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Hatred of losing helps drive MAHS grad Ocker to be drafted by the Cleveland Indians

By Jason Maddux

jasonmaddux@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 6/12/19

Nathan Ocker has strong feelings about losing – even more so than most people.

“I hate it. Can’t stand it,” he said. “Even in games around the house (growing up), …

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Hatred of losing helps drive MAHS grad Ocker to be drafted by the Cleveland Indians

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Nathan Ocker has strong feelings about losing – even more so than most people.

“I hate it. Can’t stand it,” he said. “Even in games around the house (growing up), board games, we couldn’t play them because everything is just so competitive.”

It’s that hatred of losing, he says, that helped fuel the 2015 Middletown Area High School graduate to a standout pitching career at the College of Charleston and, now, the opportunity to play professional baseball.

Ocker was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 29th round of the Major League Baseball draft June 5.

“Beyond blessed for this opportunity, it is truly a dream come true! Can not wait to get to work and continue to compete at the highest level!” Ocker tweeted.

Ocker, a relief pitcher, was the 880th overall selection. He left for Goodyear, Arizona, on Monday morning. If the physical doesn’t show any issues, he will officially sign Friday and be assigned to a minor-league team.

He is the son of Jodi and Keith Ocker, who were “there for everything” when he was learning the game of baseball.

“My parents were big supporters of everything I did, whether that was going to a pitching coach in Maryland or going to different summer tournaments,” he told the Press & Journal on Thursday.

He spent June 5 watching the computer and hoping to get a call or text from one of the Major League Baseball scouts. He received a phone call minutes before the Cleveland Indians had their pick in the 29th round.

“They said they were going to take me with their next pick in the round. I stayed on the phone and heard it called in in the front office with all their guys. That was a pretty cool experience,” he said.

Ocker, who is 6 feet tall and weighs 190 pounds, ended his career at the South Carolina college ranked second all-time in saves (26), WHIP (0.97) and appearances (92). He ranks third all-time in strikeouts per nine innings (10.24), sixth in strikeouts (215) and seventh in earned run average (3.00), and is second in Colonial Athletic Association history in saves. He had a 15-10 career record and has held opposing batters to a .213 batting average in 189 innings pitched.

Ocker was a 2019 All-CAA Second Team selection as a senior, with 12 saves, a 2.45 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 47.2 innings. He ranked 22nd in the nation in saves.

“It's always been a dream of mine to hear my name get called, to get that chance. Not many people get to experience that in the whole scheme of things. I know there are over a thousand picks, but with how many players there are ... it's a small percentage of guys who actually get that chance,” he said.

The Phillies were his favorite team growing up.

“That would have been cool to be drafted by them. But any team honestly. I didn’t care who,” he said.

He said he didn’t know what to expect as far as interest from teams, although a couple contacted him during the season.

After fulfilling his goal of being drafted, a new goal has been created — reaching the highest level possible he can in professional baseball.

“One thing that's gotten me to this point is to have various different goals that I can reach throughout the season and set the bar higher. Throughout my baseball career, it's not just settling for one thing. My goal was to play Division I baseball at a school I could play at. Once I reached that, new goals presented themselves,” he said.

He expects to remain a relief pitcher in the Indians’ system.

He said his slider is his best pitch. What are some of his other strengths on the mound?

“I can move it in and out of the zone, up and down, and be able to through any pitch in any count. That’s tough on hitters, not being able to sit on a certain pitch. And not being necessarily cocky but having a confident demeanor on the mound. You don’t like that person 60 feet, 6 inches away. Having that kind of mindset, that you are better than the hitter.”

“That’s something I pride myself on, my confidence on the mound,” he added.

At Middletown, he struck out 24 batters in a nine-inning game as a sophomore on April 25, 2013. He was named to the 2015 Mid-Penn Keystone Division All-Star first team and recorded 325 strikeouts in his four-year career. As a senior, he struck out 111 batters in 10 appearances and finished the season with an ERA of 1.22. He pitched a no-hitter vs. Palmyra as a senior.

He was crowned Mr. Middletown at the 2015 pageant, and took part in chorus, Student Council, PRIDE Club and yearbook staff at MAHS.

As the Blue Raiders’ quarterback, he passed for 1,515 yards and 13 touchdowns in his career. As a senior, he won the Melvin Fager Sr. Memorial Award for leadership, dedication, commitment to hard work and school pride.

He gave credit to Mike Carnes, his baseball coach his first two seasons, and Steve Shuleski, who took over for Carnes.

He also gave praise to Brett Myers, his former football coach.

“He's helped me with leadership, confidence and all that. It helped me develop into a better pitcher and carried into college to try to be a leader for the team,” he said.

Several former MAHS athletes have been drafted by Major League teams, including Mike Lebo. When he graduated, he was named the 1977 Pennsylvania all-state catcher. He signed a scholarship with the South Carolina Gamecocks and played one year before being drafted in January 1978 by the Toronto Blue Jays.

Barry Ulsh, a 1970 graduate, was drafted in the third round that year by the Cincinnati Reds.

Cliff Smith, the Middletown Area School District athletics director, said the school doesn’t keep an official list of drafted players.

Smith is in a unique position to give advice to Ocker. Smith spent five years in the minor leagues for the now-Los Angeles Angels and Pittsburgh Pirates, from 2001 to 2005 as a right-handed pitcher, advancing as far as Double A Arkansas. The Portland, Maine, native was an inaugural member of the independent Atlantic League’s Lancaster Barnstormers in 2005 before getting into coaching and eventually taking on the role as AD in Middletown.

“My advice to Nate would be to enjoy every second of it. You never know when the ride will end, and you want to make sure you get everything out of it that you can,” he said.

“I think Nate is a great role model for our student athletes, and gives them an example of what hard work and dedication can lead to,” he added.