FULLERTON, Calif. – It wasn’t so long ago that Dillon Bryant refused to even think about making it big on a baseball field.
He was more worried about sticking with his high school team in 2006, when the freshman infielder worked overtime on his game a couple of nights a week with a former college player rooming at his family’s home. They’d spend an hour or two on his throwing, his fielding, or in a batting cage.
It seems far removed from last week, when Bryant, 17 and the leading hitter for Orange Lutheran High School, was featured in a story and photo in the Orange County Register after a game-saving catch in the playoffs. And now, Bryant seems equally as excited about this coming weekend, when he’ll reunite with that older player he once lived with and turned to for baseball advice: Mariners starting pitcher Chris Jakubauskas.
“My game always needed some improvement, and he was just there to help me,” said Bryant, who will be at Angel Stadium with his family on Sunday when Jakubauskas makes his first start in his native Orange County, the place where his improbable climb to the majors really took off.
It was in 2006 that Jakubauskas, now 30, began playing with the Fullerton Flyers of the independent Golden Baseball League.
He’d spent three seasons in the Frontier League, but jumping to the Flyers was about the equivalent of moving from Class A to Double-A.
Jakubauskas had been a first baseman for the University of Oklahoma. But his bat wasn’t good enough for a professional career, so he switched back to pitching and finally put it all together in Fullerton, a community adjacent to where the Angels play in Anaheim.
He went on to become the Golden League’s pitcher of the year, then was signed by the Mariners a few months into the following season. Throughout that breakout season in Fullerton, he lived with Bryant and his parents, Pam and Kevin.
Jakubauskas knows this homecoming of sorts will mean a little more than the average start.
“Yeah, it will, but to be honest, I’m trying to stay away from that just so I don’t make it a bigger start for me than it already is,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is just trying to bounce back after the debacle the other day.”
Jakubauskas was pulled after only 31/3 innings against the Oakland Athletics on Monday. His start on Sunday could determine whether Jakubauskas remains in the rotation, with Jason Vargas doing well and Ryan Rowland-Smith expected back off the disabled list in early June.