Jesse Hodges can be found manning third base for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans almost every night. While he has been a key player for the Pelicans this season, it's hard to believe that professional baseball almost didn't seem to be in Hodges' future at one point.
Hodges appeared to be a sure bet to be selected in the 2012 MLB draft out of his high school in Victoria, British Columbia. But no one took him. Despite the disappointment, Hodges' next step in life was to attend school at Grayson Junior College in Texas on a full scholarship for baseball, but an opportunity that would prove to be life-changing presented itself before Jesse headed off to college: he was selected to play baseball for the Canadian Junior National Team in an international tournament.
Hodges may not have been drafted by a major league team, but he came to the tournament ready to prove just how good he was. He hit a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth in a game against Japan, and then scored the winning run for Canada in the 10th. His talents not only earned the team MVP award, but he also caught the eye of a scout from the Cubs who signed the young ballplayer as a free agent.
Although now a permanent fixture at the hot corner, Hodges had never played third until his time with the Canadian Junior National Team in 2012. “I was groomed as a shortstop as a kid by my dad and my grandfather, but when I started playing with the Junior National Team when I was 17, they projected me more of playing professional as a corner guy, like third base,” he explained.
With the chance to make his dream of playing pro baseball a reality, Hodges decided to forgo school and went to work at third base for the Cubs, steadily making his way through system since 2013, honing his skills to become the best ballplayer he could be.
The 23-year-old thrived in South Bend during the 2016 season, batting .287 and being named to the Midwest All Star team. He would receive his promotion to Myrtle Beach in late July and found himself sharing time at third base with the hot-hitting David Bote. “It started off great but after a few weeks, I started to fall off a bit. But that’s baseball,” Hodges said of his transition from Class A to High-A ball. He ended his season with the Carolina League Champion Pelicans batting just .186, playing in only 29 games.
The offseason was a time for the Canadian to reflect and make some changes to prepare for a successful 2017 season. “I changed everything from workouts to mindset, but especially my workouts,” said Hodges. “I lifted a lot, different heavy stuff. I changed my swing, made some pretty big adjustments mentally and physically to baseball. And it’s worked out well so far.”
His changes seem to be worth it; the bearded redhead is currently seeing some of the best numbers of his career. Just over two weeks into the second half of the season, Hodges has hit a career high eight home runs, owns a .435 slugging percentage on the year and is just six RBIs away from his career high of 55, which he should easily surpass.
While Hodges appears to have found his stride with the Pelicans this season, he’s constantly striving for improvement. “Yeah, I’m happy with [my season], but I’m not satisfied,” he said. “I always want to keep going and get better, but I’m trying to take it game by game, pitch by pitch, and we’ll see what happens.”
Regardless of what the future holds for Hodges, he says his experience with baseball has molded him into the person he is today. “When I was in high school, I thought I was going to get drafted and everything was going to go this way and that way,” he remembered. “I thought I was the ‘bees knees’ but after I wasn’t drafted, it totally changed who I am as a person. I have to grind for everything; you have to work so hard and nothing is going to be handed to you. You always have to keep pushing with the ups and downs.”
Life may not have gone as planned for Jesse Hodges when he was a high school senior, but then again, things often have a funny way of working out on their own. “It worked out for the best because it changed my mentality,” Hodges said of being looked over in the draft and signed by the Cubs later on. “I had to change the way I worked and I had to do a lot of adjusting. I think it totally worked out for the best.”