Voss Begins Nowhere, But Is Going Somewhere

The minor leagues are every player's obstacle to the majors. There are no shortcuts on this road, and when they're attempted, they're often backtracked upon. And even though a certain player's journey before their time in the minors may be a bit of an express, ability-led lane, their journey always slows, always for the better, once they reach it.

Many players are like this. Many are hot high school prospects who lead their game with their natural ability to college where they brush up, polish up, to the draft, where they tense up, to the minors, where they hopefully move up.

Some guys' early road isn't even as easy being a hot prospect. From being trapped in potential, to not yet being offered "the opportunity", to perhaps being shaded by a star's shadow, the "road to the show" has a few more bumps for some guys than others.

These players have to work even harder than the average ballplayer. They have to push up a few extra reps, run an extra couple laps, or watch a few more frames of video. At a certain point in any baseball player's career pure talent and ability begin to not be the most important thing, but begin to share their importance with knowledge and diligence.

Erie's newly acquired starting pitcher Jay Voss is one of these guys. And, not to denigrate his obvious ability, Voss has, as he must to succeed, strived harder, with more effort, than most.

"I knew I wanted to be a baseball player when I was, you know, five years old," Voss said while explaining his past. Baseball was always his thing always his aspiration and his wildest dream.

And, while his dream could have easily been overshadowed by someone else's, Voss didn't let that happen.

You see, Voss's childhood best friend in Breese, Illinois was also an aspiring professional ballplayer, and while his friend was being frantically scouted throughout their high school years, Voss didn't let someone else's success get in his way, and even used it to help himself.

"My best friend growing up was Josh Thole, the starting catcher for the Mets," Voss, almost out of the blue, explained. "So basically we were on the same t-ball team when we were five or six. And, you know, I could say a lot was due to him."

"Because a lot of times when you're growing up you follow your friends, and whatever your friends do that's what you're doing… we were just always playing baseball."

The pieces at the time, for the both of them, fit perfectly. They were trekking to success side-by-side.

"But I guess I ended up throwing more batting to him than he did to me because he was the hitter and I ended up being the pitcher."

On their way the two encountered another fit to their puzzle, another source of inspiration – Jordan Kreke of the Braves' AA affiliate in Mississippi.

"We actually have three guys from our 2005 class eventually in professional baseball… I really think we all helped teach each other. It helps create that belief that it's possible. He made me push myself harder. And Jordan, he was a better athlete than either of us, and, you know, it pushed him to work harder at baseball over the other sports that he was good at."

"This program after high school has taken off and I think we had a lot to do with kids just believing that they can have an opportunity to play baseball after high school."

But while the current kids from the eight surrounding towns that comprise Mater Dei high school may have a tenable belief about baseball in the future, Voss' future wasn't always so bright -- especially when compared to those of Kreke and Thole.

Immediately out of high school Thole was drafted in the 13th round into the Mets organization while Kreke was recruited by and signed on to attend D-1 Eastern Illinois. Voss' recruitment, though, was scant.

"I didn't really get recruited that highly out of high school," Voss admitted.

While he watched his friends avoid a pothole and spring forward into more competitive baseball, Voss agreed to attend junior college at Kaskaskia (kass-kass-kee-uh) CC.

"It's not a heavy baseball school, it was in my area, it was thirty minutes from where I lived."

"As far as creating baseball prospects… it's not what you call a baseball hotbed for junior college players."

"But in high school I went to some camps there and I trusted the coaching staff there, it was a good fit."

And although not as glamorous as, say, minor league ball, Kaskaskia directly helped Voss' development.

"[My goals] When I went to Kaskaskia were to work hard and take my chances… I knew I was gonna have to work hard for everything I got. They instilled that work ethic in me and that desire to do better. They instilled that belief that you could get out of there and you could get your opportunities… Guys that went there, we knew we hard to work hard, and that coaching staff pushed us very hard."

And while there are always plenty of setbacks, especially in a game, a business, as competitive as baseball, there are always pushes that help push you forward. And, like his buddies Josh and Jordan, Voss found another push.

"The pitching coach, Kurt Friese, helped me so much. He pushed me in the bullpen, we worked hard in side sessions and practice in the fall."

After his two years of training with Friese, Voss saw his pitch velocity increase into the lower nineties –a velocity that, with a few other good pitches, is more than sufficient for success in higher-level baseball.

His undeveloped potential, which Voss admitted was all he had going into Kaskaskia, had finally developed into production.

In the eighth round of the 2007 first-year player draft Voss was selected into the Florida Marlins organization.

Even then, though, the road still meandered wide.

After being traded to the Tigers organization for Nate Robertson and cash in 2010, Voss played for Lakeland, got pulled up to Erie that same year, and then began this season back down in Lakeland.

But, now, with more help from Lakeland's trusted pitching coach Joe Coleman, Jay, who established a solid 3.21 ERA and 3-0 record in six starts with Lakeland, is getting his best opportunity as a ballplayer.

He's already been announced as a regular in the starting rotation for Erie.

If he continues the way he's been, Toledo is next, and, what after that?

Competing with the world's best and competing with Josh Thole as Breese's best.

Voss, though, aside from all the traveling and moving baseball has forced upon him, remembers the beginning of the road, the home where his dream began.

"Maybe guys that are playing professional baseball that are from bigger areas, metropolitan areas, they might have had more opportunities when they were younger but, you know, there's no way they got the same support."

"Talking to those guys, half the people in their town don't even know they're playing professional baseball because there might have been ten other guys that are playing professional baseball."

"It's such a sense of pride that here it doesn't happen everyday."

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