The No. 8 worn by Jordan McFarland throughout his baseball career wasn’t chosen at random.
It is the same number once worn by his grandfather, Bill McFarland, an East St. Louis native who playing minor-league baseball with the Joplin (Mo.) Miners in the late 1940s.
“I knew he played with Mickey Mantle with Joplin and I knew he saw Babe Ruth play,” Jordan McFarland said, referring to Mantle working out with the Joplin team while still in high school in nearby Commerce, Okla. “I think he played a scrimmage game with Ted Williams, too. There were a ton of stories that my dad told me, which was really cool.”
The shared legacy of baseball doesn’t just extend to his grandfather on his father David McFarland’s side of the family. Mom Valerie Rettinghouse McFarland had a hand in this, too.
One of the first places where Jordan McFarland learned to love the game was on summer days at his grandparents’ farm near Hecker, playing ball with his brother Brendan and a cousin, Jason Klein.
They had a wooden bat and a baseball that seemed to open up a world of possibilities.
“Since he was 2 years old, he’s had a bat in his hands,” Valerie McFarland said. “My mom watched them out there on the farm two days a week. She’d have bruises on her legs because all she’d do is pitch to them all day long.
“Since Jordan was little, that’s all he wanted to do.”
Grandma’s bruises have long since healed and she still makes it to the majority of her grandson’s games, whether it’s for the Waterloo Bulldogs or the St. Louis Pirates travel league club.
Elite level player
Her grandson is widely considered one of the top high school hitting prospects in the Midwest and was chosen National 17-under Player of the Year earlier this year by Perfect Game USA.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Waterloo High senior outfielder and University of Arkansas recruit is considered a potential high-round draft pick in the June 9 Major League Draft. Despite seeing little in the way of pitches to hit this season, he’s still hitting .500 with 10 doubles, six home runs and 31 RBIs for the Class 3A sectional finalist Bulldogs while racking up 37 stolen bases and 49 runs scored.
Since he was 2 years old, he’s had a bat in his hands. My mom watched them out there on the farm two days a week. She’d have bruises on her legs because all she’d do is pitch to them all day long.
Valerie McFarland, Jordan McFarland’s mother
Adviser Jason Wood, the agent for Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jake Odorizzi, former first-round pick Jon Harris and also an adviser to University of Missouri pitcher Tanner Houck, believes McFarland’s talent would make him a top-three round pick if signability wasn’t the issue.
“At this point it’s out of my control,” McFarland said. “I think it’s a humbling experience. There’s a ton of kids that don’t even get to play this game and for me to be blessed with the ability to play at a high level and have all these great teammates around me is great.
“It can be tough if you let it get to you too much, but I try to focus on the things that I can actually control.”
The fact that he’s already signed with Arkansas will definitely factor into how high he goes in the draft. Area pitchers aren’t exacty coopoerating, either.
“Very rarely do I see anything in the zone,” McFarland said. “It’s made me a little more disciplined at the plate, more choosy. Sometimes I kind of kick myself because I’m chasing pitches trying to hit balls hard.”
He homered in four consecutive at-bats as a freshman at Gibault, an almost unheard of feat, and was part of the Hawks’ Class 1A state championship team that season. As a sophomore he hit a home run at Nashville High that nearly reached the Hornets’ football locker room, one of the furthest shots anyone there had ever seen.
I don’t think he really enjoys all the attention. Sometimes he’s almost uncomfortable with it. He’d just as soon go out and play, hang out with his friends and teammates and not have the spotlight on himself.
Waterloo coach Mark Vogel
He hit home runs while at Gibault that cleared the houses beyond the left-field fence at SPPS Field in Waterloo and made their way onto the street on the other side.
As he approaches the end of his high school career, McFarland has piled up 25 home runs and 125 RBIs. He spent his first three years at Gibault High before transferring to Waterloo for his senior year.
“I don’t think he really enjoys all the attention,” said Waterloo coach Mark Vogel, who has found himself the target of countless media interviews this spring that typically found their way to McFarland. “Sometimes he’s almost uncomfortable with it. He’d just as soon go out and play, hang out with his friends and teammates and not have the spotlight on himself.
“He’s pretty unassuming that way.”
Vogel and assistant coach Lon Fulte are as old-school as they come. Yet McFarland’s ability to fit into the Bulldogs’ team-first environment helped him assimilate into the group that much quicker.
“I think it’s extremely rare because it goes almost against human nature,” Vogel said. “It’s really easy to slip over to arrogance as opposed to confidence and he’s a special young man when it comes to that.
“His family deserves a lot of the credit for the way. He plays the game hard every day and really has not let all this publicity and all the success he’s had affect him on or off the field.”
Family comes first
Some of McFarland’s favorite times have been spent taking batting practice with his dad pitching and his mom and brother or cousins in the outfield. And of course, the family dog, Django, one of McFarland’s closest friends and biggest fans.
Athletics runs in the family. Along with his grandfather’s baseball exploits, dad Dave McFarland played basketball at McKendree University, uncle Kevin McFarland played baseball at McKendree and another uncle, Brian McFarland was a pitcher at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
From his first tee-ball game, McFarland has always been a little bigger and a little stronger than most of those around him. A standout baseball and basketball player throughout his grade school days, McFarland was excited to learn as much as he could about both sports.
It just feels natural. There’s not too much to think about and it’s something I have fun doing every time I go out.
“He hit the heck out of the ball from the word go,” Dave McFarland said. “He’s always been more hard on himself. When he does well, it’s quiet. When he does bad, he wants to work on something and go out and hit more and stuff like that.”
Mother Valerie McFarland said every time her son was given the option about writing an essay in grade school, the subject never wavered.
He wanted to be a major-league baseball player.
“From kindergarten on, that’s all he would ever write about,” she said. “I was looking through some of his papers recently and I found a book report he wrote about getting a phone call and being drafted. He had the whole conversation down and it’s been his dream since kindergarten.
“I have the papers to prove it.”
New home at Waterloo
It wasn’t easy moving from Gibault to Waterloo as a senior, but McFarland said having several friends already wearing the orange and black made it easier.
“I knew Tyler McAlister pretty well coming in, so he showed me the ropes of Waterloo,” McFarland said. “From there I got along with most of the people. They accepted me right away and I’m so appreciative because the kids were so welcoming. I’ve really had a great year and had a fun time for sure.”
Vogel said the Bulldogs feel the same way.
“I’m very impressed with his work ethic, the kid works awfully hard at his craft,” Vogel said. “We knew he was fast and had good speed, but he really runs the bases well. He does a very good job of reading pitcher and reading balls off the bat.
“Take the power side away, which is only going to get better as he mature and plays at a high level, but he had leadoff-type speed and has the ability to hit leadoff along with his power.”
McFarland’s 36 stolen bases are a school record, but also are a result of those not wishing to pitch to him.
“I’ve not coached anybody that’s even come close to that,” Vogel said.
McFarland tried every sport available during his years at St. James Grade School in Millstadt.
“I played four sports in grade school and so did my brother,” he said. “Sports has always been a part of our lives. Baseball’s always been my best sport. I’d like. to say I was good at basketball in grade school. I had fun playing volleyball and track too, but baseball’s always been my No. 1 by far.”
“It just feels natural,” he said. “There’s not too much to think about and it’s something I have fun doing every time I go out. There were times when I played basketball it kind of felt like a job. With baseball it was something you enjoyed doing every day after school, or whenever.”
Once he was in high school, McFarland began playing for the St. Louis Pirates travel team. That opened up another window of opportunity that allowed him to compete against the top players in not only the St. Louis region but also the Midwest and southern part of the country.
Predictably, the hitting continued.
“I wasn’t doing it so I could go get a scholarship, it was just because I really loved to do it,” McFarland said. “When I joined the Pirates that was when people started telling me I could go to college for baseball.
“It’s always good to challenge yourself and to exceed what you think you could do. Seeing better pitching and everything, I’m glad I was able to compete. It gets you better every time you go out. I definitely owe a lot of credit to the Pirates for all this.”
“All this” includes quite a few options. McFarland can enroll at Arkansas and begin his career with the Razorbacks. He could get drafted high enough to make him thinking about beginning his pro career.
No matter which direction he chooses, one thing is for certain. He’ll be leaving home, either for Fayetteville, Ark., or the location of some minor-league team.
That’s going to be an emotional moment for everyone in the family.
“Knowing that he’s moving on to the next chapter, whether he goes in the draft to wherever or he goes to Arkansas, he’s not going to be here for mom to wash his uniform and wish him good luck before every game,” Valerie McFarland said. “It’s a very tough step.”
It might be, but Jordan McFarland won’t soon forget the opportunities his family provided.
“My dad used to always take me up to Althoff and throw to me and my brother, it was something we always did,” McFarland said. “He still throws BP to me and everything.”
Valerie McFarland sacrificed to keep her son’s dream alive.
“She’s taken two or three jobs now just so I can travel so much in the summer because it’s so expensive,” Jordan McFarland said. “I can’t really repay her now for what she’s done, but I’m so grateful for having a mom like that. She’s really sacrificed a lot over the last few years for sure,
“If I had the opportunity, she was going to find a way to make it happen.”
By the numbers
These are Jordan McFarland’s stats from his high school playing career:
- 2016: .500, 10 2B, 6 HR, 31 RBIs, 36 SB, 47 runs
- 2015: .427, 5 2B, 5 3B, 8 HR, 42 RBIs, 9 SB, 32 runs
- 2014: .437, 10 2B, 3 3B, 7 HR, 41 RBIs, 10 SB, 33 runs
- 2013: .294, 2 2B, 4 HR, 11 RBIs, 8 runs