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Friend taking a swing at Big League dream

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Friend taking a swing at Big League dream

Justin Friend, a pitching prospect for the Oakland Athletics, gladly signs an autograph for students at Shasta School between sessions last Friday during Career Day.


POSTED January 26, 2010 3:05 a.m.

Students at Shasta School got a sampling of life in the world of professional sports compliments of Justin Friend.

The Career Day guest speaker was every bit that local kid chasing a dream.

Friend grew up in Manteca, attending McParland School and graduating from East Union High. He’s also a promising pitching prospect of the Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics.

“My dad (Randy) and I grew up rooting for the A’s,” he said last Friday to those youngsters attending the sessions held in John Murphy’s classroom.

Friend, 23, is coming off a strong season for the nearby Stockton Ports, Oakland’s Class-A affiliate. The right-hander appeared in 59.2 innings, posting a 2.87 earned run average with 64 strikeouts in 43 appearances.

He pitched one game with the Triple-A Sacramento Rivercats, finishing the year with Double-A Midland.

“While I liked playing in Stockton, I’m hoping not to be there next year,” Friend said. “My goal is to continue progressing (through the minor league farm system).”

By all accounts, he’s likely to start the upcoming season in Midland.

For Justin Friend, baseball has been his ticket to chasing a dream. “It’s taken me to places I could only dream of,” he said.

Included is the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

“We got to go inside the football stadium and locker room. I even got to touch the famous (Notre Dame) sign, ‘Play like a Champion,’” Friend recalled.

His favorite place to play was Texas A&M. “A great college town with plenty of fan support and tradition,” he said.

Yet Friend was happy with his college choice, opting for Oklahoma State over that of Long Beach State, Texas Tech, and Sacramento State.
“I wanted to play in Big 12 Conference,” he said. “I liked that (Stillwater, Okla.) is a small town.”

On the day he was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 13th round of the 2007 amateur baseball draft, Friend also pitched eight scoreless innings for Oklahoma State against Louisville in an ESPN nationally televised game.

“It was a great 24 hours,” he recalled.

Friend is in his third year of professional baseball, and has a better understanding about life as a big leaguer.

“As a kid, I idolized A-Rod,” he said.

A-Rod is Alex Rodriguez of the world champion New York Yankees. At the time, Rodriguez was a shortstop for the Seattle Mariners. As a Manteca youngster, Friend remembered being devastated when Rodriguez snubbed his request for an autograph.

“I understand now,” he said. “(In pro baseball) you’re signing 15 to 20 autographs while on a tight schedule – there’s just not enough time.”

Still, Friend took time to accommodate those Shasta youngsters who requested his signature between the Career Day sessions.

He shared with students about life in the minor leagues.

“For meals, we get a $20 a day allowance,” Friend said. “You have to use that money sparingly.”

Players often leave the ballpark after a night game at about midnight, with the food options consisting of drive-through restaurants or pizza deliveries.

“Diet is the key for a pro athlete,” he said. “I’ll pack cans of tuna in my bag and eat it raw. It may sound disgusting but I think it’s better than eating nothing.”

Friend could soon be tasting life in the big leagues. As an MLB prospect, one publication had him ranked No. 46 out of 50, crediting his work in the Arizona Fall League for helping develop a two-seam fastball and sinker. With both pitches in the repertoire, he’s able to throw more strikes while inducing more groundouts.

As for life after baseball, Friend told youngsters he would consider giving back to the community.

“I’ve thought about owning a baseball academy or coaching,” he said.

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