‘Like A Kid’s Game’: How WVU Pitcher Jake Carr Turned His Career Around
Jake Carr was the best pitcher in the state of West Virginia during his senior year of high school, going 7-0 with a 0.22 ERA and 105 strikeouts for St. Albans High School.
It was more of the same during his first year with the Mountaineers. Head coach Randy Mazey named Carr the No. 3 weekend starter and he allowed just four earned runs in four starts, good for a 1.52 ERA as a true freshman. With the season cut short prematurely by the COVID-19 pandemic, Carr never really faced a challenge, just as he hadn’t in high school. It left him totally unprepared for his sophomore year, when adversity appeared in droves.
Carr gave up ten earned runs in the first inning during his first start of the 2021 season, a far cry from the lights-out performances he delivered to begin his career. He gave up ten earned runs in the first inning, recording just two outs.
“I feel like whenever I first got into college it came way too easy for me, and I had always had success throughout my whole entire college career,” Carr said. “[I] never experienced failure as much as I did my sophomore year.”
Carr said he felt like he could still locate his pitches. He didn’t feel like his stuff was worse than it had been in the past. That made his struggles even harder to process.
“The mental side of things…when you feel like you’re doing the same things that you’ve been doing your whole entire life and it’s not working out, you kinda get lost,” Carr said. “You’re like ‘what’s going on?’ stuff like that. That’s what happened to me, the mental side of things. Obviously, I wasn’t good at coping with failure, and it took a toll on me.”
Carr said his season snowballed after that first start, a sophomore slump from hell. He wasn’t able to hit the reset button and put the loss behind him. Carr lost his spot in the weekend rotation ahead of Big 12 play, making eight starts in 14 appearances.
“After the one bad outing in 2021 it kind of shaped my whole entire season,” Carr said. “When you give up ten runs and [can] not even get out of the first inning against Georgia State, that’s kind of tough…obviously, that wasn’t the only bad game that I had too. That sucked.”
He still wasn’t able to turn the page on his nightmare season once it ended. Trying desperately to close the book during fall ball, suddenly at odds with the game he’d loved all his life, Carr had an impossible decision to make.
“Going into my junior year it was an okay fall, but it wasn’t great,” Carr said. “I thought that the best decision for me was to step away and get my mind right, and decide what I want.”
Carr decided to sit out the entire 2022 season, taking time away from baseball to decide what he wanted to do next.
Head coach Randy Mazey described how that conversation went down.
“I told him when he came in my office to tell me that he wasn’t gonna play anymore, ‘I value Jake Carr the person a lot more than I value Jake Carr the person,’” Mazey said. “‘Don’t ever try and define your life based on how you throw a baseball.’”
Mazey said he kept in touch with Carr during his time away from the sport, remaining there when needed.
“I think he kinda had to find himself…I always stayed in touch with him,” Mazey said. “I supported any decision he made and continued to have a relationship with him and always will.”
Eventually Carr decided to give baseball another shot.
“I made the decision to come back and hopefully not end on a bad note, [instead] end on a good note,” Carr said.
He’s done an excellent job when called upon this season, pitching to a 2.16 ERA across 8.1 innings and seven appearances, including pitching the ninth in the Mountaineers’ April 2 win over Kansas State. Four of those innings came in a single game against UNC Greensboro. Most of the time Mazey only calls his number for a batter or two. Carr is a left-handed pitcher, so Mazey will bring him in to win the handedness matchup against another lefty.
Back to the Basics
He’s easing his way back into the pitching room, taking his time getting back on his feet. Carr said that a change of mentality during the time away from the sport has sparked his rebound.
“Whenever you take a step back and look and you watch people play the game, nobody really cares, you know. Go out there and have fun, that’s basically all it is,” Carr said. “I just went back to my younger roots, whenever I was in high school. I didn’t think about the next step, I just worried about the present, not overcomplicat[ing] things.”
Instead of letting his failures weigh on him, Carr taught himself to have a short memory. A failure doesn’t mean spiraling: he puts it behind him, forgets it and keeps pitching.
“I kinda look at it as like a kid’s game now, so I don’t take it as serious…that’s just the way I look at every single outing,” Carr said. “Whenever you take things serious it can almost make the game not fun, and that’s what happened [in 2021].”
Carr described the marked difference from the way he used to pitch. Now that he can shut out the noise, he can go out and enjoy the game…and succeed in doing so.
“Up until this year I haven’t really done that. I’ve always [said] ‘why isn’t this working? Why isn’t this working?’ You know, questioning every single thing,” Carr said. “Now I come in, I just throw strikes, let myself work, let my stuff play.”
Mazey said looking at baseball for what it is—a game—is something he’s emphasized during his years as head coach.
“I know kids are competitive, but we’re just trying to have fun,” Mazey said. “I think that’s the way we’ve coached our kids over time, just to take it as a game.
Mazey said he thinks of the long-term ramifications when teaching his players how to play the game.
“Enjoy your experience and enjoy the competition, because baseball is a sport that doesn’t last your whole life,” Mazey said. “The kids I deal with, if they’re lucky, they’ll get to play for three or four more years. Don’t ever let baseball define who you are. Learn some great lessons while you’re playing this game that’ll last you a lifetime, but since it is so short-lived, you might as well enjoy it while you’re doing it.”
Mazey said he thinks adopting that mentality paid dividends for Carr.
“He has a role on our team, and I think he’s really, really enjoying being part of a team right now…The first time around, there was just a lot of pressure that he was putting on himself and people were putting on him. It took a little bit of the fun out of the game, but I think he’s found that again,” Mazey said. “I tell them that all the time. We’re just out there playing a game. Your worst day on the baseball field should still be a great day.”