Tom Archdeacon - Wright State ace: ‘If I have a beard … it means we still have a season’

Before the season began, Jesse Scholtens was searching for a way to make a bit of a statement.

“Last year I did a moustache, so this year my roommate Gabe (first baseman Gabe Snyder) and I were thinking: ‘What can we both do this year?’” said the Wright State pitcher. “We decided, ‘Hey, let’s just see how big we can get these beards going for the season.’”

Scholtens was sharing his thoughts as he sat in the dugout at Nischwitz Stadium on Wednesday, just before he and his teammates would board their charter bus for a trip to the NCAA Regional Tournament in Louisville and a 2 p.m. game Friday with Ohio State.

The senior right-hander will be the starter against OSU. The ace of the Raiders staff, he’s 10-1, has thrown a team-high 101.2 innings and has a 2.72 ERA.

Most impressive was his March 11 perfect game against Dayton, one of just 25 thrown in the past 50 years of NCAA Division I baseball.

When it comes to baseball glory at WSU these days, he is the hair apparent.

His beard – dark and full and untamed – matches any you see on big league pitchers today. The Cubs Jake Arrieta, the Angels Matt Shoemaker, even the wildly-whiskered former Dodgers and Giants pitcher Brian Wilson have nothing on him.

Scholtens looks far different now than he did when he arrived here two years ago and a lot different from when he was a smooth-faced freshman pitcher for the University of Arizona.

“I don’t think the people there would recognize me now.” he said.

But he wasn’t talking about his beard.

When he came out of Angelo Rodriguez High School in Fairfield, Calif. – where he’d led his smaller division program with five no hitters – he chose Arizona, which had won the national title the year before.

But he struggled mightily that first year and in just two outings had a 27.00 ERA.

“I just wasn’t prepared for college baseball at the time,” he said quietly. “I was younger, smaller mentally and when I went out there I got overwhelmed.

“I didn’t play up to their standards…and they got rid of me.

“They wanted me to go to a junior college and get some more innings in and then come back to them, but I told them I thought it would be better if I looked somewhere else.”

He admitted he was crushed and it took a group effort to help him regain his footing.

“I had my parents, my girlfriend, my personal pitching coach and God to talk to,” he said. “All of them were there for me and I was able to come out of a bad situation and elevate.”

His pitching coach suggested Diablo Valle Junior College in Pleasant Hill, Calif. and that’s where Wright State discovered him.

Perfect fit at Wright State

“The first time I ever heard of Wright State was when Coach Mercer (assistant coach Jeff Mercer) called me out of nowhere and said, ‘This is Coach Mercer from Wright State,” Scholtens said with a smile.

“He was a little mumbly, so I didn’t even know what he was talking about. So when he hung up, I Googled ‘Coach Mercer’ and tried to find something that sounded like what he was saying.

“It turned out to be Wright State and I looked into it a little more and then came on my visit and it turned out to be the perfect fit.”

‘I liked everything from the players to the coaches who treat us like their own kids and go above and beyond for us. With that kind of environment, everything just clicked.”

Raiders head coach Greg Lovelady explained that environment:

“With the culture we set here, we allow kids to not be scared of failure. You go to an Arizona – a big national power like that – if you don’t click right away, you could be gone. Here there isn’t that pressure and you have the ability to grow.

“With Jesse some of the growth here was physical. We taught him how to eat, how to lift and Coach Parker (pitching coach Justin Parker) spent a lot of time with him.”

Last season Scholtens was 7-4, had a 3.08 ERA and a team-high 90.2 innings. He won Horizon League second-team honors and in the NCAA Tournament opener, he threw eight innings and got the win over Ohio University.

This year he’s been much better than that.

“I’d say I’m 300 percent different than when I was at Arizona,” he admitted.

The pinnacle, of course, was the perfect game.

He has the scorecard and the ball he last threw stored in his desk, but the memories, he said, he shares with Raiders past and present.

“To have my name on that moment, that means a lot to me, but what’s really cool is just that it says Wright State on it,” he said. “We’ve done a lot here in this program and that game represents all the guys who have been a part of the history here. That’s what makes it special.”

The beard adds to the ‘mystique’

“When you talk to Jesse he can be a little goofy,” Lovelady smiled. “He a lot of fun in the dugout and seems like a pretty nice guy.

“But when he crosses that white line and goes out there to pitch, it’s like Jekyll and Hyde. He changes complete. He’s like a different person and it’s scary.

“I look at him and it’s like ‘Dude?!!’ If you’re on the other team, you’ve got to be thinking, ‘This guy is one badass!’

“He is one of the most determined, the most competitive people around. Something comes over him on the mound now.

“Truthfully, it wasn’t our vision that he’d be our best pitcher. When we brought him in, we thought he’d be one of our top five or six.

“But the way he competes out there now, he’s become our ace. Even when he goes out and doesn’t have his best stuff I’m not worried, I don’t say, ‘Oh God Jesse doesn’t have it today.’ Even with his C stuff he’s gonna give us a great start.

“I’ve read how Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling said they might have had 10 starts a year where they felt like crap and didn’t have their stuff, but they just willed themselves that they were going to be better than you. They’d find a way to beat you. And now that’s Jesse, too.”

And as for the beard, Lovelady said he “loves” it:

“I think it adds to the mystique. It gives flavor to the team and flavor to him.

“Now maybe when he moves on from baseball and looks for a job – if he was going to be a financial planner or something – he’ll probably have to shave it.

“…And I know his mom is not happy with it.”

Scholtens laughed at that:

“I hadn’t seen her since January and when she came out here a couple of weeks ago, the first thing she did was stare at me and then come up and grab it. She didn’t hug me or say ‘Hi,’ she just said, ‘I don’t like it.’”

He said his girlfriend “hates” it and he doesn’t much like it either now:

“I feel hot with it now and me and Gabe, whenever we’re eatin’, we’ve got to do beard checks for each other to make sure we don’t have anything stuck in them.

“When the season’s over the beard goes, but we agreed we wouldn’t shave all season. And that’s the big plus of it now.

“If I have a beard … it means we still have a season.”