By Russell Moore
For The Times
Jake Elmore, a former Wallace State baseball star and current Arizona Diamondbacks infielder, was preparing to make his first major league start at shortstop at Busch Stadium in mid-August when chills and goosebumps overcame him.
His dreams of making the big leagues had arrived.
“It wasn’t my first at-bat at home in Arizona, it really wasn’t. It was when we were in St. Louis and they announced the Cardinals as the defending World Series champions. That’s when it started to sink in that we were about to play against the team I was watching in the World Series the previous year,” said Elmore, who had two hits during his debut, including a double. “After that moment and game, it became baseball again.”
Elmore, a Pleasant Grove grad, visited the Wallace State campus this month to deliver a Diamondbacks jersey to Lions’ coach Randy Putman and to reminisce about his recent promotion and collegiate memories.
The 5-foot-10 Elmore carved out quite a career at Wallace State, spanning the 2006-07 seasons. He was a freshman leader on the Lions’ ’06 NJCAA World Series team, hitting .407 with three homers, 48 RBIs and 22 steals. At the World Series, Elmore earned the “Big Stick” award for hitting .526 during tournament play, as Wallace State finished fourth nationally. The same season, he was named the ACCC/Region 22 Tournament MVP.
As a sophomore, Elmore hit .450 with four homers, 45 RBIs, 26 steals and 20 doubles. He ended his Lions’ career as a .428 hitter with 93 RBIs and 111 runs scored.
“Winning the ‘Big Stick’ at the World Series was a big deal, but I would have traded it in a heartbeat to win a championship out there (in Colorado),” Elmore said. “Wallace State was the perfect place for me out of high school. As far as learning baseball, I never learned more in two years than I did the two years here. There’s just so much to learn straight out of high school, and sometimes you may get pushed under the rug at a four-year school and not learn those things. You absorb a great amount of learning here.”
Upon his August promotion, Elmore became the fourth former Wallace State player in four years to make his major league debut, joining Derek Holland in 2009, Craig Kimbrel in 2010 and Graham Godfrey in 2011. Elmore is the lone position player among the quartet and the first since Terry Jones in the mid-1990s.
“I think four guys making the majors that quickly is a testament to the coaching here and who coach Putman has recruited and developed. You hear about big-time players going to big-time schools and they never make it out. You’ve got to develop the talent once you get it in, and the players know the high expectations surrounding the program and know they’ve got to work hard,” said Elmore, a teammate of both Holland and Kimbrel at WSCC. “It’s not every day you hear about one community college having four guys make it to the big leagues like we have, so it makes it special.”
Elmore holds Wallace State in high esteem.
“It was like a second home to me. People on campus always went out of their way to get you where you wanted to go academically,” he said. “It’s a fun place to go to college.”
Elmore collected seven RBIs in 68 at-bats with the Diamondbacks after his promotion. He hit .344 with 73 RBIs, 30 doubles, 95 runs scored and 32 stolen bases at Triple-A Reno (Nev.) before his call-up, including setting a franchise record with a 31-game hitting streak.
“The hitting streak was a great experience. The coolest part is how much the team gets behind you. When I started getting to 20 or 25 games in a row, even if I was 0 for 3, the entire team was on the dugout rail, cheering and waiting to see if I got a hit. When I did, it was like we won the World Series,” said Elmore, who transferred to Arizona State after his WSCC career. “I had a good year, and the hitting streak was a big part of it. It was a fun run, no doubt.”
During his month-and-a-half stay with the Diamondbacks, Elmore said his favorite cities to visit were St. Louis and San Francisco. One of the toughest pitchers he faced was Giants’ closer Sergio Romo.
Elmore said most of the Diamondbacks agreed his former WSCC teammate Kimbrel is the toughest right-handed pitcher to hit against in the majors.
Elmore plans to visit the team’s training complex in Arizona in November and has been instructed this offseason to work some at catcher, a position he thrived in at high school. He’ll return to Alabama in December and spend a month at home, working out and preparing for spring training.