SvoNotes: Meyer's Heart Broken By Tribe

When discussing the star power of LeBron James this week at the Big Ten Media Days, Urban Meyer told a story of his own professional sports experience that many haven't heard before. Much like James, Meyer was nearly a Cleveland athlete, but it never quite happened.

Asked Tuesday at the Big Ten Media Days about the Sports Illustrated letter LeBron James dictated – the ode to the Cleveland area that served as his announcement that he was coming home – Urban Meyer had an answer I didn’t expect.

Meyer is on record as loving the hardworking, tough culture that forged him into the coach he is growing up in the northeast corner of the state in Ashtabula, so it was a good idea to ask what he thought about LeBron’s letter.

He started to answer the question and veered into an area of his life he hasn’t much talked about publicly.

“Absolutely it resonates,” Meyer said. “Every chance I can, I brag about where I grew up. It’s unfortunate sometimes – I coach players and I’m around colleagues that really didn’t have a great experience. I was lucky I did. Every Sunday we could, we’d go to Browns games, I was a big Cavs guy, we went to the Indians games.”

Meyer, as many know, played minor league baseball in the Atlanta Braves organization, and his mention of the Tribe took him off into uncharted territory.

“(Then-Indians president) Gabe Paul told me they were gonna draft me in the first round back in 1982. They didn’t. I was crushed. The first round went by and I was like…”

That’s not all as far as the story goes, as the Indians even met with the multisport prep star at Ashtabula St. John High School about the possibility of drafting him.

“I had lunch with Gabe Paul (and his assistant) in the spring of ’82,” Meyer continued. “How about that? They said, ‘You wanna go look at your position?’ We walked down and looked at shortstop. They said, ‘You wanna be the shortstop for the Cleveland Indians one day?’ I said, “Yeah.’ They said, ‘Son, I think that’s gonna happen.’ It never happened.”

Meyer was still drafted, though, at the age of 17. A shortstop, Meyer was solid at the plate, hitting .370 as a senior for the Heralds with 28 RBI to make the Class A all-state team. But his biggest skill was his ability to go to his right at shortstop, backhand a ball and make the throw to first base, a la Derek Jeter.

"Between his sophomore year and junior year he really filled out, and he was like a stud when he came in for his junior year," Meyer's prep baseball coach, Bill Schmidt, told BSB in 2011. "Then things started to take off for him. His forte was he had a cannon for an arm, and playing shortstop, that's what you need. He was able to make all the plays, and I would say his signature play was when he would go deep in the hole at short, round it off and make that throw over."

It wasn’t enough to make it in the pros, though. As a 17-year-old rookie with the Gulf Coast League Braves, Meyer hit .170 in 53 at bats. The next year, he hit .250 with a homer and four RBI in 15 games for Pulaski of the rookie-level Appalachian League, but arm troubles ended his career.

“I was 17 years old and went to a really small high school,” Meyer said of his baseball struggles. “They hand you a wooden bat, and there’s no more 78 mph fastballs, it’s 96. My first year I hit below .200. My second year I was doing well and I had some arm issues and I didn’t tell anyone. I just kept trying to play through it, but I knew they’d cut you. I wasn’t a high pick.”

Meyer left his pro career with some great memories, though, as he got to know players like Ron Gant, Mark Lemke and Fred McGriff who would eventually form the core of the Braves’ renaissance in the 1990s.

“We used to play ping pong together every night,” Meyer said of McGriff, who was a Yankees’ prospect at the time. “Just a great friend. He should be a Hall of Famer. 493 (homers).”

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