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Old Bulldog teaches new tricks

June 30, 2010 by RYAN BLACK   

@ The Red and Black

Former University baseball player Jasha Balcom may not be in professional baseball anymore, but it is possible in the near future you may see a player he groomed playing in the MLB.

Balcom founded HittersBox Baseball Inc. a little over a year ago.

“I just decided to start my own baseball training company because I got tired of working my 9-to-5 job and I just wasn’t happy,” Balcom said. “When I founded the company, I was still contracting lessons at other facilities, and so I decided I needed to start my own place. I came over here to Competitive Edge Sports [facility], because this is where I used to train when I played for the Cubs, partnered with them to get space…and here we are.”

June 26 marked the grand opening of HittersBox in Duluth, and Balcom put on a free clinic for kids. Former Atlanta Braves catcher Javy Lopez and Atlanta Falcons defensive end Chauncey Davis stopped by to talk with those in attendance.

Growing up in Dublin, Balcom said baseball had “always been a passion” for him, and he was given ample opportunities to play locally since his father worked for the Parks and Recreation Department.

And though he loved Dublin, he said he saw that to reach his goal of becoming a MLB player, he would have to widen his perspective.

“I wanted to be a major league baseball player, and I wanted to do it so bad that I worked hard every day to get out of Dublin,” Balcom said. “I always wanted to go to college and then become a professional. I grew up wanting to go to Georgia, and assistant coach [David] Perno was the first coach to ever recruit me.”

Balcom eventually made it to the University, but not before a two-year layover at the College of Charleston, where he was named a Freshman All-America in 2001.

He transferred to Georgia in 2002 after completing his sophomore year.

“Jasha had great talent and gave us a good left-handed bat with some sneaky pop for [the] long ball,” Perno, now the head coach, said. “He was very athletic and could play all three outfield spots. He always was in a good mood with a smile on his face. He was a great teammate and a wonderful kid to coach.”

Balcom remembered one moment in his Georgia career above all else — getting to play in the first game Georgia and Georgia Tech contested at Turner Field in 2003.

“Playing in front of 10,000 fans that day…was incredible,” he said.

The game, dubbed the “Spring Baseball Classic for Kids,” was won by Georgia 10-3, with Balcom playing a key role in the victory. He went 2-for-4 with two doubles, two runs scored and three runs batted in. Balcom came to the plate with a tie game and bases loaded — every childhood player’s dream.

“It was 3-3, I came up, and it was a 3-1 count,” he said. “The crowd was on their feet, and I cleared the bases with a double, and you could hear all the Dogs ‘barking’ in the stadium. It was just an incredible moment. I got interviewed on national television after the game, so that was probably the coolest experience I ever had.”

After his time at Georgia ended, Balcom was picked by the Chicago Cubs in the 33rd round (973rd overall pick) of the 2003 MLB Draft.

Balcom played for the Cubs’ Arizona League rookie affiliate in 2003, and another Cubs affiliate, the Boise Hawks, in 2004.

In his final season with the Cubs organization, he was assigned to the Peoria Chiefs in 2005 before deciding to retire.

Though he never made it to the major leagues, Balcom said he enjoyed his time in the lower levels of professional baseball.

University alum Jasha Balcom works on teaching proper hitting technique with a young player. PHOTO COURTESY QUENTIN DAVIS

“It wasn’t easy being away from home, and all the long bus rides you had,” he said. “But you look back on it, and you’re young, and you’re getting to do something you love. I mean, I would have played for free just to get the opportunity to play every day.”

When he retired from baseball, Balcom then went into a different type of game — the high-stakes world of stock brokering.

“I didn’t know what job I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to make some money,” he said. “People from baseball opened some doors for me, and my uncle was a broker for 25 years at Morgan Stanley, so I saw what he was doing and I decided I wanted to get into that.”

Though Balcom made good money as a broker, baseball was something he could not push away from his mind for long.

He quit his job to give baseball one last shot in 2007, taking time to train in preparation for the upcoming season.

He joined the independent South Georgia Peanuts, appearing in 86 games, attaining a .304 batting average and collecting 100 hits in 329 at-bats. He also led the South Coast League in stolen bases (34) as the Peanuts won the SCL championship by beating the Macon Music 2-1 in a best-of-three series at the end of the season.

When he received no feedback from any MLB teams after his season with the Peanuts, he decided to call his playing career quits for good.

“I felt like I gave it one more shot, and I enjoyed it, but now it’s time to move on to bigger and better things,” he said. “So I’m at peace with my decision.”

Balcom still wanted a way to stay around baseball, so he started teaching lessons with 10th Inning Baseball Academy, Chipper Jones’s baseball and softball training facility in Suwanee for two years before he started HittersBox.

Now, Balcom is combining his love of baseball with the business sense he gained in trading stocks, and he couldn’t be happier.

“I wanted to be able to do baseball and become a business owner,” he said. “I wanted to be a business owner in the community… [and] being able to give back to the community and working with kids. That’s the thing I enjoy waking up every day doing.”

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