It’s a warm, April evening as Quad Cities catcher Jacob Nottingham stepped into the batter’s box at Modern Woodmen Park. He launched the ball deep for his first home run of the season. A big smile crossed his face as he entered the dugout to be congratulated by teammates and knowing his family was with him in spirit.
“My dad watches every game and listens to every game,” Nottingham said. “My family is so excited for me. Plus my girlfriend was just out here and she’s excited for me too. I’ve got a great support system.”
Nottingham was born into a family of athletes that spanned multiple sports.
“My mom played four years of varsity basketball in high school and my dad played baseball,” Nottingham said. “But he decided to become a cop instead of keep playing.”
Despite not pursuing baseball further, Nottingham said his dad instilled a love of the game from an early age.
“I started playing baseball when I was four years old. I played in league baseball and on tournament teams. We played in USSSA tournaments around California,” Nottingham said. “Being from California, I was a big Angels fan growing up but I was a big Derek Jeter fan.”
He rotated around the diamond playing at second base and shortstop before settling back into catching during high school. Nottingham was also a two-sport athlete at Redlands High School which drew some attention from other sports recruiters.
“I played football and the University of Arizona recruited me to play for them on a football scholarship,” Nottingham said. “I was an outside linebacker and they wanted me to play tight end too.”
According to MaxPreps.com, during his junior and senior years of high school, Nottingham played in 17 games with a total of 97 tackles, five sacks, two interceptions, and four caused fumbles. But like his father, baseball was where he truly shined. During his sophomore year, Nottingham hit .442 with 47 RBIs, five doubles, three triples, and five home runs. He continued putting up strong numbers throughout the first half of his junior year until a knee injury put him out of commission for the next four to five months. However, that didn’t slow down Nottingham who returned to have a breakout senior year with the Terriers. Over the course of 25 games, he had a .543 batting average with a .971 slugging percentage with 38 hits including seven home runs. His career totals while with Redlands High School are a .453 batting average over 71 games with 87 hits and 94 RBIs. With those kinds of numbers adding up, recruiters and scouts sat up and took notice.
“I had all sorts of teams talk to me,” Nottingham said. “I think I had scouts of about 20 teams come to our house during my senior year. It was fun learning about the different organizations. I also had baseball scholarships to play at the University of Arizona and the University of Oklahoma.”
Draft day rolled around and although he had already committed to the University of Oklaoma Nottingham sat at his house with his family and girlfriend watching anxiously to see if and when his name would pop up.
“I had scouts tell me different rounds they thought I would go in but I knew it would be somewhere before the tenth which is what a lot of them were saying,” Nottingham said. “It was full of ups and downs but it was good once I heard my name be called and I was excited it was the Astros.”
Nottingham was drafted by the Houston Astros in the sixth round of the 2013 draft. With the decision of choosing either college or pro baseball, Nottingham was looking ahead to start his new profession.
“I just wanted to get my professional career started. I felt like I was ready for it,” Nottingham said. “I knew it was going to be a lot harder than I was expecting but I felt like I was ready.”
Coming into his first spring training was unnerving as a player drafted out of high school.
“My first spring was a little different. It was overwhelming seeing so many players out there,” Nottingham said. “There are over 180 guys out there and everything was just so intense.”
In his first professional season, Nottingham played with the Gulf Coast League Astros before being promoted to the Low-A Greeneville Astros in 2014. He earned another promotion coming into the season joining the Quad Cities River Bandits for 2015 joining head coach Josh Bonifay who managed Greeneville the year before.
“He is awesome. I had him last year and know what to expect from him,” Nottingham said. “Just play hard and he won’t say anything to you. He’s a great manager and you can really tell he loves the game.”
Coming into 2015, Nottingham said his goals are to hit 15 home runs and to hit over .270 while continuing to model his game after San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey. And like Posey, Nottingham is also getting some work in over at first base.
“It’s a different experience just trying to learn the position honestly. I’ve never played first base ever so I’m working hard to get both positions down,” Nottingham said. “Catching is a lot easier especially with the great pitching staff that we have but I’m just trying to learn as much as possible and get everything down.”
With high goals set for himself and strong support from his family and friends, Nottingham said he plans on enjoying his time in the Quad Cities this season.
“The weather hasn’t been too bad and the city is awesome especially the people who support you out there. The fan base is great. It’s beautiful here and I love it.”