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It has been quite a journey for Trey Bailey.
He has gone from being a lightly-recruited pitcher out of Shelby County High School to the University of Kentucky baseball team in three years.
In between there were stops at Georgetown and Rend Lake (Ill.) colleges. At the latter, a 2-year community college, the players used to take to the field with couch cushions to soak up the water after rains.
“It’s definitely been pretty crazy how it happened. It all happened so fast, I really haven’t had a chance to let it sink in,” Bailey said July 1, shortly after he moved to Lexington to join the Wildcats. “Coming out of high school, I didn’t really stand out that much. I was a typical lefty and didn’t really throw very hard.”
An adjustment in his pitching motion changed all that, though.
Bailey (who graduated from SCHS in 2010) originally signed with Georgetown, but he redshirted his freshman year there. It was during his Christmas vacation, though, that Bailey made a discovery that would change his baseball future.
“I was messing around during winter break, and I threw sidearm,” he said. “It felt completely natural. Plus it gave me more movement on it [the baseball] and more control of it. I just took that and ran with it and just kind of developed it.”
He continued to develop it at Rend Lake, which is located in Ina, Ill., a town of less than 2,500 in the southern part of the state.
“Going to a junior college, it’ll either make you or break you,” Bailey said. “You’re out there living in a town with two hundred people in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do put play baseball. You either love it or you hate it, you find out real quick.”
Something else he found out was that one of the best ways to dry up a wet field was to use the inside of cushions off an old couch.
“JUCO is totally different. There is no field crew. You have to take care of your own stuff,” Bailey said. “We’d do that all the time, it was a weekly occurrence.”
His freshman season Bailey went 0-0 with a 1.00 ERA in 10 games. Then, this past season, he went 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA. He appeared in 11 games but threw just five innings in a very specialized role.
“Sometimes I’d come in for one batter, or two batters, and sometimes I’d come in for one inning,” Bailey said.
He remembered one doubleheader, against John A. Logan (Ill.) College, when he threw to one batter in particular in each game.
“The other team had a clean-up guy and he was tearing us up,” said Bailey, who gave up two earned runs on four hits while walking six and striking out two during the season. “I came in one game and threw three pitches and got the guy out. Then I came in the next game and threw one pitch and got him out again.”
Bailey, whose throwing speed (which was in the low- to mid-80s when he had an over-the-top delivery) dropped when he began throwing sidearm, said, “My velocity has gone up in the past year,” before adding, “The past four or five months I’ve developed a pretty good slider that looks like a fastball when it comes out of my hand.”
As his sophomore season wrapped up Bailey had offers to continue his college career at several 4-year schools.
“I had it narrowed down to USI [the University of Southern Indiana] in Evansville, Spalding and a school in New Orleans,” he said, “and I verbally committed to USI.”
Another opportunity opened up for Bailey, however, in the late spring.
“I used to go out to Collins’ practice and long-toss and just hang around,” said Bailey, whose father (Roy) coaches and younger brother (Logan) played for the Titans. “Somehow UK coaches heard about me.…Apparently they had someone like me a few years ago, a lefty who’d come out of the [bull]pen, and they wanted another lefty to come out of the pen every day and do what I do.”
One of Kentucky’s assistant coaches came to watch him throw.
“I threw bullpen for him, and to be honest, I threw one of the best bullpen [sessions] I’ve ever thrown,” Bailey recalled. “He [the assistant coach] said, ‘We’d love to have you.’ For me, I couldn’t even talk right because I was so excited.
“I was a huge Kentucky fan [growing up]. My dad played football and baseball for UK, and growing up I went to basketball and football games. It was kind of a way of life.”
Now it’s a way of life for him, too, one that has taken a little getting used to.
In his first session throwing for UK Coach Gary Henderson, Bailey took to the mound sporting some red cleats (Rend Lake’s colors are red and black) and a beat-up Kansas City Royals cap.
“He asked me what size shoes I wear, then he made a phone call,” Bailey recalled. “Thirty seconds later a guy comes running out with a new pair of cleats and a new bat.
“They don’t like that red stuff.”
Bailey hopes to have opponents seeing red next season.
“I’m not going to be a power guy coming in throwing seven or eight innings,” he said. “I’m either going to be one of the first guys out of the ‘pen – I might come in and face seven or eight guys – or a specialist who comes in and gets us out of a jam.”
Bailey’s big goal, though, is to be the pitcher that gets the call to save games for the Wildcats (Trevor Gott, last season’s closer, was a sixth-round pick of the San Diego Padres in the Major League Baseball’s amateur draft earlier this summer).
“My goal is to ultimately get that closer role,” he said.
Bailey certainly is much closer to that now than he was just a few years ago.
“It’s definitely a roller coaster to get where I am now, but everything is paying off,” said Bailey, who has spent the summer in Lexington taking classes and working out. “To get to this point now, to get this opportunity, I’ve had to really put the time in and work.
“It’s been a long road to get to this point.…But it’s definitely worth it.”