MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — John Means arrived at WVU in Randy Mazey’s first season with relatively little fanfare. Means was not heavily recruited out of high school in Olathe, Kansas and he pitched one season at Fort Scott Junior College.
Next Friday, he will get the Opening Day start for the Baltimore Orioles against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park.
“To play a game for this long is just a blessing already,” Means said. “But to be able to do it at the highest level truly is a blessing.”
Means hit a growth spurt midway through his high school career. It took awhile for Means to fill out and catch up to his larger frame.
“I was a really late bloomer. My freshman year of high school, I was 5-foot-4. I am 6-foot-4 now. I grew really late. And when I did grow, I had no idea what my body parts were doing. I was like a baby deer trying to move around.”
.@JMeans25 talks to @TonyCaridi, @BradHowe07 and @HunterWvu88bgn about being named @Orioles Opening Day starter and his career with @WVUBaseball. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/iY4DIodD1D
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) July 15, 2020
Means posted a 10-6 record with a 3.24 ERA in two seasons with the Mountaineers in 2013 and 2014.
“When I first got to West Virginia, I was not very good. I was horrible. I didn’t even pitch the first weekend of my sophomore year. I got an opportunity the next weekend because there were four games instead of three. I was the fourth starter and ended up doing well.”
After some rough early patches, Means was selected by the Orioles in the eleventh round of the 2014 MLB Draft. It was the final season the Mountaineers played at Hawley Field.
“With how small that place was, we got some pretty rowdy crowds.”
Means worked his way through the Orioles’ minor league system over the next five years. In 119 games, he posted an ERA of 3.84, earning a call-up to the big leagues in 2018.
He burst onto the scene a year later. Means finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting. He went 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA. Finding his changeup was critical at the highest level of the game.
“I always had the changeup in the minor leagues. But I was told to throw it like my fastball. So I did. I threw it like my fastball and it was a firm, straight changeup. Then we got a new pitching coordinator for the Orioles and he told me, ‘You don’t have to grip it like your fastball’.
“I actually didn’t throw that new, super-pronated changeup until my first game of the year against the Yankees. I started throwing it and I was like, ‘I may as well start throwing it now’. I was getting swings and misses over and over again.”
Means also earned a spot in the 2019 All-Star Game. And he tried to blend in as much as possible around the best players in the world.
“I was honestly just trying to stay out of the way for the most part. I was worried some guy might think I was a clubbie because no one had any idea who I was.
“Honestly, I got treated really nice. A bunch of guys came up to me and C.C. Sabathia asked me how I threw my changeup. And I was like, C.C. Sabathia asked me how I threw my changeup. Are you kidding me? I spoke with Hunter Pence for like thirty minutes, just about his mentality. It was a wild experience, something I never thought I would experience in my life.”
With the shortened 60-game MLB season set to begin next week, Means acknowledges that the quick ramp-up to pitching comes with some risks.
“It is dangerous. To be getting cranked up as fast as we have to be cranked up, it is tough. You are going to start seeing guys go down and have some nagging injuries. It is tough especially for starting pitchers to get all the way up to five or six innings in three weeks.”
The Orioles feature one of the youngest rosters in the big leagues but Means says their youth could be an asset in a truncated season without fans.
“I’m really excited. I can’t wait for July 24th. Fenway Park is going to be weird without fans though. It is going to be a different experience.
“The nice thing about us is that we are such a young team that it won’t be a problem to get excited. Once we see guys like Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez in the box, we are going to get excited.”