Greyson Jenista

Atlanta Braves 2018 second round draft pick Greyson Jenista (above) started his pro career in Danville this season, but the baseball work horse has already been moved up to Low-A ball.

Coming out of high school in Kansas, Greyson Jenista only had one college offer to play baseball. The day he got the offer from Wichita State was the day he committed to being a Shocker.

Since then he’s won the Cape Cod League MVP and was drafted No. 49 overall in the second round of the 2018 Major League Baseball draft by the Atlanta Braves. Jenista lasted just 10 games in Danville before being called up to the Braves Low-A affiliate in Rome, Georgia over the weekend.

It wasn’t that long ago, just a little over a month, that Jenista became that much closer to accomplishing his dream.

“I got a call right before their pick was in and they told me they were going to take me at 49 and once you end that call you’re kind of alone and you hang up the phone and you just kind of let out a breath of relief and just kind of close your eyes just like, ‘it’s over,” Jenista said last week at the Danville Braves stadium.

It’s been a long journey to this point for Jenista, but his story is just getting started.

The beginning

“Baseball’s always been a part of my life. I’ve always played baseball as long as I can remember,” Jenista recalled.

It was in middle school that it clicked for the outfielder that baseball was more than a hobby.

“It kind of turned into I wanted to go play every weekend, I wanted to go out and travel and see what’s out there,” he said.

Jenista played his high school baseball at De Soto High School, between Topeka and Kansas City, Kansas. It was his junior year that changed everything for him. That’s when he got a call from the Midland Redskins, a summer travel baseball team that has produced the likes of hall of famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin, Mark Mulder, and current MLB stars Chris Carpenter, Matt Harvey, Eric Hosmer and Andrew Benintendi.

“I wanted to get out, I wanted to know who was the best of the best out there and I wanted to compete against them,” he said. “I would say that was probably the best thing that I did for myself and my career, not only on the field but off the field, living away from home and having to take care of yourself. You’ve got to grow up and that’s what I did.”

He played two summers for the Redskins, the same team as one of his favorite players, Eric Hosmer. Hosmer was one of several Major League all-stars he looked up to.

“When I was really young, like as a kid, you’ve got to go with (Albert) Pujols,” he said. “I loved (Derek) Jeter, obviously… but as I got older and I was playing first base it was more of a Hosmer, just the way he went about his business.”

The day he got the call from the Redskins was an interesting day. Jenista wanted to jump on the chance immediately without knowing who was on the phone or how it had to happen. He just wanted to play baseball on a bigger stage.

“I got the phone call and I was like, ‘Mom, I’m going,’ before I even met him,” he said. “I would think if you ask any mother if some random old guy calls your son and asks them does he want to live with him for the summer and play baseball, I don’t think any mom would just be like, ‘Yeah, okay!” Mine wasn’t.”

They got all of the logistics worked out and he moved away from home to play for the Midland Redskins.

“That was probably the best two years that have ever happened for me so far, “he said.

Even before getting to that point, and obviously since that point, baseball was and is Jenista’s life. Whatever was going on in his life, Jenista always had baseball.

“Baseball was my outlet. That was my time, “he said. “I didn’t play with my friends. Obviously I had friends on the team, but that was my getaway from whatever was going on, whether it was school or stuff that was going on at home. That was my getaway. I didn’t use something else to get away from that. That was my getaway. That’s what I love to do.”

Shock(er) factor

“I don’t have some crazy college recruiting story. I got one offer. It was Wichita State and I took it the same day they offered,” Jenista said.

Before that day, Jenista had never been to a college baseball game. Before he even saw his first college contest, he walked around the baseball facility at his new home.

“I’m getting goosebumps,” he said. “The stadium, to the indoor field that we had, when you’re a high school kids it’s like, ‘Wow!’”

As it was before he got to Wichita, baseball was life for Jenista when he got to college. Instead of going out to a party, Jenista and his roommate freshman year, Philadelphia Phillies draft pick Alec Bohm, would go to the indoor facility and work out.

“I remember nights when Bohm and I would go hit at 11 o’clock at night, 12 o’clock at night, one in the morning. I remember we would walk from our dorm over to the indoor and go hit or go throw or really whatever we wanted to do we would do it,” he recalled. “It’s your craft. It’s about how much you want to put into it… I chose to enjoy the baseball.”

When his freshman season ended, a season in which he was named the co-Freshman of the Year in the conference, that’s when Jenista was a believer that he could play professional baseball.

“I’ve always been the guy that’s really confident. I’ll be my biggest fan, but also my biggest critic at the same time. I expect a lot out of myself, but at the same time I try to be realistic with the future,” Jenista said. “After I got to Wichita and actually played my freshman year and had success I know I would play pro ball. I just didn’t know when, where or with who.”

Then he went to the Cape Cod League, the top collection of amateur baseball players in the country each and every summer. That confidence took a little bit of a hit after his first season on the Cape, but he went back last season and won the MVP award.

“When you’re young and you play in the Cape, and I was one of the youngest guys on the Cape that year, you get torn up a little bit,” he said. “You look at Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge, they play in the Cape. Those are the guys that play in the Cape, so if you’re young and you’re not ready to hook it up you’re going to get it taken to you a little bit and I did. I’ll be honest, I did… That’s the best prep course you can take.”

Becoming a pro

It was after his MVP campaign at the Cape Cod League that gave concrete belief that Jenista was going to hear his name get called in the draft. The various mock drafts were coming out and he was seeing his name coming up in the early rounds.

“That was kind of the, ‘Wow, we could go pretty high,’” he said.

Even with all that, that phone call had to come before he fully believed it. Then that call came and it was real.

“It was a relief. It was definitely the relief. That was a crazy day, a stressful day. You try to enjoy it as much as you can,” he said. “Whether you know where you’re going or not, or where you think you’re going, you worry about it.”

After hearing his name called at pick 49, that was when the fun began, surrounded by a lot of family and friends back home in Kansas.

“Then you have the emotions of actually hearing your name called. Then it just turns into the fun. That’s when the fun and joy comes,” he said.

Jenista has now played pro baseball for two weeks and his dedication is as strong as it’s ever been. There’s a lot of work that goes into the daily grind, but it’s all worth it for Jenista.

“I would say what motivates me is the fear of not reaching my potential. I believe that I am a great player. I believe I’m going to be an even better player. I would tell you that I’m going to go and I’ll make it, but waking up every morning and doing the work comes into what if I could and I don’t because I don’t do the work,” he said. “Baseball has always been my outlet. This isn’t like a job to me. Yeah, you get paid and it’s a little easier when you get a paycheck, but this is what I do. This is what I love to do, so showing up to the field five hours before every game isn’t that big of a deal to me.”

People might think that it gets more stressful and more business like the more you advance, but Jenista said he’s having a blast being a pro and being in a clubhouse full of people just like him. They may all have different stories, come from different places, but they are all the same in one important way.

“That is the best part. It’s all a bunch of guys trying to make it,” he said. “In college or in high school… not every dude on your team wants to make it. Not every dude on your team wants to play college. And the same goes for college. Not every dude on your college team wants to play pro ball… I want to be around guys that want to make it to the top as quick as they can and be the best players they can because those are the guys that are going to help you better yourself on and off the field and hold you accountable.”

Jenista, the person and the ball player

Jenista is a big guy. He stands 6-feet-4-inches tall and has power to all fields. In today’s age of baseball, power hitters seem to be okay with striking out a bunch and carrying mediocre batting averages while mashing 30-40 home runs in a season.

That’s not the kind of player Jenista wants to be, and he even told the Braves that very thing before they drafted him.

“The game is changing, we all know it, but I’m a believer of putting the ball in play. That’s just what I am,” he said. “I even told the Braves before they drafted me, ‘I’m not your 200 strikeout, 50 homer guy.’ I don’t want to be that player. I would like to see a guy hit .300 with 20 than .250 with 40.”

In college Jenista played a little bit of center field and first base with a few games in left field. In Danville he primarily played right field. No matter where in the field he is, his nights always start with a strong defensive effort.

“I try to play the game hard. That’s kind of the best compliment I can get as a player is you play the game hard and play with a lot of energy… I try every night, first off to play the best defense that I can because that’s a selfish thing if you don’t,” he said. “Secondly, I hope it’s a good night at the plate, but I would say I’m an advanced hitter with some power and if you come out you might see one go up and out, but you’re just going to see me play hard every night.”

It’s all business once the game starts, but Jenista has his superstitions that he’s got to follow, especially when he’s playing well.

“It normally goes to what I did the day before, or the day before that. So like this week, I started off Monday and Tuesday with two home runs at Burlington and I wore a certain pair of shoes, certain pair of shorts and the same polo to the field every day. They got washed, but I wore the same sliders and undershirts, I tape my wrists a certain way and then I actually took BP a little differently,” he explained. “It ended up working so basically I’ve been doing that since.”

Then there’s the time between batting practice and the game. BP ends around 4:30 p.m. and the game starts at 7 p.m. He’s got his way of cooling down after batting practice, even though that’s been difficult with the hot weather he was been treated to in Danville.

“I just kind of hang out. I put on a long sleeve shirt even thought we play on the surface of the sun here,” he said with a laugh.

And that’s the guy he is off the field, too. Don’t be fooled by the fact he will likely tower over you.

“I’m from a small town in Kansas. The Midwest, known for the ‘yes ma’am,’ ‘yes sir,’” he said. “That’s all we’re taught. I’m going to hold the door for you and say thank you. That’s a pet-peeve of mine right there if I hold the door and you don’t say thank you. I let it go, but it was just kind of how I was raised. I’m a nice guy. I’m not a big-league guy. I’m not going to just not talk to you or look at you. I’ll look you in the eye and say hello. I’m just a normal guy, but I’ve got a pretty fun job.”

A message for home

Jenista had some friends and family come see him play in Danville before his call-up. The list of people to thank is a long one, but he gave them a lot of credit for why he is where he is.

“I’m doing good out here in Danville, Virginia playing on the surface of the sun every day,” he said as a message to his family and friends back home. “I can’t thank all the people at home, friends and family, enough for all that they have done for me. We got to experience that on draft night. Wichita State, a lot of growing there, the coaching staff is awesome there.

“Just thank you.”

Chris Doherty is a sports writer for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached a chris.doherty@martinsvillebulletin.com

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