The game of baseball is not an easy one to play by any stretch of the imagination. There are a lot of positive breaks that are needed in order for a player to make it to the next level. Nothing in the game of baseball can be taken for granted and Eric Yardley is well aware of this fact in life and in the game he loves.
The right-handed side-arm style pitcher had to fight and claw all the way through his baseball career. At the high school, college, and professional level nothing was given to this man, but yet he still kept going strong.
He is a two-time Cam Christian award winner at Seattle University as the player best representative of Red Hawk baseball on and off the field. The award was named after Yardley’s former throwing partner at the university who was tragically killed in an auto accident in October of 2011. We spoke briefly about the loss of his friend and how that helps Eric stay grounded in the game of baseball.
After his college career was over, Yardley pretty much believed his baseball career was too. He recorded 11 saves his senior year for the newly re-formed Seattle University baseball program, but no MLB team came calling for his services. The Red Hawks pitcher only walked four batters his senior year in 35 innings. He enjoys throwing strikes and attacking hitters, but still needed development.
Yardley had decent numbers as a DI pitcher, but the program was just starting out and he was passed over in the 2013 draft by every team. As soon as the Humanities major (with a degree in teaching) was set on focusing on his teaching career, he received a call to play non-affiliated baseball in New Mexico.
Yardley had a decision to make and he chose to follow his dream. He decided to rough it out in New Mexico, playing in the mountains of the state in an attempt to further grow his craft. After just a few months in this Independent League, he was given a chance by the San Diego Padres organization. The franchise was immediately rewarded as Yardley went 2-0 with two saves and a 1.89 ERA with a 0.950 WHIP in 12 games and 19 innings in 2013. All that came in the rookie league against minor league prospects from the same draft in which he was passed over. At the age of 22, Yardley looked like a steal for the Padres scouting staff. His perseverance had finally paid off.
In his three minor league seasons, Eric Yardley has gone 6-9 with 2.83 ERA and a 1.163 WHIP in 110 games and 149 innings pitched. He has also saved 21 games including 16 last season in Lake Elsinore for the Storm. At the age of 25, Yardley has a very decent future in the organization. His side-armed style of pitching will be very effective in certain situations. Take a look at a video of him and his motion. You could be seeing it in the near future at Petco Park. Enjoy the interview and we thank Eric for his time and patience in coordinating the proper time to speak. He is truly a class act.
You are presently training a little bit at Seattle University, tell me a little bit about the school and what it meant to be a Red Hawk.
After graduating high school in 2009 I got a call from Donnie Herald who is the coach there. Seattle University was bringing their baseball program back to division one. As part of rebuilding the program the coaches had to go find local guys and guys that didn’t have the best opportunities. He gave me a call, because I pitched a little bit and played infield in high school. It was a division one offer, where there was no senior or junior class in front of me. It was an offer I just could not refuse. I got to explore baseball there. Playing Oregon and Oregon State, going to play at Ohio State. It was a great opportunity and it happened to work out well for me. I appreciate coach Herald for giving the opportunity.
You pitched all four years in college, was that what you were recruited for?
I was recruited as a two-way guy and I played the majority of the time as an infielder. We were getting beat up a lot. I think we were 11-39 that year. So you are looking for anybody to go out there and throw strikes. I had some experience pitching, so I started pitching there.
When did you develop your side-armed motion?
I was struggling offensively and defensively my freshman and sophomore seasons so it made sense to pitch. At that time I was at a standard arm slot. After my sophomore fall season I was turned into a straight pitcher (no hitting). I got a little bit of an arm injury that caused me to drop down and that got to me to where I am now. I just played ball in the summer in Walla Walla, Washington, and I got a call from our pitching coach that the next class coming in was going to blow me out of the water. He suggested we do something different. It was a no-brainer.
Talk to us about winning the Cam Christian award twice and the honor of that award and what it means to you.
Those two awards mean more to me than any award I could ever win. Cam Christian was a left-handed pitcher who the team dropped down (arm angle) a year before me. He was one of those guys that had a great personality. He was genuine on and off the field. Just a great person. After fall ball he went to a wedding in eastern Washington and was killed in a drunk driving accident. We were throwing partners and did everything together because we were both learning how to pitch that way. His death hit the team really hard and for me it was a huge maturing process for me. Coach Herald made that award for him and winning it twice was very emotional.
You spent some time in the Pecos League, tell me about your time there and how it was playing in New Mexico?
It was definitely a different experience than playing division one baseball. I thought I had a chance to go in the draft but I didn’t. As I was doing my finals, waiting for another call I decided to enroll in Seattle University’s grad program for a Masters in teaching. So that was set up and I get a call from someone to come and play in the Pecos League. It was professional Independent Baseball and I always wanted to play professionally. I told my parents from an early age I wanted to play, but that I wasn’t going to chase it. I convinced my parents and drove down to New Mexico to see what was going to happen. I hadn’t heard anything bad about it so I went. The team was the Taos Blizzard and we played home games there, but the team stayed in Las Vegas, New Mexico. That was like an hour drive for a home game. That was the start of my time there, but I was playing baseball. That was what was most important.
How excited were you when the Padres came calling and you were now in the professional affiliated league?
I was playing in Trininad, Colorado and got a text from Justin Bachman the northwest scout. He told me a spot had opened up with the Padres organization and asked if I wanted to play. Turns out the spot got filled and I thought I was done. We were on a road trip and my phone starts ringing and the Padres asked me to get to Phoenix right away. I got to put on the Padres uniform and when I made my debut my Dad was there and was able to see it. It was a big moment for both of us.
Growing up in the Washington area, who were your idols baseball wise?
Obviously Ken Griffey Jr. I was a Mariners fan because I had to be but my brother liked the Yankees and I always followed in his footsteps. He was four years older than me. Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano were two of my favorites. Since I’ve dropped down, I now enjoy watching Brad Ziegler and Darren O’Day.
How did you enjoy your time in Lake Elsinore this season and any particular players you have developed a friendship with?
I really enjoyed my time in Lake Elsinore this season. The field there is awesome. My brother lives in the area and was able to come to a bunch of games. It is a lot of the same guys that were in Ft. Wayne the year before. Kyle Williams and Jason Jester are two guys I am close with. Also Michael Collins the manager and I have been in three different stops together (The AZL, Ft. Wayne and Lake Elsinore). I was the only one on the team to play for him the last three years.
What is your greatest achievement in the game?
Probably getting to the level that I am at knowing that it was never handed to me. That would be my biggest achievement of my career.
What is your goal for this upcoming 2016 season?
To keep moving forward. I like to keep it simple when talking about goals within the system. Last year I just tried to keep it simple and I got an opportunity to start closing out games in Lake Elsinore and that worked out for me. I’m just going to take advantage of the opportunities that are given to me and keep progressing.
A version of this interview first appeared at EastVillageTimes.com