At an age when careers are typically just beginning, Seth Hobbs knew the clock was ticking if he wanted to take a shot at fulfilling a dream.
Months after graduating from Ball State University with a degree in construction management, the Seneca native spent much of his winter in Yuma, Ariz. trying to showcase his baseball talents and to latch on with a professional team. One prospective opportunity arose with an independent team in the southwest, but it did not work out.
Hobbs eventually returned home, and it was there that his chance finally came. He recently had a personal workout with the Joliet Slammers of the independent Frontier League, and they announced his signing this week. They plan to use the 6-0, 175-pound right-hander as a relief pitcher.
"I came back on March 1 and kept working out," Hobbs said. "My pitching coach, Bob Gillund, I think he knows somebody with the Slammers. He got it set up for me to throw a tryout bullpen for them."
The tryout was held at Bo Jackson's Elite Sports in Lockport, which is where Hobbs had been training independent of the team anyway.
"It went really well," he said. "Really nice. I felt comfortable and good about my skills. I was in shape still from going down to Yuma. It was nice being closer to home and on my own home turf and not a few thousand miles away, throwing."
Growing up in Seneca, Hobbs honed his baseball skills under the direction of Greg Stahl at Seneca Grade School and Kirk Houchin at Seneca High, as well as his father, Larry. He earned All-Conference honors in the Interstate Eight and All-Area recognition with the Fighting Irish, for whom he went 11-7 with a 3.22 ERA and 104 strikeouts on the mound.
That earned Hobbs a spot on the Ball State baseball team, but the start of his college career was delayed due to Tommy John surgery on his pitching arm. He redshirted in 2008 and did not play as a redshirt freshman while still recovering in 2009.
In 2010, Hobbs pitched 24 1/3 innings for the Cardinals, compiling a 2-2 record and a 6.66 ERA with seven strikeouts. His ERA fell to 4.22 in 21 1/3 innings in 2011, and his strikeout total doubled. Hobbs graduated last year and did not utilize his remaining baseball eligibility, He did begin taking classes toward a Master's degree in the fall before opting to make a run at a career in baseball.
"After my last season at Ball State, I just thought, you know, I'm 22 years old. It's time to try the professional route because the older you get, the less likely it is that it's going to happen. I figured I'd better start now if I was going to do it," Hobbs said. "The Slammers have a really good program and can be a good stepping stone into affiliated ball."
Now 23, Hobbs will report to the Slammers on May 1 and hopes to secure a role in manager Bart Zeller's bullpen by the team's May 17 opener at the Windy City Thunderbolts.
“Hobbs shows solid command of three pitches,” Slammers Vice President of Baseball Operations Ron Biga said in a team release. “We’re looking forward to having him in camp to see what he can do in game situations.”
Hobbs says he does not know any of his future teammates or coaches very well. The only teammate he can remember meeting is catcher Trey Manz, who was brought to Hobbs' tryout. He is familiar, however, with the Slammers' home ballpark, Silver Cross Field in downtown Joliet, having seen the now-defunct Joliet JackHammers play there in the past.
"I think it's a pretty awesome environment," Hobbs said. "They have great fans, and I'm excited to have the opportunity to play in front of them. They take it seriously."
Several family members and friends plan to come up and watch Hobbs in person this season, he says. Those who have not seen him pitch since high school may notice a few subtle changes in his repertoire.
"Actually, I'm a lot different pitcher from what I was back in the day," he said. "I haven't really added anything anything, but I cut out a curveball. I'm a slider-fastball-changeup pitcher now, and I have worked really hard on being able to control all of those pitches. Me being able to control them wasn't really the case in high school."