What are the chances?
In the space of six days last week, three Tallahassee-born baseball players were promoted to the major leagues for the first time.
Three players, three teams, one hometown.
“I’m always happy when Tallahassee is represented in any way at the highest level,” said David RossChicago Cubs manager and two-time World Series champion as a player with the Boston Red Sox (2013) and Cubs (2016).
“There’s a long history of great baseball players coming to my hometown, and I think that’s a direct reflection of the people, the coaches and the organizations in Tallahassee. Proud of these young men and what they accomplish. I’m sure there are many who feel proud of them.”
David Ross cover
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Francois Bowden (Chiles/Chipola College) Toronto Blue Jays, Tyler Holton (Lincoln/Florida State) Arizona Diamondbacks and Cole Sands (North Florida Christian/FSU) of the Minnesota Twins went to the Show in a flurry of trades.
All three pitchers were recalled from their respective organization’s Triple-A teams (the highest tier in the minor leagues).
Tallahassee has a history of MLB talent
A total of 13 Tallahassee-born players have reached the major leagues. This list includes Ross, 45, who has lived in Tallahassee all his life – his family too. But Ross’s parents crossed state lines for three days for his birth in Bainbridge, Georgia, for financial reasons and his mother was born there.
Jimmy Bloodworth, who was born in Tallahassee but grew up in Apalachicola, was the first local to reach the major leagues in 1937 with the Washington Senators. Both Ross and Dean Palmer attended Florida High, and Ross is the longest-serving MLB player in town at 15. He was named the Cubs coach in 2019.
Palmer played 14 in the big leagues, followed by Bloodworth (Chapman High School was replaced by Apalachicola High in 1973) at 11 and Reggie Jefferson (Lincoln) and Bobby Thigpen (Aucilla Christian Academy) at nine each. Thigpen set the then MLB record of 57 saves during the 1990 season with the Chicago White Sox.
Road to the show
“It was not really the time to be nervous”
The baseball backgrounds of Francis, Holton and Sands are intertwined.
All three were first-team All-Bend selections as high school seniors in 2015. All three played in local youth leagues, including the Tallahassee-Leon Babe Ruth League, and on the local summer trip, Next Level Baseball. Holton and Sands were teammates at FSU from 2016 to 2018.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Holton said of the trio’s promotions within days of each other.
“To be honest, there wasn’t really time for the nerves to kick in. Once I got the call, I made my rounds to my family and friends and had to cut short this time to get ready for the game. I stuck to my routine as best as I could. I will say the arm was amped up – first pitches went all over the place to warm up (in the bullpen relievers).
Holton, 25, was promoted last Thursday and pitched a scoreless relief inning that night at St. Louis, allowing two hits with one strikeout in the 8-3 loss. While Holton was picked for Reno last Friday, he remained with the club on the Diamondbacks’ cab squad.
Although MLB has dropped its regular COVID-19 testing, each team can have up to five players as a taxi team to deal with the pandemic.
Francis, 26, was the first of the trio to be promoted – on Monday April 25. He pitched in relief last Wednesday against the visiting Boston Red Sox, allowing a hit with one strikeout in two-thirds of an inning in the 7-1 loss.
François’ journey did not end there.
He was signed to Buffalo last Thursday but was called up again a day later by the Blue Jays. Francis drove the two hours from Buffalo to Toronto with his wife Jen and their son Booker. On Monday, Francis was sent back to Buffalo.
Sands, 24, was added to the Twins’ big league roster last Saturday. His family had the shortest trip of the trio to travel as Minnesota played in St. Petersburg against the Tampa Bay Rays. Sands’ FSU teammate, shortstop Taylor Walls, is a utility infielder for the Rays. And the Rays are managed by former FSU wide receiver Kevin Cash.
Sands pitched the final two innings in relief in the Twins’ 9-3 victory on Sunday. After allowing a run on three straight hits with two strikeouts in the eighth, the right-hander put the Rays in order in the bottom of the ninth. He sent Walls flying to center field on the first pitch to start the ninth.
Sands was optioned to St. Paul on Monday.
Not an easy road to travel to the majors
What makes Tallahassee baseball so good? Is there a magic elixir in the water? Blind luck?
Barely, depending on baseball types. Pitchers such as Francis, Holton and Sands have also gone through comprehensive arm care programs during their careers.
“It’s truly remarkable that three Tallahassee natives can be called up to the major leagues on consecutive days,” said FSU coach Mike Martin, Jr., who is part of a program that has sent 79 players to the the major leagues. “It’s credit to the youth/high school coaches and parents for sacrificing their time and effort to make sure their arms were taken care of.”
Baseball presents the most professional opportunity for athletes, with a 4% chance of high school players playing professionally, according to national statistics. The odds increase from the college level to 9.9%, according to the NCAA. And about 10% of minor leaguers make it to the majors, according to quora.com.
Traveling baseball teams have also exploded over the past two decades, providing players with additional opportunities to play against established competitors.
“Competitors feed off each other,” said Ryan Robinson, founder of the NLB organization and former major league scout and MLB agent for 15 years. “Most cities operate in cycles. When a real group of competitors pass through it, it raises the bar for all players.”
According to the Baseball Almanac, every state in the United States — and more than 45 countries — has had at least one major league player. Of the more than 17,000 American players who have appeared in the majors, 600 were born in Florida. California leads the list with 2,381 players.
Other local players were either born in a different city or state, but are part of Tallahassee folklore.
Ancient Godby receiver Butch Bentona Tampa native, headlines this list.
Since the Major League Entry Draft was first held in 1965, Benton has been the only player to be selected in the first round at a high school in Tallahassee, according to Baseball Almanac. He was selected sixth overall by the New York Mets in 1975, making his major league debut in 1978 with the Mets at age 21. Benton played professionally for 12 seasons, mostly in the minor leagues.
Jefferson and Palmer, meanwhile, were part of the first TLBR team (15U) to win a national title in 1984.
“I think it goes in cycles,” said Jefferson, 53, a sports agent in Tampa with Roc Nation Sports, founded by hip-hop artist Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter in 2013. “It was totally different. when we were playing. Nothing like travel baseball today. We basically had to compete against each other to improve. There was a real spirit of competition and rivalry.
“All sports in Tallahassee, actually, there was so much competition and it made us better.”
Welcome to the show
- April 25: Bowden Francis recalled by Toronto Blue Jays from Triple-A Buffalo
- April 28: Tyler Holton recalled by Arizona Diamondbacks from Triple-A Reno
- April 29: Bowden Francis optioned to Buffalo by Toronto Blue Jays
- April 29: Tyler Holton opted for Reno by Arizona Diamondbacks
- April 30: Bowden Francis recalled by Toronto from Buffalo
- April 30: Cole Sands recalled by Minnesota Twins from Triple-A St. Paul
- May 2nd: Bowden Francis optioned to Buffalo by Toronto Blue Jays
- May 2nd: Cole Sands optioned to St. Paul by Minnesota Twins
MLB players born in Tallahassee
- Jimmy Bloodworth 1937 (Chapman High School in Apalachicola)
- Matt Dunbar 1995 (Dunedin High)
- Cole Figueroa 2014 (Florida High/Lincoln)
- Bowden Francis 2022 (Chile)
- Tyler Holton 2022 (Lincoln)
- Reggie Jefferson 1991 (Lincoln)
- John Nogowski 2020 (NFC)
- Dean Palmer 1989 (Florida High)
- Eric Patterson 2007 (Harrison High in Kennesaw, Georgia)
- David Ross 2002 (Florida High)
- Cole Sands 2022 (NFC)
- Mallex Smith 2016 (Rickards)
- Bobby Thigpen 1986 (Aucilla Christian Academy)
- To note: David Ross’ family lived in Tallahassee at the time of his birth, but he was born in Bainbridge, Georgia, for financial reasons, according to Ross.
– Information compiled from Baseball Almanac
% of NCAA athletes in professional competition
Baseball: NCAA 36011 attendees; Eligible project 8,002; Draft Picks: 1,217; Written 791; NCAA to Major Pro: 9.9%
Men’s basketball: NCAA attendees 18,816; eligible draft 4,181; Draft 60; Draft ed 52: NCAA to Major Pro: 1.2%
Soccer: NCAA attendees 73,712; Draft eligible 16,380; Draft Picks: 254; Drafted 254; NCAA to Major Pro: 1.6%
– Compiled from NCAA.com, 2020
Contact Jim Henry at email@example.com.