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College | Story | 7/24/2019

Wildcats own PGCBL ASG Titles

Blake Dowson        
Photo: Trae Harmon (UK Athletics)
John Rhodes was walking toward the ocean. He was in Cocoa Beach for his senior trip, with graduation coming up in a few days, and then he was moving to Lexington to start summer school and get acquainted with campus before starting his freshman year with the Kentucky Wildcats.

Then he got a call from his recruiting coordinator, and his plans were scrapped.

“I was walking to the beach and he called me and was like ‘Hey, news for the summer. You’re going to New York,’” Rhodes said. “I was supposed to leave in like early or mid-June for Kentucky…and then he told me I was going to leave for New York that next week. That was May 23, I graduated on May 25, and I left for New York on May 31.”

Instead of the traditional summer school route, Rhodes has spent his summer playing for the Oneonta Outlaws in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.

Trae Harmon did the summer school thing last year in Lexington. He’s up in Elmira this summer playing for the Pioneers with a year of college ball for the Wildcats under his belt.

He knew he was playing in New York this summer all the way back in January or February, he said. He had time to prepare for it.

Rhodes is from Soddy Daisy, Tennessee. He said he’s never been north of Washington D.C. He also said he was anxious about the experience of living with a host family all summer, because it was the first transition into living on his own in Lexington. But that plan got scrapped, too.

“This is my first extended time away from home. I actually don’t have a host family,” Rhodes said. “I got dropped off and they were like ‘Okay, here’s your apartment.’ And I was just thinking ‘Oh my gosh, alright here we go.’ So I’ve learned how to cook, do my laundry, I’ve been cleaning the dishes. So really, I’ve had as much growth just as a person this summer as I have as a baseball player.”

He describes that as a funny story now.

It wasn’t funny that first week though, when he didn’t know how to cook, didn’t know how to manage his time, and had yet to figure out the pitching he was facing.

Slumps aren’t fun. Slumping when you’re 900 miles from anything familiar to you, while you’re in the middle of figuring life out, makes it less fun.

“The first week took forever. I was thinking it was going to be a long summer,” Rhodes said. “I wasn’t playing too well, the days felt brutal, my body was breaking down. But after the second or third week, I kind of came into my own, baseball-wise. I figured out a good schedule. So once I got that down, it was just baseball. I slowed the game down, slowed life down. Balanced everything.”

He’s figured it out at this point. Rhodes is hitting .291, one of the better averages on the team. He leads the Outlaws with 30 hits, three home runs, and 16 RBI.

After that rough start to the summer, Rhodes was selected as a reserve for the PGCBL All-Star Game in Saugerties.

That’s where he had a front row seat to watch Harmon, a teammate of his in just a few short weeks once they both get to Lexington, rake in the home run derby.

There were 12 guys in the derby. A three-minute round and a top-four finish moved you on to the semifinals, where you got three more minutes to make it to the final. The final was another three minutes.

Sounds exhausting, right?

“It was a marathon swinging that much…I was dripping sweat,” Harmon said. “[The announcer] came up to me with a microphone and tried to talk to me after my round and I was like ‘I can’t talk right now.’ I was legitimately out of breathe.”

You never would have known from the amount of long balls Harmon hit. When his night was over, his tally was at 30. He hit 11 in the final, while the other finalist only hit four.

It sure looked like a breeze to Rhodes.

“Even in his last round, he was hitting balls 30 or 50 feet over the fence,” Rhodes said. “They weren’t wall-scrapers. They were mashed. I was like ‘Oh my gosh.’ I wish I had that kind of pop.”

Rhodes and Harmon met earlier this summer when Oneonta and Elmira matched up for the first time. Soon, they’ll be in the same lineup for the Wildcats. Rhodes said they got along really well right away, and that’s why it was so cool to see Harmon win the home run derby crown.

“[Harmon’s] a great guy. He has stupid pop,” Rhodes said. “He has so much raw power. He was hitting balls during the derby that were clearing the fence by like 100 feet. But he’s just an awesome guy. I can’t wait to play with him next year. He’s the kind of guy you want in the locker room.”

Harmon felt the same way when he watched Rhodes win the All-Star Game MVP later that night.

Rhodes was supposed to be a reserve for the game. He found out he was starting about five minutes before first pitch, when he took a peek at the lineup card. All he did was go 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored in a game that ended in a tie.

“It was definitely cool to see John win the MVP of the All-Star Game,” Harmon said. “The Kentucky guys are taking home all of the hardware.”

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