- Name: Jacob Stallings
- Age: 29
- Organization: North Carolina Tar Heels, Indianapolis Indians
(Photo Courtesy: UNC Athletic Communications.)
Story by: Patrick Kinas, creator DNAOfSports.com
Nobody ever really wants to catch.
I love to catch.
Born in Kansas, but raised in Nashville, Jacob Stallings thought he was destined to be a catcher for the Vanderbilt Commodores. As 2016 begins, he could be latest in a deep line of former Tar Heels to reach major league baseball.
Stallings, 25, a senior sign in 2012 after graduating with an Exercise Sports Science degree, broke camp in April at Triple-A Indianapolis in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization, one injury away from PNC Park.
“It was always my dream to go play for Coach Corbin and Vanderbilt. Honestly, growing up, I was always hoping to walk on for him.”
The bond to Vanderbilt was understandably strong. Stallings’ father, Kevin had been the head basketball coach at Vandy after a successful run at Illinois State. And Jacob, the only son of the five-person Stallings clan, followed Coach Corbin’s baseball program like a shadow.
“I was really fortunate to be around the Vanderbilt staff growing up,” Stallings said. “Coach Corbin and Blake Allen, who’s back there now, he was the catching guy, they helped me out a lot. I really benefitted from being around that atmosphere.”
In fact, Stallings benefitted from several sporting atmospheres.
From 1988 until 1993, Jacob’s father was an assistant coach under current Tar Heels’ coach Roy Williams when Williams was at the University of Kansas.
“I had a UNC connection already with Coach Williams being there with my dad,” Jacob said.
But when the recruitment of Stallings, a high school star at Brentwood Academy (TN) hit fifth gear, Stallings heart was battling with his mind.
“Vanderbilt offered me a scholarship first and I just thought that’s where I was always going to go,” Stallings said. “Even when (UNC) Coach (Mike) Fox called, I was kind of awestruck. I was always a UNC fan from a distance because I grew up watching Michael Jordan and honestly Coach Williams.”
Already leaning toward playing for the Tar Heels, Stallings cemented his choice after one more chat with the Vandy coach he had grown to know so well.
“They had a lot of catching prospects at Vanderbilt, he actually told me that I’d probably get more of an opportunity to play at North Carolina. Curt Casali (former Durham Bulls and current Tampa Bay Rays catcher) was one year ahead of me, so he was a freshman when I was getting recruited. He was already heralded and highly thought of.”
The Backstop Beginning
“I was in middle school and my travel team catcher got hurt. We didn’t have anyone else. So they threw me back there and I started throwing a bunch of people out,” Stallings recalled. “So I stayed back there. It took me about 3 weeks to figure out that I needed to get a cup. Once I figured that out…”
Since then, Stallings has been in love with the back of the batter’s box.
“I’ve always been a catcher. In high school, I was always really skinny, so I never had any knee problems or anything.”
Chapel Hill Memories
“Obviously going to the College World Series twice, playing in Rosenblatt Stadium, then catching the first pitch at TD Ameritrade, those were great memories.”
But Stallings’ memories aren’t limited to the diamond.
“When our basketball team won the championship in ’09, my freshman year, going down to Franklin Street and everyone going crazy, those are the things that stick out. I love Chapel Hill. Those were the best four years of my life.”
Family Sporting Life
He’s lived out of suitcases for years. His dad has spent more time on the road with games and recruiting than at the house. But this is the norm for the Stallings’ family.
“I don’t know anything any different. I love it. I love cheering for his (basketball) teams, enjoying their success. Obviously, he’s helped me become the player I am today, molded my mentality my whole life. Some people may not like it, but I love it.”
Ask yourself if you know anyone else whose father was the son’s best man at his wedding with Amy Beth. That’s how tight-knit they are.
“My family is extremely close. My mom, my dad and my two (younger) sisters, where one is a student at UNC right now,” Jacob said. “I don’t know if being in the sports world – where there are always going to be critics, people are always going to criticize – so that may have made us closer. Me and my dad talk every day. He was actually down in Florida during spring training when all of that (Pitt Panthers’ head coaching search) was going on. My whole family was there, so we all kind of talked about it. It was something that he really wanted to do. If you want to do it, do it.”
So the elder Stallings did. He’s now following in his son’s footsteps in the ACC, and will be coaching against his mentor Roy Williams in January.
Their influence – and unique friendship – works both ways. At times, Jacob’s father talks with his son about connecting with a younger generation than Kevin once knew in Lawrence (KS), Normal (IL) or Nashville (TN), and other times, it’s Kevin imparting the wisdowm.
“My dad, just knowing what he knows about sports, he helped mold my mental game and taught me what it would take to become as good as I could become in sports or anything I was involved in.”
On The Field
After spending this spring in big league camp for the first time in his career, the major leagues feel close to Stallings, but in pure Stallings’ fashion, he’s staying grounded about what the future may hold.
“I’m obviously thrilled with my first year in AAA. I’m excited about where I’m at. I try to get better every day. I try not to think about the situation and what could happen if this happens, or if that happens. If I continue to get better, I’ll end up where I want to be. Hopefully helping the Pirates win some games someday.”
“It’s a long season,” Stallings said. “Catcher’s a hard position. It’s taxing on your body. The hardest part is making sure I do what I need to do recovery wise so I’m ready to play when my name is in the lineup card. Not taking any days off, that’s something I really pride myself in. It’s hard, there are a lot of games in not very many days. It’s a grind.”
“Embracing the grind.”