Athletics sign fan who threw heat at MLB stadium’s radar booth
If Hollywood one day decides to make a movie of Nathan Patterson’s unlikely path to professional baseball, there should be a scene of how he once used Google to decide his next step in life.
At the time, Patterson was a 19-year-old Blue Valley High School graduate whose baseball dreams had been shattered along with his elbow in a freak play two years earlier. He started a successful landscaping business after school but was ready for something new.
“We got to the point where we needed to hire employees and ... I knew that it was a good experience, but at the same time I didn’t want to own a landscape business for the rest of my life,” Patterson said in a phone interview. “I talked to my business partner and said, ‘Hey, I have to get out of Kansas City.’
“So I went to Google, and this was June 2015, and I literally typed in, ‘Cool places to live when you’re young and single.’ Austin, Texas, was the first place that popped up.”
That decision sent Patterson on a crooked path that now has him with the Oakland A’s Arizona League team in Mesa. Patterson signed a minor-league deal last week, and his story went viral as news outlets linked his 96 mph throw in a Speed Pitch Booth at Coors Field to a contract with Oakland.
But that’s an oversimplification. Patterson’s route back to baseball actually started a year ago.
“It’s a misconception that there wasn’t any work or sacrifice that went into this,” Patterson said. “The reality of it is that there was a ton of hard work, adversity and a lot of sacrifices that went into pursuing this dream.”
After moving to Austin, Patterson found work at a software company, making remote sales. He met his girlfriend in Texas, and not long after, her company opened a branch in Nashville.
Patterson’s boss allowed him to work remotely, so the couple moved to Tennessee in January 2018. Seven months later, his parents and two siblings visited and they took in a Nashville Sounds minor-league baseball game.
That night, one of Patterson’s buddies suggested they try the Speed Pitch Booth. While his friend topped out at 65 mph, Patterson reached 96 mph. Thing is, he thought he was being scammed.
“That was the first time that I had thrown a ball over 90 mph,” Patterson said. “I think I threw five and the last one I threw 96 mph. ... I didn’t believe it. I thought they jacked up the numbers to make you pay another dollar to throw another ball.”
A high school coach happened to be watching Patterson light up the gun and pulled him aside. The man told Patterson, who at one time dropped four courses at Johnson County Community College because of landscaping demands, he should play college ball or turn pro.
Patterson brushed it off, but two weeks later, while on a trip to Hawaii, he drifted to sleep each night wondering if baseball was worth another shot.
It hadn’t been easy saying goodbye to the game. Patterson was injured while playing second base for a Showcase Team the summer before his senior year at Blue Valley. While attempting to catch a ball in short right field, he landed on his elbow, fracturing it. A surgeon inserted a screw in Patterson’s elbow and assured him a complete recovery was coming.
But he faced only setbacks in 18 months of rehab, and with high school graduation looming, Patterson put baseball behind him.
Upon returning from Hawaii, Patterson went to a training facility in Nashville and saw he was touching 92 mph off the mound.
“At that time,” he said, “I knew I was going to be back in the game, playing baseball at some point.”
Patterson began using some of Driveline Baseball’s philosophy for his own workouts, throwing weighted balls while strengthening his elbow and arm. His velocity on “pulldowns,” which involve getting a running start and throwing the ball as hard as possible, jumped from 94 mph to 101 mph.
But just as Patterson was ramping up, he get knocked down again last December.
After a lunch-hour workout in Nashville, Patterson was cruising home on an electric skateboard when he was hit by a car.
“I had surgery on my left wrist,” said Patterson, who is right-handed. “I was super upset. It was like a sign: baseball is not meant to be.”
It wasn’t a blue Christmas, though, because during a visit to Kansas City, his family encouraged him to keep pursuing baseball. In January, Patterson tweeted a video of his pitches and tagged Rob Friedman, who is known to his 155,000 followers as Pitching Ninja. Patterson was soon inundated with responses from college coaches and agents.
“I was just blown away from the exposure and the power of social media,” he said.
After signing with an agent, Patterson was put in touch with former A’s pitcher Jarrod Parker of Parker Sports Performance in Nashville. Parker connected Patterson with an area scout for the A’s and set up a Pro Day for Patterson and three other players. Six major-league teams had representatives on hand, including the Royals, Parker said.
“He had an advanced feel for pitching for somebody that has never really done it,” Parker said. “He came in and threw strikes. He commanded his fastball, which obviously is a huge key and one of the most important things, and then just being able to spin and throw off-speed. He showed an ability that guys take years to develop.”
Now fully committed to baseball, Patterson phoned his boss back in Austin.
“He’s been on my side since day one when this baseball thing started, and he said no problem, so I resigned from my job in February to pursue this full-time and just focused on baseball for the last six months to be where I am today,” Patterson said.
Three weeks ago, Patterson was at a Colorado Rockies game with his brother and again tried his hand at the Speed Pitch Booth. This time, he expected to reach the mid-90s with his fastball. His brother tweeted a video, which has 2.4 million views, and Patterson officially signed with the A’s a week ago.
Many believed his brother’s video was the sole reason for Oakland offering a contract.
“It’s not like Nate threw 96 and signed two weeks later,” Parker said. “He busted his butt and put in work and committed to developing as a pitcher and a baseball player versus flash in the pan threw 96 and got a deal the next day.”
Parker believes Patterson could one day reach the majors. Now in his first full week as a professional baseball player, Patterson is content to soak up the teaching of his coaches, and the plan is to get into an Arizona League game by next week.
At one point, Patterson was heartbroken that he wouldn’t have a chance to don a Blue Valley High jersey for his senior season.
Today, he’s a 23-year-old rookie wearing Oakland’s familiar green and yellow.
“Every day, I missed the game. I loved the game. Just being a sports fan ... but I never thought I’d be in this position where I am today,” he said.
“I’d just encourage people that in life you’re going to face adversity and if you persevere, you can get through that, and just never give up. You can achieve dreams and achieve goals you never thought you would be able to achieve.”