This California League baseball season has already been a special one for Central Valley native Daulton Jefferies.
“It’s kind of surreal being out here,” said Jefferies.
When we caught up with Jefferies, he was a pitcher for the Stockton Ports, the California League High-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, which means recently, he’s been pitching in some familiar places. Last Thursday for example, he started on the mound for the Ports against the Rawhide at Recreation Ballpark in Visalia.
“I think I came here once when I was a little kid,” said Jefferies about the Rawhide’s home ballpark.
He’s also pitched in the Ports home ballpark in Stockton several times this season, which has been a big celebration for friends and family from his hometown of Atwater, only about an hour away.
“I think the whole town of Atwater was there (for his first start),” said Jefferies. “The beer prices certainly went up.”
But pitching near his hometown is just part of what is making this season extra special.
“My mentality this year is, I am so lucky to be able to be on this field and play with these guys, and play baseball and throw a ball,” said Jefferies.
Thowing a ball well is something he did really well growing up in Atwater, and by his senior year of high school, he was a bona fide star, striking out nearly two batters per inning in his final season at Buhach Colony.
And that success continued on in college, where he played for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, and then went 7-0 with a 1.08 ERA in his final season at Cal as a junior.
That talent got him taken by Oakland with the 37th overall pick in the 2016 Major League Baseball draft.
But just as his professional career was getting going, adversity struck, in the form of tightness in his right elbow while pitching for Stockton in April of 2017.
“My dad always said ‘you can throw through pain, but you can’t throw hurt,'” said Jefferies.
What followed was Tommy John surgery, in which you basically get a new elbow ligament, and then 18 months of rehab.
“There are some down times, where you go through some anxiety or depression,” said Jefferies, who went 4-5 months after the surgery without throwing a baseball at all.
With the help of a great support system though, he eventually worked his way back to health, and back to the California League this spring, where he made his season debut for Stockton on April 4th.
“I looked around, took it all in, got kind of emotional,” said Jefferies about his season debut.
Daulton is starting to show why the Athletics used a first-round pick on him three years ago, posting an ERA of 2.40 with 21 strikeouts in only 15 innings pitched, through his first five appearances this season.
As he marches on towards a bright future though, Jefferies continues to be motivated by his recent past.
He has “4-26-17,” the date of his surgery, permanently written on his cleats.
“Some guys get tattoos on their scars, but I’m too big of a sissy to do that,” laughed Jefferies. “Just to overcome all that adversity, it’s very satisfying.”
**** UPDATE ****
After his start against the Rawhide last Thursday, Daulton was called up to Double-A by the Athletics, and he made his first start for Midland against Tulsa on Wednesday.
He should feel right at home in Midland, Texas, just like he felt at home pitching here in the Valley for Stockton, cause his mother lives in Midland now.