By Paul Trembacki
Northwest Times of Indiana correspondent
GARY, Ind. — Whether sitting in a boat baiting a hook or hovering in a deer blind tightening his bow, James Adkins grew stronger and stronger in his resolve last year.
Enjoying the outdoors in and around his hometown of Mt. Juliet, the left-handed pitcher vowed to return to organized baseball.
When the Gary [Ind] Southshore RailCats of the independent American Association signed Adkins on June 8, they knew they were getting a pitcher with a solid work history in the sport, albeit his resume for 2012 was pretty light, really just pitching lessons.
After some things didn’t break his way following five years with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds organizations, he took “bad advice from an agent” and ended up without a team. He took 2012 to recoup mentally and found himself gradually growing more fond of the sport he’d temporarily left.
“(The outdoors is) my getaway,” said Adkins, who starred for Wilson Central High School. “I go out there, sit in the woods and just relax. There’s nobody telling me I have to be anywhere at a certain time. I just get to enjoy God’s creations.
“I’m a pretty simple country boy. It don’t take a lot to satisfy me.”
Nonetheless, the 27-year-old former 39th overall selection in the MLB draft couldn’t let himself be the fish that got away when teams from the Atlantic League and the American Association’s Kansas City T-Bones were making him offers.
“I couldn’t end my career like that,” Adkins said of staying put for a year. “There was that drive to continue competing and the what-ifs? I wasn’t ready to give it up yet.”
For most of his career he’s been a starter, including the start of this season when he was in the rotation for the Grand Prairie AirHogs of the South Division. However, when the RailCats picked him up off waivers they made him a reliever.
“I didn’t know which route I wanted to go,” Adkins said. “With this route, I’m going to give it a shot and see what happens.”
The strain of pitching outside of a rotation led to some soreness and a disabled list stint before a return to the bullpen. But he made his second start for the Railcats on Sunday in a 3-1 win over Fargo-Moorhead in which he delivered five innings and allowed one run on six hits and one walk in a no-decision.
“Opportunities get presented to guys in all sorts of ways,” RailCats manager Greg Tagert said before Saturday’s game. “This gives an opportunity to James to do what’s at his comfort level, which is starting. He’s not really a prototypical guy coming out of the bullpen. We feel good about (him starting).”
Adkins, who was 1-1 with a 6.42 ERA in three starts for Grand Prairie, is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA for the RailCats in 10 games. He went on the DL June 22 and came off July 2 when closer Clay Zavada’s contract was purchased by the San Diego Padres.
“I’m kind of playing catch-up right now, but every time I go out I figure something out,” Adkins said. “That’s always a positive, as long as you fix something every time you go out.
“I’m pretty excited about (starting), but at the same time it’s another start for me.”
The University of Tennesee’s all-time leader in strikeouts when he left, Adkins was a high pick in the 2007 MLB draft by the Dodgers. He reached as far as Triple-A his four years in the system and then pitched Double-A for the Reds in 2011.
He is 16-26 as a pro with a 4.91 ERA.
After five years of affiliated baseball, Adkins’ mindset has changed.
He’s watched two of his best friends, Chase Headley (Padres) and Luke Hochevar (Royals) find success in the majors. College teammates such as Julio Borbon (Cubs) and battery mate J.P. Arencibia (Blue Jays) are also everyday major leaguers.
“You see all those guys, and you’re happy, and that’s awesome, but you also want to be there, too,” Adkins said. “I used to let things bother me more. Now I’ve matured and realize it is your job but also is a game.
"There are thousands of kids who don’t get the opportunities we do, and that’s all they want to do when they grow up. You’ve got to take this as a gift and enjoy it, and if you don’t enjoy it, it’s just not for you.”