Tuesday, November 13, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Wiregrass Ranch grad John Gant tastes MLB action

ATLANTA — It's pretty safe to say there isn't a high school girls basketball team in Pasco County that can claim a more famous scorekeeper than Wiregrass Ranch.

He's a major-league pitcher, after all.

John Gant, a 2011 Wiregrass graduate, has gotten his first taste of Major League Baseball action this season with the Atlanta Braves. Though currently on the disabled list with a strained oblique, it has been a memorable season for the 23-year-old.

"There's no telling where my career goes from here, but I've gotten my chance, and hopefully I continue to get them," said Gant, whose father, John Sr., has been the girls basketball coach at Wiregrass since 2011.

And since baseball's offseason is during the winter, right when high school basketball is rolling along, the younger Gant has been keeping the Bulls' books for his dad. Last season was a fun one as Wiregrass rolled to its first district championship and finished 29-3.

The Bulls are pretty good at baseball, too, and Gant was the man on the mound there, only losing three times over his last two seasons while compiling more than 200 strikeouts.

"No question about it, I knew he had the potential to be a pro," said Jeff Swymer, his Wiregrass coach who is now at Bishop McLaughlin. "He was our 'one win a week' guy. We would pitch him against the tougher teams, and you knew he would win that game. He had the body, the frame, and you could project that he was going to add weight."

The New York Mets sure liked his talent, taking the 6-foot-3 Gant in the 21st round of the 2011 draft. Since then he's gone from the 170-pound range to his current 6-4, 205 pounds.

"The first offseason I put on 25 pounds. I'm not sure I'm completely filled out like (Swymer) says, but I definitely put on some weight," said Gant, who has an unassuming demeanor with a detectable Southern accent.

That comes from being born in Savannah, Ga. — where the Mets' South Atlantic League affiliate was, and where Gant went 11-5 with a 2.56 ERA during the 2014 season. But New York's starting rotation, jammed with young stars like Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and of course Matt Harvey, was going to be tough to crack.

And so the July 2015 trade to Atlanta was quite welcome, albeit a bit awkward. It happened during a game for Double-A Binghamton.

"The manager, Pedro Lopez, comes in and says, 'I've never had to do this before but, you've been traded' and so I wasn't allowed to be in the dugout," Gant said. "So the game ends up doing 16 or 18 innings, and I'm just in the clubhouse twiddling my thumbs."

Gant did a lot more than that during his first spring training with the Braves, earning a roster spot — although it was out of the bullpen. He was sent back to Triple-A Gwinnett, then called back up as a starter in mid June.

"We had to go to that one," said Gant Sr. "Walking through that tunnel in Atlanta, I'd been dreaming of walking up to get that view for a long time. For me it was heart pounding."

Going up against the World Series contending Cubs, Gant threw 4 1/3 innings, giving up two runs and striking out five.

"It was like 96 degrees, scorching hot against the best lineup in Major League Baseball. He did well for his first ever start. I'm his dad, so I'm biased, but in my view that's a success," Gant Sr. said.

Next time out, as fate had it, Gant went up against his former team and in New York earned his first big-league victory. Gant lasted into the seventh inning and allowed just two hits.

Gant had to depart the June 27 game with Cleveland due to an oblique injury. Gant says he is feeling a lot better but isn't sure when he'd be back.

When he does return, Gant has a certain quality that's bound to get national attention.

He stutter steps on every pitch. For anyone else it would be a balk move, but since he repeats the delivery each time, it is legal.

"I started doing it in 2014 with Savannah, and I didn't even know I did it," he said. "The next day a teammate started acting like me, throwing the ball like me and said there's just no way. But, yep, that's what I look like."

His bizarre change-up grip is already nicknamed the "Vulcan" and although Gant's not a Star Trek guy, he's fine with that.

"I hear names for my delivery, too," he said. "I just call it pitching."

So now that he's on his way to becoming a household name, that's it for high school girls basketball scorebook keeping, right?

"It looks like I might move closer to Savannah," Gant said. "But if things fall through there, you better believe I'll still be keeping my dad's book."

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