CHANGING MAN: VAN METER ADJUSTING TO NEW LIFESTYLE, NEW ROLE ON THE MOUND
By Andrew Phillips, VCU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Change is inevitable. Why else would Tupac have made a number one song about it after his death?
It is also something that former VCU infielder Joe Van Meter has had to deal with ever since signing into the Texas Rangers organization a little over a year ago.
During his time with the Rams (2008-10), Van Meter turned heads with his bat. The Oyster Bay, N.Y. native hit .366 over his three year career including a .434 average in his last season with the Black and Gold setting a school and CAA record with 108 hits.
The surprise came following the season when Van Meter was drafted in the 21st round to the Texas Rangers as a pitcher.
Pitching was not a new thing to Van Meter, but something he did not do regularly for the Rams. He logged 26.1 innings during his VCU career with a 5.47 ERA, 19 strikeouts, one win and one save.
However, scouts raved about his arm strength and he was regularly clocked in the 90's, while also something potential with his off-speed pitches. That led the reigning American League Champions to take a flyer on the right-hander.
"Everyday I am getting more acclimated to the lifestyle of a pitcher, I try to bring the athleticism I had when I was a position player to the mound," Van Meter said.
Right after he signed with the Rangers, he was sent to the Arizona Summer League. He slowly got adjusted to life on the bump and after posting a 2.79 ERA and 11 strikeouts in just over nine innings of work, he got a late season call-up to Hickory, the Rangers Class-A organization. He tallied two scoreless appearances during the Crawdads playoff push.
Following the 2010 regular season, he had the chance to work on his strengths and weakness with some of the best coaches in the Rangers' organization. Van Meter was selected by the Rangers has one of the handful of prospects that get to play in the Fall Instructional League.
"I tried to make the best of it. Not only by performing well, but being a sponge to all the resources that were out there," he said. "I kept a notebook that I still look through to this day on all the information I obtained during the meetings."
After the off-season, he headed back to spring training and was reunited with a couple of former Rams. Jared Bolden (Advanced-A ) and Cody Eppley (Triple-A) are also in the Rangers' organization. This spring training was different though, because at the same time the Rangers were getting ready for their season, the VCU men's basketball team was making their run to the Final Four.
"Jared, Cody and I were spreading black and yellow throughout the clubhouse, it was like a fever," Van Meter said. "It was incredible what they were able to accomplish last year. I have a lot of respect for Shaka and his guys for overcoming the adversity they faced along the way. I'm proud to be a part of Ram Nation."
Van Meter broke camp and was headed back to Hickory to join the Crawdads. His hard work in the offseason was evident from the start. Out of the bullpen, he made 29 appearances, posting a 5-2 record with a 2.98 ERA. In 45.1 innings of work, he logged 38 strikeouts and 20 walks.
Just when Van Meter was getting accustomed to bullpen life, change struck again.
His strong performance out of the pen led the Crawdads to push Van Meter into a spot start in late July. The organization liked what they saw and decided to leave the right-hander in a starting role.
Five starts later and the former Ram is still adjusting to his new role.
"The biggest challenge thus far has been making sure to prepare to the best of my ability, the four days I have off before that first pitch leaves my hand on my start day," Van Meter said. "Other than that just being aggressive in the strike zone as I would as a reliever, I have to have a plan to face the opponents lineup three or four times."
The transition from reliever to starter can be a tough one, and Van Meter knows that. Things can pile on after a rough start, and with long bus rides through small towns the road to the majors can be long and windy one.
"You have to have a short term memory or this game will eat you up," he said. "You have to try to stay as positive much as possible in regards to other things you can't control."
Being such a heralded hitter has served Van Meter well, as he thinks it gives him an advantage that some other pitchers may not have.
"My versatility plays a big part in my pitching as well I try to anticipate what the hitter is thinking since I have hit my whole life," he said.
For all the changes he has had to handle, he knows that having the right mindset is the most important thing if he's going to accomplish his goal of playing in the big leagues.
"This road is a daily grind, and I am just working toward being as a consistent at my job as I can, so I can hopefully move through the organization," Van Meter said. "I have come along way as a pitcher since the day I signed."