Jake Peavy is pure country. He hunts and fishes. He drives a rusty pickup. He watches The Dukes of Hazard. And just when the city boys get the timing on his fastball, Jake pulls the string and makes them look like major-league rubes. The youngest San Diego Padre ever to pitch in an All-Star Game, he already has an ERA title and strikeout crown at an age when most young fireballers are just starting to “get it.” Jake has gotten it since he came to the majors at 20. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Jacob Edward Peavy was born to Debbie and Donny Peavy on May 31, 1981, in Mobile, Alabama. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) Several members of the Peavy family lived in houses on a three-acre plot in Semmes, a town of about 15,000. Donny was a skilled carpenter known around the area for the cabinets he and his father made in the backyard shop. He was also remembered as a heck of a baseball player.

The Peavys did not have many of the creature comforts, but they did own a TV that got the Braves on TBS. Jake rooted for Atlanta and watched as they built a dynasty on tough pitchers like Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux.

Jake was not a bad pitcher himself. In fact, he was good at every sport he tried. He was skilled at hunting and fishing, too, and couldn’t wait to get his driver’s license so he could emulate his heroes in NASCAR, including fellow Alabamans Hut Strickland and Steve Grissom. Jake’s little brother, Luke, was also a good athlete.


 

 

Jake was especially close to his grandfather, Blanche Peavy, who was still playing fast-pitch softball. He drove Jake to school in his old El Camino most mornings. After school, grandpa would videotape his grandson pitching, then they would pop the tale in the VCR and analyze his motion. Despite all of this keen analysis, no one noticed that Jake was profoundly near sighted. After he got his first pair of glasses, he turned into an excellent hitter, too.

One day, in 1994, Blanche turned on a fan in the shop and the unthinkable happened. The blade snapped and went through his eye and into his brain. He fell into a coma, and his family later agreed to let him go. Jake was devastated. From that day forward, he always felt like he was pitching for “Paw-Paw.”

When Jake was ready for high school, his parents decided to send him to St. Paul’s Episcopal in Mobile. The school had a tremendous sports program, and clearly this would be their son’s path to a better life. St. Paul’s was a private school, so Debbie had to take a job in the post office so they could afford the tuition.

It was money well spent. As Jake grew into his burly 6-1 frame, he blossomed into an unbeatable pitcher. He had a hard fastball that he slung across his body, and a change up that was very advanced for a boy his age. In his first three varsity seasons, Jake went 31-1. He exhibited the kind of wildness one would expect in a live young arm, but after throwing an occasional pitch to the backstop, he was usually able to collect himself and get back down to business. The scouts who began showing up at his games took note of this quality.

As a senior, Jake was at his best. He led the Saints to the state championship, and did not lose any of his 13 decisions. Auburn University was among the top colleges offering him a full ride, and he told the major league scouts that came to see him that he was definitely going to college unless he was drafted in the first four rounds.

This scared a lot of teams off in the June draft. But one scout, San Diego’s Mark Wasinger, had gotten to know Jake’s other grandfather, and was convinced that the kid had all the intangibles necessary to be a star. Wasinger called the Padres late in the draft and asked how high Jake had gone. When he was informed that his name was still on the board, he begged the club to take him. They did, in the 15th round.

After the draft, Wasinger got Jake to agree that he would sign a contract if he got fourth-round bonus money. Then he put his reputation on the line and convinced the Padres to offer six figures. Jake signed on the dotted line, making Auburn coach Hal Baird the unhappiest man in the state.

ON THE RISE

Jake reported to Peoria of the rookie-level Arizona League that summer. He made 11 starts and won the league’s Triple Crown, leading everyone with seven wins, 90 strikeouts and a 1.94 ERA in 73 innings of work. He joined Idaho Falls for the end of the Pioneer League season, and did not allow a run in two starts.


Hut Strickland, 1996 Upper Deck Insert
 

Jake kept rolling in 2000. He pitched the entire season for the Fort Wayne Wizards of the Class-A Midwest League, and was ranked the #7 prospect by MWL managers. He went 13-8 with a 2.90 ERA in a circuit loaded with young hitting stars, including Albert Pujols, Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns and Jason Lane.

The only damper on Jake’s fine season was a bout of searing headaches. The problem was diagnosed as viral meningitis, and he was cured before any damage was done. In fact, he was back in the lineup two weeks sooner than anyone expected. At season’s end, Jake was named the Padres’ co-Minor League Player of the Year.

Jake continued to climb the organization’s ladder in 2001, making 19 starts for Lake Elsinore of the Class-A California League and five for the Mobile BayBears of the Class-AA Southern League. He went a combined 9-6 with an ERA under 3.00 and a ton of strikeouts.

After the season, Jake was looking for something to do. He called the owners of the BayBears and asked if they had a job. A couple of days later, he was on the phone selling season tickets to local businesses. He figured the job would be easy since he knew so many people in Mobile, but it took a long time to get his first appointment. GM Bill Shanahan joked that he would be happy to have Jake return as a pitcher, but reserved judgment on him as a salesman.

Jake did indeed return to Mobile in 2002, pitching well in 14 starts. He got the surprise of his life in late June when the injury-riddled Padres called him up to make an emergency start. (Talk about emergencies, Jake almost never made it to the game. His plane blew an engine and had to make an emergency landing.)

Jake took the ball against the New York Yankees a few days short of his 21st birthday. More than 50,000 fans were at the ball park in San Diego for the interleague matchup, a replay of the 1998 World Series. Jake’s first pitch was driven on a line against the left field wall by Alfonso Soriano. After that, he settled down and fanned Derek Jeter on three pitches. Jason Giambi doubled to drive in Soriano, but Jake was unhittable the rest of the way, twirling six masterful innings. The Padres got nowhere against New York pitchers, however, and they lost 1-0.

That audition earned Jake a permanent role in the Padres rotation. One month later, he went head-to-head with Randy Johnson and won. For the year, Jake posted a 6-7 record with a 4.52 ERA in 17 starts. He gave up three runs or fewer in all but five starts, but the 66-96 Padres did not offer him much in the way of support.


Albert Pujols, 2003 Diamond Kings
 

The team was not much better in 2003, thanks largely to a season-ending injury to closer Trevor Hoffman. The offense was anemic again, but the pitching showed promise. Jake teamed with fellow young guns Brian Lawrence and Adam Eaton to give the Padres plenty of decent starts—and much to be hopeful for.

The three had adjoining lockers and soon became known around the clubhouse as the "Three Musketeers." When Jake’s wife, Katie, fell ill with viral meningitis, Meggan and Adam Eaton were there for them ‘round the clock. Like Jake, Katie overcame her illness. The night she got a clean bill of health, Jake shut out the Mets on six hits.

Jake had a solid first half, going 8-7. His spirits and performance sagged in the second half, partly due to his name popping up in trade rumors.Planning to open a new ball park in 2004, the Padres were trying to land a big-name star. The Pittsburgh Pirates were dangling Brian Giles, and asking for Jason Bay and a young pitcher in return. Not until Oliver Perez was included in the deal did Jake’s mind return fully to baseball. He finished the season at 12-11 with 156 strikeouts and a 5.22 ERA. He allowed 33 homers, but 22 were solo shots. Opponents hit a meager .238 off him.

MAKING HIS MARK

The following season promised to be a good one for the Padres, who moved into spacious Petco Park. They had signed David Wells to be the elder statesman of a pitching staff that now starred the Three Musketeers. The bullpen was healthy again, with Hoffman back in the closer’s role. The offense was paced by Giles and Phil Nevin, who was also healthy (for once).

Jake started the 2004 season with an inflamed flexor tendon in his forearm. He pitched great anyway, giving up two earned runs or less in start after start. He fought going on the DL but finally had to give in. He hit the injured reserve in late May and came off in July after a rehab start for Mobile. He was magnificent thereafter, surrendering no more than four runs in any start, and then only twice all year. In 14 of his 27 starts, he gave up one run or less.

The Padres finished 87-75, six games out of first and five wins shy of a Wild card slot. Disappointing seasons from Sean Burroughs and Ryan Klesko were partly to blame, but the real problem was the lack of depth in the rotation. San Diego skipper Bruce Bochy simply couldn't find a solid fifth starter during the last two months. The Padres had dealt away Ismael Valdez in July and never hit on a replacement. Instead of playing for a postseason berth in the last two weeks, the team was playing for stats.


Jake Peavy, 2003 Upper Deck MVP
 

Jake’s stats were fantastic. After a flawless August and robust September stretch run, he finished 15-6 and led the major leagues with a 2.27 ERA. Jake struck out 173 batters in 166.1 innings, and walked only 53.

The 2005 season played out beautifully for the Padres. They featured a balanced offense and the deepest bullpen in the division. This saved them from a so-so starting staff, which had to deal with injuries to Eaton and Woody Williams, who was signed as a free agent over the winter. Jake held things together, going undefeated in his first 10 starts and finishing with a 13-7 record and league-leading 216 strikeouts. His ERA was a sparkling 2.88, and he pitched his first three career shutouts, including one against Roger Clemens. Jake also appeared in his first All-Star Game.

The Padres scraped along at .500 most of the season, but had enough kick at the finish to win 82 games and take the weak NL West. Three teams in the NL East had better records, but failed to make the playoffs. In the Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Jake started the first game and got hammered for eight hits in an 8-5 loss. While facing Larry Walker in the third inning, he caught a spike and felt something go pop. It was a rib. He was out for the series, which the Cards swept anyway.

As the 2006 season opened, it became clear that Jake was the centerpiece of a team attempting to retool and compete simultaneously—a luxury only NL West clubs seem to have. Along with young studs Josh Barfield and Khalil Greene, and old hands Giles and Mike Piazza, Jake is being counted upon to lead the Padres back to the postseason.

And, some day soon, perhaps that elusive first championship.

JAKE THE PITCHER


Jake Peavy, 2004 Heritage
 

Jake is tough, stubborn and relentless. He will not give up and he will not give in. When he gets ahead of a hitter, he rarely gives him something to hit. Unlike most power pitchers, Jake will not pitch everyone the same, even when he’s in a groove. He is always thinking ahead of each hitter, in each at-bat.

Jake whips fastballs over the plate with a tricky three-quarters cross-body motion that makes the ball difficult to pick up. His heater touches the mid 90s on the gun, but with his changeup always in the back of a hitter’s mind, his fastball seems just a bit faster.

Jake’s breaking stuff is underrated. He has been know to throw a slider and curve at any point in the count, and when he has all his pitches working, there are a lot of bad swings against him.

As he matures, Jake should improve his ability to stop the running game. Right now, base-stealers take great liberties when he is on the mound. Part of the problem is that he zeroes in so completely on the batter that he forgets to check the runner. On the other hand, he reads hitters as well as any young pitcher in baseball, and specializes in not throwing the pitch a batter is expecting.


Jake Peavy, 2006 SI for Kids

 

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