Teague gave up baseball to pursue law
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
James Teague could have been singing a George Strait song: “I’m here for a good time.” The other lyrics that must go with that song are more important. The King also sings, “I ain’t here for a long time.” That’s the explanation Teague provided to explain why he didn’t stay in pro baseball even when his results through three seasons with the Baltimore Orioles organization suggested he’d probably eventually make it to the major league. Teague figured out his goal in life was to be a good husband and father, and he wanted to make sure not to miss any of the big moments in those early days of both. He also wanted to become a lawyer. “As they say, I saw the train coming,” said Teague, who is now in his second year working with his father, Robert, at Teague Law Firm in Rogers. Teague married his high school sweetheart, Brittany, after his first year of pro ball and decided during year three that he needed to go to law school before it was too late. He walked away from his role as an up and coming closer just as it was getting started. Teague did a little bit of everything in his three-year career with the Arkansas baseball team. Among his highlights, starting pitcher in the victory over Missouri State that clinched the trip to the College World Series in 2015. There was also a strikeout to end a great comeback against No. 1 Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, for an unlikely series win. The Hogs won the last two games of the series that changed momentum for the 2015 Razorbacks. “I can tell you about plenty of low points in my three years,” Teague said. “That’s just part of baseball. But I have some incredible highs, too. I wouldn’t trade any of it. I wouldn’t trade playing for Dave Van Horn, either. I learned a lot.” In other words, the lows in baseball prepare you for tough life moments. “I think that’s true,” Teague said. “I was fortunate to play for great coaches at Arkansas. Coach Van Horn is a great man. He’s extremely tough, but I always thought he rewarded hard work. He always recognized when you worked hard. He just did, every time. “I wasn’t always the best, but I tried to work hard and I thought I got a lot of chances because of that work, probably more than I deserved.” That weekend trip to College Station in 2015 won’t be forgotten. The Aggies won 13-6 in Game One. They had an 8-3 lead when storms shut down Game 2 late on Saturday night. “We came back to win it (9-8) on Sunday morning, then beat them in a seven-inning game (8-2) to win the series,” he said. “I got the last out in Game 2. “That last out was a big moment for me. The bases were loaded with two outs.” The Aggies needed a hit to move to 36-3 – affirmation for their No. 1 spot in four of the five polls. “The place was packed,” Teague said. “Tucker Pennell, our catcher, was putting down the sign for my slider. It was a 3-2 count. I shook him off and wanted to throw a fastball. It came out funny and sank two feet and their guy missed it.” Texas A&M’s Logan Nottebrook was ahead 3-0 to start that at-bat, but Teague threw three straight strikes to end the game. It was quite the rally. The Hogs scored five runs with two outs in the eighth inning in the Game 2 conclusion. They outscored the Aggies 14-2 in the 10 innings played Sunday. It’s amazing to listen to Teague describe the big moments. There is such clarity. He will never forget coming out of the bullpen after warming up ahead of the start to beat Missouri State that led to the dog pile at Baum Stadium for the College World Series trip. “That was pretty cool,” he said. “It was Game 3, the rubber match of the super regional. Not many know this, but I came out (of the bullpen) with my elbow hurting. I could not reach up to my hat with my right hand.” But he was going to pitch and the elbow didn’t hurt so much when the crowd came alive. “I walked out of the bullpen and thought I might be in trouble, but the crowd started a slow clap in left field and it began to radiate around the stadium,” Teague said. “It just kept growing sort of like the wave. “My fear was all gone. The tip of my elbow was fractured, but I forgot about my elbow.” Teague had one of his best starts with four solid innings. He allowed one unearned run. “Lance Phillips pitched the fifth and sixth, then Zach Jackson pitched the last three,” Teague said. “Zach was at the center of that dog pile. “Those two games against A&M and Missouri State are high-pressure, high- leverage situations that I’ll never forget. It’s those kind of moments when you know you have persevered through all of the bad.” If you want the details of some of the bad, Teague can go through the 2016 season when the pitching disappeared because of graduation and injuries. As a battle-tested junior, he mentored a host of young pups that became stars. “Those freshman pitchers of 2016 when we were going on fumes did grow up later,” Teague said. “That freshman group my junior year had Isaiah Campbell, Blaine Knight, Kacey Murphy, Jake Reindl and Barrett Loseke. They were not ready, but they had to pitch. “That year was a lot of bad luck with our pitching staff. We had to just find some guys to get people out and those guys did the best they could and learned a lot.” It stands as the only losing season in Van Horn’s 21 seasons at Arkansas. The Hogs slumped to 26-29 and 7-23 in the SEC. As do most juniors, Teague elected to sign when the Orioles took him in the 37th round. “What happened in my second year of pro ball really is unusual,” he said. “I pitched in the low 90s in college, really relying on a hard slider. But I sort of geeked out on nutrition as a pro, lost 20 pounds, changed my mechanics and everything changed. “I worked out with a weighted ball and became super mobile after losing weight.” What changed was his velocity. “I probably never threw a pitch harder than 94 in college, but everything came into sync for me in pro ball,” he said. “I tell people, ‘I sucked in college. I was good as a pro.’ And that is true. “I guess you could say I reinvented myself. I experimented and all of a sudden I was throwing 100 mph. I had a TrackMan documented streak of 30-plus innings with an average of 96.5. There were tons of 100 mph fastballs. I was throwing a lot more strikes. “It was wild. All of a sudden I was a closer with big league velocity. The Orioles were using me in major league spring training against MLB hitters. I pitched in nine spring games against major league teams.” There was one problem. At 5-11, Teague didn’t think it was sustainable over a five- or six-year span, probably what it would take to work his way through the minors. He enjoyed it while it lasted. “I got to meet (Baltimore manager) Buck Showalter a few times at big-league camp,” he said. “I faced some big-league hitters.” He also knew that big-league hitters were different. “Of course, I saw Andrew Benintendi when I was at Arkansas,” he said. “I knew what guys like that saw coming out of a pitcher’s hand was different. I remember facing the Mets and a battle with Todd Frazier. It was amazing.” Frazier battled for an eight-pitch walk. “I had him 0-2 and he wouldn’t swing at a pitch that was an inch off the plate and he fouled off anything that was on the edge,” Teague said. “When he went to first, I thought, ‘I gave him everything I’ve got and there he is on first.’ He deserved to walk. “You see a big league hitter and they have a different ambience.” It was those sorts of encounters that made him think of his future. “Do I battle for six or seven years and get a little bit in the big leagues and it’s too late to go to law school?” he said. “You are going to be away from your family and I didn’t want to miss any of that. “The minor league coordinator with the Orioles told me I projected to the big leagues, but as time went on, my motivation was different.” There was a drive to enroll in law school. And, just before graduation, James and Brittany welcomed a daughter, Scottie. That affirmed his decision to retire from baseball. Things became clearer when Scottie needed a liver transplant as an infant. “The surgery was in Houston and I did a lot of study for the bar exam at the Ronald McDonald House,” he said. “I left Houston on July 22 and took the bar exam on July 23.” Scottie, 2, is healthy and strong. “She is amazing,” Teague said. “She has defied all odds. You think you can’t recognize toughness at that age, but I do. She gives us perspective.” Brittany and James began dating in his junior year at Bartlesville (Okla.) High School. “She is one year older and was a soccer player,” he said. “She started out at Oklahoma Baptist and transferred (to Arkansas) after one year.” James has Rogers roots. He lived there until age 9 when his parents divorced. He’d return to visit his father. There were usually summer camps with the Razorback coaches. James credits recruiting coordinator Todd Butler for finding him. “I think he saw me first in high school,” he said. “I got my offer (of 25%) after throwing 92 at an Arkansas camp. To be honest, Oklahoma and others were offering me more, but I liked the Razorbacks the most. “I made the right decision. It’s all worked out.” That includes working with his father in family law. “That’s 65% of our cases,” he said. “That’s divorce and child custody. But I’m also in the public defender program, so I’m learning the criminal law system, too. I got into a program during COVID. I’d say our firm is sort of Swiss Army Knife in our skills.” Arkansas baseball fans probably recognize his dad from games. You may have heard him in the stands. “My dad is 6-5 and can be loud,” he said. “There is one good story about that.” Robert Teague decided to coach his son early in his Arkansas days. “I’d had some bad outings,” James said. “It was a mid-week game against Stephen F. Austin and the temperature was about 40. There was no one in the park. It got awkward. “Dad was yelling what pitches to throw and I knew everyone could hear him. I finally went into the tunnel and texted him to stop. “I went back out the next inning and he was still doing it. He was yelling stuff like, ‘Get ahead with your fastball.’ “He kept going. I called him in the seventh inning. I asked if he had read my texts, he said, ‘Yes, but you were throwing so well.’ He thought he had something to do with it. That was the last time he did that. “He hates me telling this story, but he knows I’m going to keep telling it.” George Strait would sing, it’s a “good time” story.