My path to the pros

Angels ace C.J. Wilson recalls the days before he got paid to play

Originally Published: June 27, 2013
By Sarah Turcotte | ESPN The Magazine

CJ WilsonJeff Gross/Getty ImagesWilson transferred high schools to ensure his future in baseball.

The beginning

I remember playing Wiffle ball with my dad in the backyard when I was 2. Well, I don't really remember it as much as I've seen a bunch of photos of me hitting a ball and throwing it. I didn't play organized baseball until I was 9, fourth grade, which, keep in mind, is pretty late. But we couldn't really afford to do it before that, and since my brother and I are just a year and a half apart, when I could play, he could play too. We don't have school leagues in California, so it was a local league. At that point, I played outfield, but in my first year, my coach put me at third because I'm a lefty. But I kept overthrowing the first baseman, so that's when they put me in the outfield.

The middle school days

I had started pitching by 10, but I was still getting lessons in both hitting and pitching. It was around then that I really put all my energy into learning how to be a good baseball player. I wasn't a good hitter at first because I didn't have the strength to hit with a metal bat, but my dad got me some books, like Wade Boggs' The Techniques of Modern Hitting. By the next summer, I was the best hitter on my team. When I was 12 and a half, I had a legit coach, a legit hard-ass coach, and we'd play two or three games every weekend at that point. And the travel games were usually two to four hours away.

The high school years

I was small when I got to high school, maybe 5-foot-2 and 105 pounds, but I had a strong arm. I went to Edison High School for the first year and a half, but then I transferred to Fountain Valley [Fountain Valley, Calif.] because they were ranked No. 2 in the country at that point. I figured if I wanted to be a big dog, I needed to go to a big-dog school. Baseball was a job. It'd been a job since I was 9 years old. Every single time I swung a bat or picked up a ball, it was always to be a major league All-Star. And I wasn't even that good until I got older. Imagine how stupid people thought I was.

But then, junior year, I finally made varsity at Fountain Valley, and I pitched and played outfield. That was the year that I finally went to some camps where college coaches were. The problem was, I was still on the smaller side, like 5-10, 165. I was starting to fill out, but I wasn't there yet. My high school coach said that if I was willing to sign for, like, $50,000, I could've skipped college, but I knew I was a late bloomer. I was improving and growing every year, so I figured college at Santa Ana Junior College [Wilson later transferred to Loyola Marymount in LA.] was a better route to take.

More rising stars retrace their paths to the pros:

Maya Gabeira | Paul Goldschmidt | Brandon Jennings | Cam Newton | Jozy Altidore | Ashton Eaton | Maya Moore | Michael Crabtree | Ian Kinsler | C.J. Wilson | Nnamdi Asomugha | Bernard Pollard | Richard Seymour | Michelle Wie | Brittany Lincicome | Gordon Hayward | DeMarcus Cousins | Matt Flynn | Jairus Byrd | Rey Maualuga | Domata Peko | Le'Ron McClain | Glen Perkins | Jeff Halpern | Jay Feely

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