By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Even today Jacob Bodner can still remember going to watch Roger Clemens pitch for the Lexington Legends during a rehab stay to get him ready to pitch in the American League again.
“I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” said Bodner Tuesday. “I would see those guys (Legends players) as idols and now you are filling in that role and having younger kids look up to you. You hope you can be a good influence on them and impact their lives.”
The 2011 Boyle County High School graduate begins his first season with the Lexington Legends Thursday night.
He was a 27th round draft pick in 2015 after pitching at Xavier. He missed his junior season due to a knee injury but in 2015 he had 24 strikeouts in 20 innings while picking up two saves as Xavier’s closer.
He ranked third among Appalachian League pitchers with 14 games finished in his first professional season last year after being drafted. He held opponents scoreless in 14 of his 16 appearances with Burlington. He had an earned run average of 0.77 and was 2-0. Opponents hit only .188 against him and he walked just three batters in 23 innings.
Bodner was named Burlington’s Pitcher of the Year by the Kansas City Royals and recognized at Futures Night at Kauffman Stadium September 25, 2015, about six weeks before the Royals won the World Series.
He found out late last week he would start the season in Lexington. He got to practice with his future teammates for a few days in spring training and now is ready for the season to start Thursday.
“The experience so far has been great. I have played with about three-fourths of the guys already and the other fourth I got to know real well already. I think the team chemistry is good and we will have a good year,” Bodner said.
His parents, Sherry and Scott Bodner of Danville, are thrilled to have him in Lexington, especially since his father was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer about two years ago.
“Dad is doing well. He hit a little rough stretch for about two weeks, but he’s feeling better and back to himself,” Bodner said. “Hopefully if it is cold the first couple of games, he will have a box (seat inside) for both him and mom. But it is great to have him and Mom both around to see me a lot more.
“No matter where I went to play they would be happy, but it makes it even better that I am at home. They will be able to come to any game they like and that will be great.”
Bodner spent the offseason working out in Cincinnati at Xavier with a former teammate. They also worked at a Cincinnati facility giving baseball lessons.
“It was pretty neat to have someone to work with and then work out with the same person, too,” Bodner said.
He lived with his older sister, Samantha, also an Xavier graduate, during the offseason.
“We get along really well now. Once we got to high school and college, maturity kicked in and we started getting along really well,” Bodner laughed and said. “She is coming down for the opening game and I assume she will come to a lot of games.”
Bodner isn’t sure yet what his exact role will be with the Legends. He’s assuming it will be a late reliever, but says he’ll start, close games or pitch middle relief.
“I just want to pitch,” he said.
Family and friends in Danville and Boyle County want the same thing and Bodner knows he’ll likely get asked a lot about when he will be pitching by fans debating whether to come to a game or not.
“That answer will be a big I don’t know when people ask me if I am going to pitch,” Bodner said. “That varies game to game. It all depends on how the game goes, how other pitchers do. PItching out of the bullpen is definitely a mystery going into every game.”
He didn’t have to worry about a roommate. He’s going to share an apartment with teammates Anderson Miller and Ben Johnson. Miller is from Lexington and his relatives in Lincoln County. He spent part of last season with the Legends.
“Me and Anderson were actually roommates when we got drafted, so I met him that night. We talked about where we had played. We really weren’t too familiar with each other then, but we are now,” Bodner said. “He is a great guy. When they offered me a room, I could not pass it up.”