“The Natural,” starring Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs, is on every baseball enthusiast's short list of required cinematic experiences.
Yet to play its first varsity game as season two approaches, Great Crossing High School has its must-see entertainment in the person of pitching natural Jake Faherty, who Wednesday afternoon became the initial Warhawk to sign with a college program.
Faherty, a raw talent with the rare gift of already being able to throw a 94-mile-per-hour fastball as a teenager, inked his national letter of intent to join Wabash Valley College.
“It's very relieving. It was busy. It came really fast. I had a lot of offers in a short period of time. It was overwhelming,” Faherty said. “I felt like they had everything that could make me better and put me at the next level. It just felt best for me and my family.”
Wabash, a junior college located in Mount Carmel, Illinois, has seen 103 former players picked in the Major League Baseball amateur draft since 1986. Seventeen athletes from its 2019-20 team have signed with NCAA Division I schools, including Kentucky, Louisville, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Michigan State and Purdue.
For the Warriors, the pursuit of Great Crossing's soft-spoken, right-handed ace is a bit like acquiring an under-the-radar stock in anticipation of its future performance. Thanks largely to the COVID-19 pandemic that wiped out his junior season, Faherty has limited high school varsity experience.
After a memorable debut at UC Health Stadium – home of the minor-league Florence Y'Alls – against Ryle, Faherty made sporadic appearances as a sophomore, an inning or two at a time as a reliever for Scott County High School.
Locating the ball over a plate 17 inches wide from 60 feet, six inches away was still a new experience.
“In middle school I was a catcher,” Faherty said. “They told me I couldn't catch anymore, so I tried pitching. I've always been somebody who throws hard.”
GC coach Greg Stratton, in charge of the Scott County junior varsity at the time, got an eyeful of that high ceiling at a practice when Faherty was a freshman.
“We were running a drill, throws to bases. He picks it up in right field and throws it to third base,” Stratton said, pausing for effect. “It was well over third base. It went over the dugout and started up the hill. I thought right then, 'If I get that job at Great Crossing, that boy's coming with me.' We saw the potential in him.”
Faherty said the new school, new facilities and proximity to his home on the same street made Great Crossing a natural fit.
Once entrenched with the Warhawks, he set out to harness both his control and his composure while working to ramp up his velocity even more.
“Last year I was just throwing 88, so it's taken off,” Faherty said. “(It's a result of) eating, weight room, working out and taking it serious. It's more like a job than a game now, but it's what I love, so it's good.”
Those labors didn't stop when the spring season screeched to a halt after one scrimmage.
“I was still throwing bullpens, working out two or three times a week,” said Faherty, who stands 6-foot-4 and tips the scales at 175 pounds. “Then summer came and went good, and in fall everything came together.”
Faherty spent those months pitching for the Commonwealth Baseball Club Xpress travel program.
Warhawks' pitching coach Austin Jarvis expects that year-round commitment to pay dividends both in the immediate future and beyond with Faherty's college and pro aspirations.
“Jake's an ideal leader on the team. He's got a great work ethic. I wish every one of my pitchers was like Jake when it came to putting in work and being driven,” Jarvis said. “I'm glad to see him hitting some of his goals and going places, but I'm going to miss him as well. We've got to have some younger guys step up and fill his shoes.”
Great Crossing recently wrapped up a seven-game, intra-squad “World Series” as the highlight to its fall workout schedule.
Stratton noted that Faherty brought contagious attitude to it along with everything else he does for the Warhawks.
“He's a leader on the team, on and off the field. Everything that we ask him to do, there's a lot of energy,” Stratton said. “We just appreciate what he does, and we look forward to what he's going to do for us this year. It's going to be a special year for us, a big year for him. He should be the leader of our staff.”
The coach said he's had several conversations with the Wabash coaches, led by 25-year head man Rob Fournier. He believes the Warriors anticipate putting Faherty's live, fresh arm to regular use right away.
“They're very high on him,” Stratton said. “But of course he's got some work to do here first. We've got a championship to go win.”
Faherty was flanked by his parents, Randy and Erin, and a small, socially distanced group of family and friends in the school library for the event.
Wednesday was the first national signing day of the 2020-21 cycle for multiple NCAA, NAIA and junior college sports.
Great Crossing isn't done this week: Leilani Valencia (Western Kentucky softball) and Reagan McLean (Marshall volleyball) will finalize their futures at a joint signing on Saturday.
Another Warhawks' baseball standout, first baseman Seth Benner, announced his commitment Wednesday to University to the Cumberlands.
Benner will sign at a later date, and Stratton expects multiple teammates to join him. But the historic spotlight of being first to put it in writing shone solely upon Faherty.
“He's just a great representative of this program in being our first signee, and we're very proud of him,” Jarvis said.
“It's a very special day. Not only for Jake, which it is a big day for him and his family, and some of them drove a long way,” Stratton echoed. “But it's a big day for our program too, Jake being the very first Warhawk baseball player to sign. That's very special to us, the coaching staff and his teammates. I wish all of them could be here.”