Interview by: Victoria Vesce
The power of persistence is a mighty force. Justin Toole knows that well. Whether it was becoming a high school star, a college stand out or pushing through an injury that may have cost him baseball, Justin has not been one to let anything stand in the way of his dream of playing professional baseball. With a “tell me I can’t and watch me do it” attitude, Justin has proved the naysayers wrong. His work ethic, tenacity and versatility are non-tangibles that can’t be taught. They are inherent in this special young man who encourages other young ballplayers to “work hard, follow your dream and never give up!” Justin certainly hasn’t and in addition to being a pro baseball player, he has added published author to his list of accomplishments. “9 in 9: Nine Life Lessons Learned From Playing Nine Positions in One Nine Inning Baseball Game” is the name of his recent book which was inspired by a game he played while with the Class A Advanced Carolina Mudcats. On August 25, 2012, Justin was given the opportunity to play all nine positions in the span of a nine-inning game: something only four MLB players have even done. Please check out Justin’s book on Amazon and buy a copy for you and one to pass along! The book parallels each of the 9 positions with 9 life lessons. It is a reminder that Baseball and Life go hand in hand: similar to Baseball Life 365!
Coming from a baseball family, just how immersed in the sport were you and what are some of your earliest memories of the game and playing it? (Saw some videos of you pitching and hitting at 2 years old!)
I grew up in a baseball family. My dad has coached high school baseball ever since I was born, and as a kid I always tagged along to his practices and pretended to be one of the players on one of his teams. I was always fielding, hitting, and throwing with them at practice and then playing my own games on the sidelines when their games were going on. My earliest memories of the game were trying to find people to play catch and pitch to me while my dad’s games were going on. It didn’t matter if I was at home in the back yard or tagging along to practice, all I ever wanted to do was to play baseball and be around the game.
Growing up who was your favorite MLB Player and why?
Growing up I was a huge Derek Jeter fan. In the late 90’s I would always turn on the television in October when the playoffs were on and I would see Jeter and the Yankees winning World Championships. I admired the way he played the game and the fact that he was a winner and it helped that he was a shortstop just like I was. As a result when I got into high school and later college I always wore #2.
When did you decide that playing pro-ball was your
destiny? Was there a defining moment?
There wasn’t really a defining moment. I was having a great senior year in college at the University of Iowa and was looking forward to being drafted when I broke my arm against Michigan State in late April. With that one pitch my future as a baseball player was in question. I wouldn’t have been a high draft pick, and as a result of the injury I wasn’t drafted in 2009. I had to prove myself and that I was healthy in Independent Ball for a few games before I was signed by the Cleveland Indians. In my baseball career I have constantly had to prove myself over and over, and making it into professional baseball wasn’t any different.
Throughout high school and college you had numerous
awards and accolades. What accomplishment during that time stands out to you as meaning the most?
I was blessed to play with some talented players in high school as well as college, and I was able to play on some pretty special teams. In high school making it to the state tournament my freshman and senior years will always a memory that will stand out to me. In college my junior year I won the QAB (Quality At Bat) title for our team and that was something I was very proud of. It meant that I was able to have productive quality at bats and able to help our team be successful. People always say that if you have quality at bats the rest will take care of itself, and that couldn’t be more true. My statistics that year were tremendous, only because I was trying to have quality at bats.
How would you describe life in the minors and what advice would you give a young rookie just starting out?
You hear it all the time: it’s a grind. The season is 5-5 ½ months long, and it can be a roller coaster of a ride. My biggest advice to a newcomer to professional baseball is to try to avoid getting too excited over a good performance and/or getting too down on themselves over a bad performance. You’re going to play 140+ games and you can’t let one outing carry over into the next and so on and so on. Baseball is a brutally tough game, and failure is going to happen. Once you figure that part out it makes it easier to play and understand.
What have you done this off-season to prepare for this year?
This off season I have spent a lot of time trying to get myself in good shape. I spent a lot of time in the gym and in the cages trying to get stronger and working on my swing. I ended last year on a positive note and I’m trying to take that momentum with me into this year and Spring Training.
Do you have any pre-game rituals and if so what are they?
I don’t have much for pre-game rituals. I’m a very excitable and energetic person so I usually try and listen to some country music and calm myself down before the game. Other than that, there’s not much else.
Who has had the most influence in your life and why?
The people with the biggest influence on me in my life would be my parents. They were strict and tough on me growing up and always expected a lot out of me. They wanted me to be the best person I could be both on and off the field or court or whatever playing surface I was on. My dad taught me the game of baseball and they both would always take me to all of my baseball and soccer and basketball games growing up. My family is competitive and they definitely instilled that in my in an early age. I definitely wouldn’t be who I am or where I’m at today if it wasn’t for them.
What is your greatest motivation?
My greatest motivation comes from people doubting me and telling me I wasn’t good enough growing up. In high school a lot of people thought I wasn’t good enough to play D-1 baseball and in college some people questioned if I would be able to make it in professional baseball. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work hard and chase my dreams and accomplish some goals a lot of people thought I’d never get to.
In addition to being a pro-athlete, you are also a published author. Tell us about your book “9 In 9” and how it relates to a game you played one night for the Mudcats.
The book turned out pretty awesome. It’s about a game where I played every position in a minor league game, 9 positions in 9 innings. I tell the story of that game, but it’s not really about the game, it’s about 9 life lessons I have learned from playing baseball. I thought it would be a cool way to use the story of the game as a way to share many things that I have learned that have helped me in my career in hopes that it will help others in their lives.
Where will you start out playing this year and what is the next goal you would like to reach?
The ultimate goal for me is to make it to the Major Leagues so I am always working towards that. As far as the 2014 season, I have no idea where I will start out, but I’ll be ready for wherever the Indians send me.
What is your favorite all time movie?
I have a lot of favorite movies, too many to include just one. Zoolander, Good Will Hunting, and Step Brothers are up there.
If you could be any Super-Hero, who would you choose and why?
Does Iron Man count? If so, I’d choose him.
In closing, how would you like to be remembered and what would you like your legacy to be?
I would like to be remembered as a kid who was a good teammate, one who worked hard and was consistent, and one who left it all on the field. I’ve always dreamed big growing up and I would like people to remember me as a kid who had big dreams and was a person who worked hard and had the right attitude and achieved those dreams while inspiring others along the way.