wetzel play for the Cougars in early season games. He left with affirmation that Wetzel was a prospect worth pursuing.
Wetzel was already batting .333 with the Cougars with six doubles, two triples and seven RBIs in seven games in 2020.
The season before, he batted .377 with six homers, 55 RBIs, 64 runs scored and 11 triples, a single-season school record for FCC.
That was enough to catch the attention of several major league teams. They either made contact or sent a representative to see him play. But the Cubs, by far, pursued him the hardest.
They liked the fact that he was a capable outfielder with a better-than-average left-handed bat, Wetzel said.
The only other area scout Wetzel spoke to worked for the Red Sox.
“The Cubs’ staff made me really feel like it wasn’t just a business thing,” Wetzel said. “They seemed really interested in me and made me feel like they really cared about me.”
Wetzel landed on Swoope’s radar during his brief time at Old Dominion University, where he trained with the baseball team for six weeks over the summer but never played a game for the Monarchs.
Knowing he needed to get back home and be closer to friends and family, he withdrew from ODU in his first semester there.
But the dream to play professionally never died. He enrolled at FCC later that winter and made a big impact for the baseball team. He also stayed in touch with Swoope.
So, after being a standout athlete in the community for most of his life, after setting school records at Walkersville High School for home runs (12), triples (18) and stolen bases, after batting .440 during his senior season in 2018, Wetzel finally got the call he’d always been waiting for Sunday morning.
“Dream come true,” he said.