Like other football fans, Gwinnett Braves starting pitcher Tyrell Jenkins feels the excitement, the anticipation waiting for the season to start.
“Everyone is excited for it,” said Jenkins. “I’m just a big fan.”
Jenkins is not only a fan. He is friends with an NFL starting quarterback who also won the Heisman Trophy.
“I just talked with him,” said Jenkins hours prior to the start of the NFL preseason on Thursday night. ”I told him good luck and that I was pulling for him.”
“Him” is Washington Redskins and former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Jenkins, a three-star, dual-threat quarterback in high school, appeared ready to become Griffin’s heir apparent at Baylor. Instead, Jenkins chose baseball.
After the St. Louis Cardinals selected Jenkins in the first round of the 2010 MLB draft, he enrolled at Baylor to play football. But negotiations on a signing bonus with the Cardinals continued into the beginning of Baylor’s fall practice. St. Louis finally offered $1.3 million.
“Once I got that offer, I couldn’t turn it down,” Jenkins said “I wanted to be able to help my mom because it’d been just the two of us for so long. When I heard how big it was, there was no way I was turning it down. They put the ball in my court and let me decide what I wanted to do. But when they put me in the position with that money, it was only right to take it.”
Jenkins grew up in a single-parent home, raised by his mother, aunt and grandmother. His relationship with his mother Sharon goes deep because of what they have endured together. When Jenkins was a sophomore in high school, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I was a kid at one point,” Jenkins said. “I cried a lot; about things kids cry about. But as I got older I realized I had to be the man around the house. I also had to be strong for her.”
Five years later after choosing baseball over Baylor, Jenkins is enjoying a breakout season in the Atlanta Braves minor-league system. He had advanced through the lower levels of the Cardinals’ farm system but a shoulder injury in August 2013 ended his season. He recovered to post a 2.75 ERA in 98 innings between Class A Advance Palm Beach and the Arizona Fall League. But the Cardinals remained concerned about his durability since Jenkins had not once pitched 100 innings in a season.
After being dealt to the Braves as one of the players acquired when right fielder Justin Heyward was traded to the Cardinals, Jenkins started this season at Double-A Jackson (Miss.). He was promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett after throwing 93 innings in 16 starts with a 3.00 ERA and earning a spot in the Southern League All-Star game. In seven games with Gwinnett, the 22-year old is 3-3 with a 3.24 ERA in 41 innings pitched, catapulting him over 100 innings.
“The biggest improvement I’ve made this season is just being healthy,” Jenkins said.
Now a month remains in the Braves’ season. Once it concludes Jenkins has two dates circled on his calendar to meet up with RG3.
“I’ll see him when they come to play the (Dallas) Cowboys (on Jan.3),” Jenkins said.”We are also talking about going to Kansas to see Baylor basketball play.
“We talk all the time. Not about sports but other stuff. Making sure we are there for each other. He is doing his thing and I’m doing mine.”
Above: Gwinnett Braves pitcher Tyrell Jenkins is enjoying his most productive season. (Photo by Karl Moore/Gwinnett Braves)