Former Mountaineer pitcher John Means was scheduled to be the Opening Day starter for the Baltimore Orioles when that Major League Baseball club began its COVID-delayed season at Boston on Friday, July 24. However, a “tired arm” has pushed him out of the slot.
Means was announced as the Orioles’ Opening Day starter last week. He will now get some additional rest, as the team treads cautiously with its only All-Star from a year ago. No further medical attention was prescribed for the Mountaineer alum.
“What we’re trying to do is dangerous,” acknowledged Means even before he started to suffer the arm issue. “We’re trying to get things cranked up real quickly with this shortened preseason as we try to get ready for the regular season.
“It’s tough, especially for starting pitchers who have to get all the way up and ready for five or six innings in just three weeks.”
Major League Baseball teams were in the midst of spring training in March when the game hit the pause button, as did nearly all sports, because of the spreading pandemic.
The MLB players left their spring camps in either Florida or Arizona – the Orioles were in Sarasota, Florida – and went home for more than three months before reassembling July 1 to prepare for the shortened 60-game regular season that will run from July 23-24 to Sept. 27.
“We worked out as best we could on our own,” noted Means, “but you can’t replicate the intensity of going out and facing Major League hitters.”
A graduate of Gardner Edgerton High School in Gardner, Kansas, Means didn’t gain any major college interest in his prep days. Thus he enrolled at Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College, and after posting a 6-0 record and a 1.14 ERA in Jayhawk Community College Conference play, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound lefthander received a lot of Division I attention.
“I was a late bloomer, a really late bloomer,” admitted Means. “My freshman year in high school, I was 5-foot-4 and now I’m 6-foot-4. I grew really late, and when I was growing, I had no idea what my body parts were doing. I was like a baby deer trying to move around.
“I went to junior college and started to figure some things out there.”
Among those who came recruiting Means out of Fort Scott was West Virginia’s new baseball coach, Randy Mazey, who had just arrived in Morgantown a few months earlier after a stretch as an assistant coach at TCU.
Means signed on with the Mountaineers and over the next two seasons continued his development. He posted a 4-4 record with a 3.34 ERA for WVU in 2013 and then improved to 6-2 with a 3.13 ERA in 2014.
“I fell in love with West Virginia, and committed the first time I visited the campus,” remembered Means. “When I first got to West Virginia, I wasn’t very good. I was horrible, honestly. I didn’t even pitch the first weekend in my first season. I got a chance the next weekend because there were four games rather than three, and I was the fourth starter. I did pretty well in that start and just kept going from there.
“Derek Matlock, who was my pitching coach at WVU, got me into this weighted-ball program. Now everyone does the weighted-ball, but then it was pretty new. Getting introduced into that and then the different delivery drills they had me do at West Virginia allowed me to make a huge jump in my time with the Mountaineers.”
Following his 2014 season at WVU, he was drafted in the 11th round by Baltimore, and over the next four years he proceeded on a steady climb through the Orioles’ farm system.
Means made his Major League debut in 2018 with a short stint with Baltimore, but then became a fixture in the Orioles’ starting rotation in 2019.
On an O’s squad that otherwise wasn’t very good (54-108 overall) last year, Means was a bright spot. He enjoyed a 12-11 record and a 3.81 ERA in 2019. He was a member of the American League All-Star team that summer, and when the season ended, he was second in the A.L. Rookie of the Year balloting.
Now in 2020, he at the top of the Baltimore rotation, even if the beginning of the season has been greatly delayed and will be played under bizarre circumstances because of the coronavirus.
“I’m excited and can’t wait for the season to start,” Means stated. “It is going to be a different experience, though, without fans. That’s something that is going to be hard to get used to.”