December 12, 2011
There are those who believe that everything happens for a reason. SSBC alum, Jesse Cole, may be among them.
As a five year old Rookie Leaguer at the South Shore Baseball Club in 1989, the first year of operation for SSBC, he’s remembered as “throwing the ball harder than most twelve year olds” by his eventual Scituate HS coach, Kevin Greer. From that Rookie League beginning Jesse went on to the whole AAU Seadog experience recalling recently “I just loved it so much”. There were baseball trips to Minnesota and Louisiana, even playing a game that started at midnight as an eleven year old. From Day One, Jesse Cole was one of those who had a chance to actually realize the typical youthful dream of playing big league baseball.
Three times he was a Patriot League all-star as a Scituate Sailor. He was a two time All Scholastic. One year he led the league in both hitting and ERA to earn the circuit’s MVP award. The book on the Scituate right hander was that he had a fast ball that touched the 90s paired with a major league slider. College coaches knew who he was and he heard from the Ivies, from Boston College and Northeastern, but went south to Wofford College in Spartanburg SC where he became what Wofford coach Steve Traylor called “our number one pitcher about from his freshman year”. As a junior, Cole was already on the MLB scouting radar when he took the mound against the second ranked South Carolina Gamecocks and shut them down on one hit.
By now Cole had been contacted by the Mets and the Padres and he’d already had an outstanding workout with the Pirates. He was close to realizing that dream. He could almost reach out and touch it just when he noticed pain in his right shoulder. Pain that was the result of three tears. Surgery followed. He sat out a year. He tried throwing just an inning at a time as a closer. Anything. Everything. If it would let him throw a baseball again without pain.
Never happened! “Heartbreaking”, is the word Coach Traylor uses recalling meetings with Jesse with “tears in both of our eyes and the meeting would end with a hug”.
Which brings the story to why Jesse Cole may be one of those who buys into the idea that “everything happens for a reason”.
No longer an up and coming potential big league pitcher, Cole signed on as an intern with the Spartanburg team in the Coastal Plain League, an amateur/collegiate baseball league located in the Carolinas and Virginia. Academically at Wofford he’d designed his own major in Leadership focusing on baseball’s all-time great renegade/hustler/promoter/marketing genius, serial owner, Bill Veeck. A year later (2007) Cole signed on as the general manager of the Gastonia Grizzlies, also from the Coastal Plain League where he increased attendance by a factor of better than seven. Four years later Cole is part of an ownership team that operates two franchises in the CPL, the Grizzlies and the Forest City Owls. Both have been in the top ten in the country in attendance over the last three years and in the summer just passed the Grizzlies set a franchise record for wins while in ’09 the Owls went 51-9 which was #1 in the country.
Baseball with both the Owls and Grizzlies is a Veeck-like/Jesse Cole circus. When MLB was at the height of the steroid controversy Cole put out a tongue in cheek press release announcing that the Grizzlie’s bear-like mascot, “Striker” had been found to be a BGH (Bear Growth Hormone) user. When George W. Bush departed the White House after the last election, Cole let the former owner of the Texas Rangers know that there was a job waiting for him with the Grizzlies. There have been “Grizzlie Idol” nights at the ball park with fans competing in the singing of traditional baseball songs. Perhaps harkening back to his 11 year old Seadog season Cole’s Grizzlies have started games at midnight. And, in direct defiance of league rules prohibiting music during games, a band plays continuously in the Grizzlie’s beer garden. When he was fined $100 by the league for the music, Cole send a check for $600 to cover the next five nights the band would be playing. The Grizzlies have a fulltime employee whose title is Director of Fun and Cole’s looking for someone for the same job with his Forest City team.
When folks file out of the ball park after one of Cole’s teams have played a game he hopes to have given them something to go home and tell people about. Where he is and what he’s doing today is not what he’d expected ten years ago. No question, he says: “I thought I’d be playing baseball or at least coaching”. The future? Cole believes the Gastonia/Forest City experience can be repeated and repeated and repeated nationwide. He now expects that ten years from now he will be doing exactly what he’s doing today when he says “I really feel like we’re onto something that we can bring to a lot of markets”.“
Cole is a baseball “lifer”. It started as a Rookie Leaguer at SSBC in 1989 and now at age 27 in 2011 says with conviction: “I’ll definitely spend the rest of my life in this industry”.
by Lanny Larason