Back Home Again

Stephen Head and Craig Rodriguez have returned to Ole Miss to finish their degrees. Since they are back in school, both former players are serving as student assistants for Ole Miss baseball. Today, Head's story. Sunday, Rodriguez's story.

Follow SpiritJeff on Twitter

Stephen Head had been released by the Indians, the team that drafted him in the second round back in 2005. But he decided he wanted to give baseball another shot, this time as a pitcher and a pitcher only.

When he came back to Oxford for the baseball reunion in February, 2011, Head was hoping to catch on with a team. Not long afterward, he did.

"I signed with Rockies the day before spring training," the former Rebel All-American said. "I was absolutely lights out in extended spring training. The Rockies were like ‘We've found something with this guy.' Not only could I throw it hard left-handed, I had a really, really good changeup that was always my best pitch. I actually still had a good slider. They were excited about me. But the further along we went, the less excited they got. My arm just couldn't withstand the throwing every day."

His first time to pitch in a game was when he first noticed something.

"I hurt my arm the very first real outing of the season we had in short season A," Head said. "In my first outing, I threw three innings, gave up one bloop hit, and struck out five. It was a great outing. But that's the night I ended up hurting my arm."

Head had worked all winter and spring just for the opportunity with a team, and then this.

"I woke up the next morning and my arm was just super stiff," he said. "It hurt to bend the elbow. We went into extra innings that night and I threw more pitches than in any one outing. And then there was that extra adrenaline and competiveness. It was just too much at once right out of the gate."

He was assigned and was pitching for a team called the Tri-City Dust Devils in Washington State. His velocity going in was 88-91 mph, which as a left-hander impressed his new organization. But it didn't take long before his velocity was on the way down.

Not long after that, he was done.

"I went from throwing 88-91 miles an hour to if I hit 85 those last four or five outings, I had a good night. I could not get any velocity behind the ball. I had no control. I was walking guys and I'd never really walked guys. Control was always my strong point.

"I literally got down to 81-83 a couple of outings. And that was it," Head said, with finality in his voice.

As it turned out, he wasn't surprised.

"I knew it was coming," he said of his late July release by the Rockies. "I was really disappointed. I was hoping against hope they'd give me the chance to get healthy. I was kinda between a rock and a hard place."

Stephen Head
Bruce Newman

And a place he hoped he wouldn't find himself at age 28 – out of work in pro baseball. But he moved on from there and immediately reconnected with two former coaches.

"I sent Coach (Dan) McDonnell a text message," he said of the current Louisville head coach and former Ole Miss assistant coach, "and Coach (Mike) Bianco a text message at the same time. Coach McDonnell texted me back and told me I ought to think about being an assistant for Coach Bianco. And Coach Bianco actually about ten minutes later said ‘If you don't get picked up (by another team), would you like to come back here and help?' I was going to ask, but he beat me to it."

And Head was headed back to Ole Miss, for school and to help the baseball program again.

"I'm just kinda watching and seeing what their philosophies are," he said of the current Ole Miss coaching staff. "To be honest, I could probably go run Coach Bianco's practice this weekend. But I've been gone a few years. He may have some philosophies that have changed a little bit. The game's the same, but everybody teaches it a little differently."

So could Head become a baseball coach, at some level of the game? As he completes the 33 hours he lacks on his business management degree, that becomes more of a possibility.

"On the professional and college level, I both hit and pitched," he said. "I could literally be a team's hitting coach and pitching coach. I just think I have too much baseball knowledge to not be involved in the game in some way. I'm certainly going to try. I'd love to coach at a place like this. That's the dream."

Head and his wife, Ashley, reside in her hometown of Anna, Ill. He is here during the week and there on the weekends. They say it is still a little like being in the minor leagues.

"We're used to it. We're looking at it that it's just one more year of school," he said. "I've got no classes on Friday, so I can go home on the weekends. That makes it nice."

Anna, Ill., is four hours from Oxford. There were times Head felt he was closer than that from being in the major leagues when he was with the Indians.

"I think the thing that disappoints me the most was playing well enough to get to the big leagues but not getting there because of the organizational philosophy," he said. "That was the most disappointing thing to me. It was almost like I was the guy they felt comfortable giving the bad news to.

"I wasn't the greatest hitter in minor league ball. But I was certainly a good enough hitter. My defense at first base and in the outfield, my baserunning, my arm strength, everything else was above average."

He knew there was a chance the Rockies would pull a quick trigger. He was simply hoping for more time from them.

"From the standpoint of pitching this last year and when my arm felt good, I'm as good as I ever was," Head said. "Just throwing every single day, especially this year, I could never really get over the hump of feeling good. It just got worse and worse. I was either going to have to go on the DL or just try to pitch through it. I tried to pitch through it and it didn't get better. The worse it got, the worse I got."

So now his focus is on finishing his degree in May and seeing what the future holds after that. He said he took a few classes during the two-week wintercessions the pasts few years, but that's it as far as school since 2005.

Now he tries to get used to being a student again, which isn't the easiest thing in the world.

"I don't remember it being this much reading involved in the classes," Head laughed and said. "That's for sure."

OM Spirit Top Stories