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Mike Adams is Living the Dream
A local pitching coach is in the Phillies’ bullpen
By Kate Morgan

On any list of classic baseball movies, “The Rookie” ranks somewhere near the top. It stars Dennis Quaid as Jim Morris, a pitcher whose major league hopes ended early. More than 15 years after his high school glory days, Morris still has a 98-mph fastball that lands him, finally, in the major leagues.

People keep asking Mike Adams if he’s seen “The Rookie.” He has – “it’s a great baseball movie,” he says – but more importantly, he’s living it. In January, the right-handed pitcher signed a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. But his path to professional baseball was more than a little unusual. It was like something out of a movie.

“I was watching guys throwing 100 mph and working out the mechanics. I had to test it out, and I used myself as the guinea pig. I figured my career didn’t matter anymore, so I could be the test case. I experimented on myself and… it worked.”

“I’d just accepted that it wasn’t going to happen for me,” says Adams, 26. “I wasn’t drafted, and that was pretty much that.”

Adams grew up in Egg Harbor Township, was a utility player at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, then had a standout pitching career at Wagner College in New York. But despite his achievements on that team and reliable fastball speeds in the low 90s, he wasn’t drafted after his senior year in 2016.

Most players are drafted out of high school or college, and very few join the pros once that window has passed. Adams played briefly for an independent league team in New York, then he and a teammate – fellow South Jersey native Ed Charlton – decided to put their playing days behind them and come home to South Jersey.

“I thought the best thing I could do was turn my attention to other players’ careers,” Adams says. “I wasn’t going to go pro, but I could be coaching other guys and helping them get there.”

In 2017, he partnered with Charlton to open the Baseball Performance Center in Pleasantville. It was meant to be a full-blown baseball academy, not just a place for some pitching tips or batting practice but a holistic training facility that could produce world-class athletes.

“It’s for guys who are really serious,” Adams says. “They want to play Division 1 college ball, or they’re semi-pro, or they’re looking to get drafted.”

The Baseball Performance Center started in a nondescript warehouse next to a heating-oil company Adams’ father owns. The necessary renovations were extensive and just getting it off the ground, says Adams, was “seriously a long shot.”

But one of the first players Adams and Charlton worked with was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels. Soon the school was full of students, and Adams was determined to produce a generation of star pitchers. He began studying mechanics, observing how the fastest pitchers moved, their timing and delivery. Then he set out to mimic it.

“I was watching guys throwing 100 mph and working out the mechanics,” he says. “I had to test it out, and I used myself as the guinea pig. I figured my career didn’t matter anymore, so I could be the test case. I experimented on myself and…it worked.”

By that he means his fastball got faster. A lot faster.

Mike Adams plays for the Phillies’ minor league affiliate team, the Jersey Shore BlueClaws

In games with his men’s team in the Atlantic County Baseball League, Adams started throwing 98 mph – over and over. He was 26 and throwing harder and faster than ever before. The guys at the Baseball Performance Center started telling Adams – who was working as a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers – that he should be pitching in front of scouts himself.

In January, Adams took a group of his students to a showcase at Maplezone Sports Institute in Philadelphia. Representatives from all 30 MLB teams were there to evaluate potential draft picks.

“At the end, they have this free agent session,” Adams says. “I’d been convinced to give it a try, even though I knew it was a long shot.” He gave it everything he had. In 2 minutes, Adam threw 16 pitches, most of them between 95 and 98 mph, and made himself impossible to ignore.

On the way home, in a car packed with his students, Adams’ phone rang. It was the Phillies, offering him a contract and a spot at spring training.

“It was surreal,” Adams says. “I grew up a Phillies fan. Everyone in my family is a Phillies fan. I couldn’t believe it was happening, and they were the first team to call. I was in the car with all the guys, and they were all just celebrating and congratulating me.”

Other teams called after that, interested in signing him, but Adams was happy to say he’d already committed to his hometown team.

Each of the 150 or so players who have gotten professional contracts or college scholarships after working with Adams have signed their name on the wall of the Baseball Performance Center. Before he left the business in Charlton’s hands, Adams put his own name on the wall.

He flew to Clearwater for spring training. “My parents and grandparents came down too,” Adams says, “even though they couldn’t actually come in. They had to watch through a fence, but they really just wanted to be a part of it.”

After spring training, Adams was assigned to one of the Phillies’ minor league affiliate teams – the Jersey Shore BlueClaws in Lakewood. He’s the oldest guy on the team by more than a year. He’s living in the team hotel in Tom’s River, but being just an hour from home means his family can regularly come to games.

His former students can come see him, too and get a masterclass in perseverance and self-confidence.

“I think the takeaway is that hard work really does pay off,” he says. “You can believe in long shots, and if you’re willing to work hard enough to make yourself better, they can actually happen.”

Adams may be older than the average rookie, but he says he’s prepared to work twice as hard. That’s what brought him this far. And being called up to the mound at Citizens Bank Park may be the next unlikely thing in a story full of them, but hey – Mike Adams loves a long shot.

June 2021
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