Mike Adams left his baseball dream five years ago in Pomona, N.Y., a small town just across the New Jersey state line where he spent the summer after college graduation playing for an independent-league team. Adams earned little money, pitched in 16 games, and agreed that his future was no longer on the mound.
He returned home to South Jersey and joined a former teammate to open a baseball training facility, halting his dream to help others chase theirs.
“That’s really why I stopped playing,” Adams said. “I was like ‘I can make a bigger impact doing this.’”
But there he was last week — a 26-year-old who spent the last three summers casually pitching in a South Jersey men’s league — signing a professional contract with the Phillies.
Adams left Wagner College in 2016 with a degree in business marketing, never played affiliated baseball, and was working part-time as a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers while co-owning the Baseball Performance Center in Pleasantville. Suddenly, he’s set to become a minor-league pitcher.
His playing career behind him, Adams dug into the techniques used by some of baseball’s premier pitchers so he could teach them to the baseball dreamers who came to his facility near Atlantic City. He reviewed video of the major leagues’ hardest throwers, studied their throwing motions, and tried to mimic their deliveries.
Adams, like a good teacher, wanted to master the lessons he was instructing.
“It was never like ‘I’m going to make a comeback’ or ‘I’m going to pitch again.’ I was just throwing on my own so I could learn and help the guys we have get better,” Adams said. “I basically used myself as a guinea pig. I tried certain things and felt what it felt like so I could verbalize to the guys we have.”
And then, almost by accident, Adams started throwing harder. His fastball — which topped out at 94 mph in college — neared triple digits. A friend brought a radar gun to a men’s league game last summer, clocking Adams’ fastball at 96 mph. The dream was reignited.
He continued to harness his fastball, reworking his mechanics and building strength while still teaching others at his facility. Last week, Adams pitched in front of scouts for the first time since college and his fastball zipped at 98 mph. The same teams who overlooked Adams after he went undrafted in 2016 were now interested.
Forget that Adams never played in the minor leagues, is a year older than the average Phillies triple-A player, was working as a scout and instructor, and his most recent opponents were found in the Atlantic County Baseball League. There was no denying last week that Adams was firing a major-league fastball.
The Phillies, the team Adams lived and died with as a kid in South Jersey, offered him a contract that night. Teams have recently trimmed their minor-league rosters and cut affiliates, which made Adams’ already slim odds even narrower. But his two-minute audition of 16 pitches provided enough to impress.
He will fly to Clearwater, Fla., sometime in March or April for spring training before being assigned to one of the minor-league affiliates.
“It all happened so fast that it was hard to understand,” Adams said. “It’s probably the toughest time to try and get signed, so I knew I was a little bit of a long shot. But once they called and said they were going to offer me a deal, it was awesome.”
Adams and Ed Charlton, who also grew up in South Jersey and played with Adams in independent ball, opened the Baseball Performance Center in 2017. They envisioned the facility during their playing days, wanting to create a place they didn’t have growing up that could provide new-age training methods.
The friends took an empty warehouse adjacent to the heating-oil business owned by Adams’ father and transformed it into a state-of-the-art training facility. Adams oversees the pitchers while Charlton, who played in the minors for the Reds, is in charge of the hitters.
“We started with a little corner,” Adams said. “We started getting a lot of guys, needed more room, and eventually expanded throughout the whole building. One of our first guys got drafted by the Angels and after that we’ve been firing on all cylinders, year-round. Ever since then, we’ve been rolling with it.”
Adams will quit his job with the Brewers and leave the facility to Charlton and their staff when he heads to Clearwater. The facility has helped roughly 150 players earn pro contracts or college scholarships, each of them signing their name to a wall in Pleasantville before leaving the facility to climb baseball’s ladder.
Adams has watched each signature, knowing he played a part in another’s dream while putting his on hold. Last week, he added his own: “Mike Adams — Phillies.” Adams took a different path, but his dream no longer lives in a small New York town. He will carry it with him to spring training.
“We try to tell the players in here that you can’t compare yourself to anyone else,” Adams said. “You’re going to have your own path. You’re going to have your own journey. As long as you keep doing the right thing and keep following what you’re passionate about, you’ll be alright one way or the other.”