This week’s guest has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the area and has consistently produced for the McKinney North baseball team while pitching the Bulldogs to a bunch of big wins this season.
Please get comfortable and relax while taking in my Sunday Spotlight conversation with North senior ace pitcher Isaiah Rhodes.
Who is your favorite MLB pitcher and what pitcher have you modeled your game after?
Rhodes: Growing up I didn't have a favorite pitcher, but I've had pitchers that have influenced me a lot. I started to experiment and drop my arm down when I was about 11 after I saw an (Oakland) A's sidearm pitcher on TV.
I always had natural sink to my ball, so the transition wasn’t too difficult for me. Early on, I modeled my pitching motion of Darren O’Day – back when he was a drop-down pitcher for the Orioles.
Nowadays, I’m modeling my routine after Trevor Bauer, not his pitching style but I try to imitate his arm strength program using heavy-weighted balls.
Describe the mindset you have every time you take the mound, which has led to you being one of most consistent and productive pitchers in North program history?
Rhodes: My mentality before every game starts the night before I pitch. Visualization and preparedness are the most important parts of my routine and they start when I lie awake in bed at night.
All day I think about throwing strikes and getting outs. I do visualization drills and do reading during [batting practice] and on the bus to get me ready.
When it comes time to pitch, my mentality is focused and calm and I am thinking about nothing but the next pitch I’m about to throw. I think keeping the same routine every time I pitch helps me stay consistent.
How does it make you feel that coach (Jim) Gatewood and all your teammates have supreme confidence in you no matter the situation?
Rhodes: It feels good – as a pitcher, that’s a dream come true. I think any player should want to be that guy. I feel like for some pitchers it may create a sort of pressure to not let the team down, but personally, when pitching, it helps my confidence knowing these guys trust in me to get the job done.
As a result, we all play with confidence and it really shows on the field. Confidence is easily the biggest factor when playing well, especially when pitching.
Can you give some insight into how the chemistry of North’s roster has led to the program making one of its deepest runs in recent history?
Rhodes: Being on the team really feels like having a second family away from home. Every team will say they are a family, but how many actually act like it?
In the program, everyone genuinely enjoys each other, everyone plays for each other, and everybody trusts in each other. Trust is big. You play better when you know if you make a mistake or fail, which happens a lot in this sport, that the guy behind you will pick you up.
This isn’t an excuse to fail, but it ties back to playing with confidence. Hearing your teammate say, “Pick me up” really makes you want to succeed for them. Another thing we started to do is playing for someone. Wanting to win for somebody else really elevates your ability.
Anyone can play for themselves, but having that drive to see your teammate succeed is something that can’t be matched. Me personally, I want to bring a state championship to my coaching staff.
What did you and your teammate do in the offseason to get better after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011 last season?
Rhodes: I think a lot changed, less so the program itself but more the mentality of the team. Every single person understood the pain of not making the playoffs.
It was hard on everyone. So, when we began to work harder in everything we do because no one wanted to experience that again. Every rep in the weight room meant something and missing reps might mean that split second play later in district could not go your way.
Winning starts in the offseason and a team that takes it seriously will perform well later on in the year. I think we did that.
When you combine your individual success with the team success, does the reality match up with how you envisioned your senior season going?
Rhodes: Going into my senior year, I didn’t have any expectations. I didn’t have a negative outlook; I just didn’t know how the team would look in January. We had a lot of spots to fill and it really felt like a clean slate.
Going in, I knew I wanted to put up a district champ sign in right field and personally win pitcher of the year. The new additions to the team and the young guys really stepped up this year and proved to be perfect puzzle pieces and help me put that sign up.
How excited are you to play for Southern Miss next season and how has playing at North prepared you to play at the next level?
Rhodes: I’m extremely excited to play at Southern Miss and join a winning tradition. Playing at the next level has been a dream since I could throw a ball.
Playing at North is easily the best thing to happen to me in not only for baseball. Every coach there knows how college practice works and it feels intense every day with the limited time we are given once the bell rings at 2:30 p.m. Coach Gatewood knows what it takes to make a player better and get him to the next level because he has a long history of coaching at the [Division I] collegiate level.
The program and team really cracked open a reserved freshman and allowed me to build confidence and be myself. Getting to play baseball at McKinney North is the best thing that could happen to a young player.
What are you going to miss most about putting on a North baseball jersey?
Rhodes: I love winning, the feeling can’t be matched. But my most vivid and favorite memories from McKinney North baseball are goofing off with the team. Small moments in practice, going out to eat together, being in the indoor facility before home games, and team dinners are what I remember the most.
With graduation coming up, I realized these moments are limited, my time here with these guys isn’t much longer. I remember looking up in March and realizing how much time had passed so quickly, it felt like yesterday I was a freshman getting picked up from practice.
I urge my younger teammates and underclassmen everywhere to savor those moments and go out of your way to interact with your team because those small moments are the memories you will remember for a long time.