When a baseball player gets the phone call that they are getting drafted by a Major League Baseball organization to play professionally, there’s a ton of excitement, for good reason. But how soon after that phone call does a player think about the number they’re going to wear?
For Mitch Stallings, the Atlanta Braves' 30th-round draft pick from 2018, it was one of the first thoughts that crossed his mind.
Stallings grew up in Atlanta. Nearly his entire family rooted for the Braves his entire life. The lefty pitcher idolized Tom Glavine, an MLB Hall of Famer who wore No. 47 for his entire career.
“I ended up picking 47 in college [at Duke], a Tom Glavine reference there," Stallings said. "I got picked up by the Braves and I think one of my first thoughts that went through my head was, 'What am I going to where now? I can’t where 47 anymore.'"
Glavine's No. 47 has been retired across the Braves' organization, meaning no one on any team affiliated with Atlanta can wear it.
Stallings instead chose 11.
“Seven plus four is 11. A little homage,” Stallings said.
Stallings said he grew up with a coach calling him a young Tom Glavine. He learned to throw a changeup when he was 10 years old, and, like Glavine, Stallings absolutely loves his changeup.
“My changeup’s always kind of been my best pitch,” he said. “I’ve changed grips on a lot of stuff over the years, and for whatever reason my changeup grip that I kind of started throwing when I was like 10 has always worked.”
Obviously growing up idolizing him, throwing the same pitch, being a lefty, it’s easy to try to mimic Glavine almost perfectly, but Stallings has worked hard to make sure he is his own pitcher.
“There’s certainly hallmarks of Tom Glavine in there, but I feel like I sort of have my own style and my own thing that I do out there that I have fun with,” he said.
DREAM COME TRUE
Stallings chose Duke over Georgia Tech. He could’ve stayed home with Georgia Tech being only 2 1/2 miles from his home, but he decided instead to go north to Durham.
“It was the best decision I could’ve made, without a doubt,” he said.
He got to Duke thinking he might get to see the mound quite a bit as a starter, but he only made one start his freshman season. He still made 30 relief appearances, but he ultimately wanted to be a starter.
His sophomore year, Stallings was made a closer, and made all 27 of his appearances out of the bullpen. Then he became the starter he wanted to be in his junior season, and that was the role he was in when he closed his career at Duke in 2018.
He never thought he was a draft consideration after his sophomore season, but did think he might get the call after his junior year, but did not.
“You remember it, but you don’t spend too much time thinking about it,” he said.
Then his senior year came and went. Duke was in the NCAA Tournament. Stallings pitched well to get the Blue Devils through the Athens Regional. The first two days of the draft went by with a couple of his teammates getting their draft calls, but Stallings was still waiting.
“The third day, it was definitely stressful at that point,” he said. “I’m sitting there. We’re all kind of together throughout the day ... it’s getting later and I hadn’t heard my name called yet and starting to get a little more stressed out about it. We headed up to practice in the afternoon. ... Ultimately Billy Best, the area scout for the Braves, gave me a call and I think my heart skipped a couple beats when I looked at my phone and Billy Best’s name was on there.
“I picked up and he said, ‘How would you like to be a Brave?’ And growing up a Braves fan, living in Atlanta my whole life. ... I grew up dressing up as a Braves player for Halloween when I was little, so it was definitely a dream come true to be picked up by the Braves.”
The dream got even better when he got to sign his professional contract for the Atlanta Braves in SunTrust Park where the team plays.
“I’m not sure I can accurately put it into words," he said. "The first time [I put on a Braves jersey] kind of gave me chills a little bit. I ended up being able to go and sign at SunTrust Park ... and got to go on the field and take a few pictures with my parents. It was just sort of surreal. I remember thinking to myself, 'There’s no way this is real.' To be able to put on a Braves uniform every day, it’s pretty special.”
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Stallings’ family is full of Braves fans. He gets calls from family members after he pitches, he keeps in touch with them all the time, and he got to celebrate his birthday Sunday with his mom in Danville.
Stallings celebrated his 24th birthday by earning the win in Monday’s game against Bluefield with his mom in the stands. Stallings worked five innings and allowed two runs on six hits to get his second win of the 2019 season.
He obviously doesn’t get to choose when he gets called up and where he goes, but his grandmother lives in Rome, the Braves' Class A affiliate and the next stop on the organization's minor league ladder.
“I think she might put a call into [Atlanta Braves General Manager Alex] Anthopoulos and ask if he can move me up there so she can come,” Stallings said with a laugh.
Stallings spent about a month in the Gulf Coast League before making his Danville Braves debut last season on July 31, working three innings of shutout ball, and striking out four to pick up the save. He finished his 2018 season in Danville with seven relief appearances and a 3.94 ERA.
He came back this summer and made his first start as a Brave on June 20. He earned a no decision after 5 2/3 innings, allowing only one unearned run on four hits and a walk while striking out five. He followed his 2019 debut with his best professional outing in his young career on June 26 at Bluefield, working six shutout innings, allowing two hits, no walks, and striking out 11. That outing earned Stallings the Appalachian League Pitcher of the Week.
It’s been a dream for Stallings to be a Brave. It would be easy to get anxious and try to do too much in an attempt to climb the minor League ladder, but Stallings has been rewarded for being patient his entire career, so patience is the name of the game.
“All of my baseball experience to this point has prepared me to be patient,” he said. “You just have to recognize and be realistic that you’re probably not going to go from Danville straight to SunTrust Park. There’s a lot of development that has to happen and maturation that has to occur first, and really the only way to get that is by playing.”
Stallings grew up a Braves fan, went out on Halloween as a Braves player and now he’s making his way through the Atlanta Braves organization living out a childhood dream.
It doesn’t get much better than that.