03/08/2021 5:55 AM
T.J. Collett - Brewster ('19) SportsPix Photo
Article By: Taylor Viles
T.J. Collett never thought he was going to Cape Cod to play for the Brewster Whitecaps during the summer of 2019, he thought he was going to be a major leaguer.
Collett had just finished his junior year at the University of Kentucky, hitting a respectable .259 with 10 home runs and 40 RBI’s. The RBI count set a new career-high and the home run total tied the number from the year before, but he wasn’t pleased with his consistency at the plate and knew that major league teams would not be keen on drafting a player with a lower batting average. He was hoping the league would pay more attention to his sophomore season when he hit .304.
Round after round of the 2019 MLB draft flew by, but his name was never called. This left him frustrated and searching for answers. The Cape League was the backup plan he was hoping never to use, but soon found himself on his way to Massachusetts for the summer. “Nobody picked me… I get it more now than I did then. But I was a little more immature, then,” he said. “It ended up turning into one of the biggest blessings ever getting to go to the Cape.”
While most players come to Cape Cod to improve their game and turn the heads of pro scouts, Collett decided to focus on something else, which in the end, helped his game anyway. “I decided I was going to try to take my focus off of my whole life being baseball and recognize the opportunity I had and the place I was at,” he said. “I could separate my days into the morning; focusing on myself, and then shift my focus to baseball in the evenings.”
In this article series, many players have discussed their wish to return to let themselves relax and enjoy the beauty in front of them. Collett used the location of Cape Cod to his advantage when working out his struggles and desires.
“Every single morning I would find a new place to go to,” he said. Collett explained his routine of waking up at 6 a.m. to visit different beaches and scenic locations in the area. “Just the whole overall experience of being able to do that in the morning and then go play baseball at night was a dream.”
This experience taught him to let go and accept each outcome for what it was. It helped him to accept being passed up in the 2019 MLB draft and instead he was able to focus on improving his game in Brewster at Stony Brook Field.
His summer started slow, but by the end of June, Collett was hitting close to a .300 average. He finished the season at .281 with nine home runs, tied for first in the league during the regular season. “I played great on the Cape, some of the best baseball I've ever played,” he said. “The Cape is where I finally realized that my life isn't all baseball and that kind of took the pressure off me.”
He earned an all-star nod for his performance at the plate which he dubs his “proudest moment on Cape Cod.” The experience also gifted him an important realization about the opportunity he had that summer. “I was sitting in the dugout and I started thinking to myself how cool this is, ‘I'm probably on the same field with 10 future major leaguers right now.’ To be recognized as one of their colleagues in the sport was just a cool experience. I was honestly just proud of myself where I’d made it. Even if that was the peak of my career, I can proudly say that it was,” he said.
In just two years, Collett has gone from disgruntled at the baseball world and himself, to acknowledging that the Cape League all-star game could be the high point of his career; and accepting that possibility.
Although the summer helped Collett learn about himself and, to his admission, has continued to serve him well since then, there is another reason 2019 is special to him. “I met my girlfriend [on Cape Cod], she was our intern,” he said. She served as a Gameday Operations intern for the Whitecaps in 2019, but Collett soon realized their lives had been intertwined before that summer. “Her dad coached me in baseball and her uncle coached me for two years [too]. It was weird, I didn't even know she existed until we went out there and met. We've been dating since.”
Finding a love interest and taking a step back from baseball were two reasons Collett enjoyed Cape Cod and showed continued self-growth throughout the summer. But the Whitecaps coaching staff gave him another perspective of the game of baseball, helping him to improve on his craft while not being too intense. He described the differences between the dynamic of playing on Cape Cod and playing in the competitive atmosphere of Division I baseball. At college, there is much more strategy and high-intensity situation, he explained, but on the Cape, head coaches run their teams with a laid-back attitude instead. “Coach [Jamie Shevchik] sat us down and said, ‘hey, this isn't gonna be your regular college baseball, I'm going to let you guys play. I don't want you guys to be robots at all. I going to do as minimal coaching as I can, and let you guys do it,’” Collett remembers. “Obviously, that doesn't work all the time, but being able to play like that again reminded me of how it feels to play carefree.”
He took this mindset into his senior season, improving to hit .290 with five home runs during the stunted year. Unfortunately for Collett, he was faced with a similar situation in the 2020 draft as he was the year before.
Again, he wasn’t drafted, but this time understood the reasoning. “I have had a total of three hip surgeries and two knee surgeries,” said Collett. “[Plus] being a senior, I knew going into it...that it'd be a stretch to get drafted in five rounds.” Following the draft, he fielded calls during the free-agent signing period, but nothing could be worked out.
That summer, Collett was able to play in a league in Indiana at a time when almost every other summer league had been canceled. The league was put together in less than a month at a facility called Grand Park in Indianapolis, according to Collett. With other league cancelations in mind, hopes were to draw talent from top Division I schools. This hope was successful. “Other than the Cape, it is probably some of the best competition I’ve played,” he said.
The chance to play in the summer of 2020 kept him sharp in preparations for his graduate year in 2021. Every spring collegiate athlete retained a year of eligibility. Collett knew this would likely be his last chance to show he is worthy of competing at a major league level and chose to play.
As opposed to his earlier chances at the MLB draft, Collett is okay with any outcome and welcomes the certain change coming in the next few months; whether that be as a professional baseball player or part of the workforce. “I could hit 20 home runs this year, and clubs could just decide not to take me which is completely fine, I'm prepared for that,” he said. “Obviously, I want to get drafted [and] I feel confident going into the minor leagues and working my way up. But I'm also extremely confident in what comes next for me after baseball. I'm not exactly sure what's going to happen there yet.”
Collett is planning to graduate with his Master’s degree in interpersonal communication by the end of the year.
Reflecting on his growth, Collett is proud. “It's cool to see how upset I was two years ago and then see now how at peace I am [now] with such a stressful time,” he said. “I'm at peace and it all started with the Cape.”