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Former Jaspers star Joe Jacques shines in first spring training

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It’s been nine months since Joe Jacques, the former Manhattan College lefthander, heard his name called by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 33rd round of Major League Baseball’s amateur draft.

So some of the novelty of being a professional baseball player might have worn off after Jacques spent last summer pitching for the Bristol (Virginia) Pirates of the Rookie League.

But then earlier this month, on March 2, Jacques left home and headed for Bradenton, Florida, and his very first spring training.

It’s been quite the adventure so far.

“It’s been a really cool experience, especially meeting a lot of people and players in the organization,” Jacques said. “You see a lot of the big-leaguers around, which is cool. They’ve been really friendly, too, and you can learn a lot from them. They even hook you up with some of their gear sometimes.”

Jacques already has chatted up some prime Pirates players in camp, including Pittsburgh’s ace hurler.

“I spoke with Chris Archer, which was fun,” Jacques said. “I also talked with Josh Bell, Adam Frazier and Corey Dickerson. Other guys have been around, too, and they’d talk to us about how to act like a professional and believing in ourselves and stuff like that, that will help us get through the minor leagues a little easier.”

Jacques, a grizzled veteran of one season of pro ball, admits there was a little awe at first before realizing he was there to work and impress Pirates’ coaches and brass.

“At first you’re a little star-struck by the professionals that are around,” Jacques said. “But it’s definitely been a good experience because you’re around the top dogs in the organization and even the front office people.”

After a first week that included physicals, eye tests and the like, Jacques and the rest of his Pirates teammates finally got down to some baseball. And some baseball quickly turned into long days of baseball.

“We started games (two weeks ago), and we pretty much play every single day,” Jacques said. “And when you’re not playing another team, we essentially scrimmage ourselves.”

It’s not all fun in the sun for Jacques in Bradenton. The days are long, and there is a lot of activity to pack into a day, and a lot of learning to file away.

“We go every day from 7:45 a.m., to 4 p.m.,” Jacques said. “We’re kind of broken up into teams, groups for AAA, AA, High-A and A. So you start with a meeting with your team and the coaches, and you review what you’re going to do in practice that day. After that you have a mental conditioning meeting with the mental conditioning staff that teaches you how to think on the field and think off the field to better your performance.”

And then after that, practice starts. “And that can take a while because you do all the fundamental stuff and team stuff.”

But then your day really gets started.

“Then there is always a game afterwards,” Jacques said. “And that’s from 1 to 4.”

So far this spring, Jacques — a side-arming lefty reliever — has enjoyed a good amount of success in games.

“At first I threw a couple of bullpens (sessions) and in a scrimmage against ourselves,” Jacques said. “But then in my first game we played against the Blue Jays, and I pitched an inning in that game. I threw a scoreless inning with a strikeout.”

Jacques then parlayed that outing into a longer stint his second time out and had even better results.

“Then I pitched (last Friday) against the Braves, and I threw two innings with four strikeouts. So it’s going pretty well for me so far.”

There is just over a week to go before Opening Day and Jacques hopes to continue to impress.

And while he won’t head north with the big-league club when spring training is over, he’s not quite sure where he will be ticketed come cut-down day.

“I haven’t heard anything yet,” Jacques said. “But we had a meeting with the head of player development and they said I’m competing for a spot in High-A or A.”

That would mean either remaining in Bradenton or heading to Greensboro, North Carolina.

Wherever he goes, Jacques will continue to chase his dream. So far, it has taken him from former walk-on at Manhattan to his second season in pro ball.

“It’s pretty crazy that you have all these eyes on you, but it definitely has helped that I’m doing well,” Jacques said. “I’ve been thinking to myself that I’m definitely opening some eyes right now. I just got to keep it going.”

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