All it took was just one look at the 2012 High Point University schedule for freshman Joe Goodman to realize he wasn’t playing baseball in central Iowa anymore.
Goodman is a smallish 5-foot-9, 165-pound right-hander and 2011 graduate of Gilbert (Iowa) High School who dreamed of one day playing baseball on the NCAA Division I level. Not heavily recruited by many D-I schools, he jumped at the opportunity extended to him by HPU, a private university of about 4,200 undergrads located in the city of High Point in North Carolina’s Piedmont region.
High Point U. is a member of the Big South Conference, which presents schedule challenges of its own: Coastal Carolina is ranked 29th in PG’s most recent college top-50 rankings and Liberty spent some time in the top-50 earlier this season. But High Point’s biggest challenges come from its non-conference slate.
The Panthers played home-and-away with Wake Forest from the Atlantic Coast Conference; hosted the ACC’s Virginia Tech; went on the road for a three-game series against Missouri from the Big 12 (SEC in 2013) and traveled to Chapel Hill for a single game against No. 13 North Carolina (ACC). Another game at ACC powerhouse No. 22 Virginia is scheduled for May 9.
“That was very interesting when I first looked at the schedule last fall. It was pretty crazy to see North Carolina and Virginia and all those big-name schools up there,” the affable Goodman said in a recent telephone conversation with Perfect Game. “But the crazy thing about baseball once you get down here, it’s just that there are good teams everywhere.”
Just a year ago, Goodman was playing in the 2011 Perfect Game Iowa Spring Wood Bat League – he also played in the 2010 PG Iowa Spring Wood Bat League and the 2009 PG Iowa Fall Wood Bat League – and getting ready for his final summer-season of prep ball at Gilbert High School. Goodman was excelling at those levels – he finished 10-1 with a 0.69 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 80 2/3 innings for Iowa Class 2A state runner-up Gilbert in 2011 – and seemed to be proving he could pitch at the D-I level.
But it was actually at the 2010 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., where Goodman first caught the attention of High Point head coach Craig Cozart, associate head coach/recruiting coordinator Bryan Peters and especially top assistant Rich Wallace.
Wallace saw Goodman pitch for the first time down in Jupiter and liked what he saw. He continued the pursuit by following Goodman back to Iowa where he watched him pitch in the 2011 Iowa Spring Wood Bat League.
“He was just a guy Coach Wallace stumbled upon down in Jupiter, and then Coach Peters and Coach Wallace did a lot of follow-up work on him,” Cozart said in a separate telephone interview. “We had had some guys start to make their way to North Carolina from the Midwest and they’ve done really good for us here.
“Those kids, they can be a kind of blue collar type of kid that has a no-frills, no-nonsense approach to the game … and when we got (Goodman) here to campus, he loved it and the transition has been very, very good for him.”
Goodman has transitioned quite nicely; at least once he got he got acclimated to his new surroundings. Every experience was new as he familiarized himself with his new teammates, his new coaches and what he called a real difference between “northern” and “southern” style baseball.
“At the beginning of the year, I had a lot of the upperclassmen that threw last year help me out a lot and gave me a lot of advice on my approach to situations when you’re nervous or in a tough spot, and how to battle through that,” he said.
Cozart and his staff have been using Goodman primarily as a set-up man in the later innings, and he’s been effective. Goodman made 22 appearances in the Panthers’ first 47 games and stood 5-1 with two saves and a 1.99 ERA, and gave up 27 hits and struck out 47 in 45 1/3 innings. In a game against Radford on April 5, Ryan Retz, Goodman and Jaime Schultz combined to set a school record with 17 strikeouts. Goodman struck out six 2 1/3 innings.
Goodman was almost exclusively a starter during a storied high school career in which he compiled a 36-5 record with 12 saves and a 0.99 ERA.
“It took a little getting used to changing from not being in the starting role, but it kind of gives you the opportunity to see what’s out there on the (opposing) team and get an idea of what you can throw if you go out there on that day,” he said of working out of the bullpen. “It is kind of nice to be in that relief spot because it’s a lot easier on the arm. Yes, I throw more often, which I obviously like – the more I can throw the better – but I don’t throw quite as many innings.”
Goodman had shown a lot of durability during his high school career and enough of a fast ball – he still throws it in the 87-88 range most of the time – to warrant the offer from High Point. He has also developed a solid changeup in his short time at HPU.
“His breaking ball, while it’s not a true 12-to-6 curveball – it’s probably got more of a tilt like a slurve – it’s his changeup that really allowed him to have a pitch that didn’t allow left-handed hitters to get as many good swings on it,” Cozart said.
No one argues that Goodman would have never ended up at High Point if not for his participation in seven Perfect Game tournaments and showcases, and the three PG Wood Bat Leagues.
“Perfect Game was probably most influential in my recruiting process with all the showcases and leagues,” he said. “Especially being in Iowa, it’s hard to find kids that are able to compete at such a high level, and it’s hard to find (top level) guys to compete against. The showcases with Perfect Game were great and they gave me the opportunity to showcase my skills and also gave me the opportunity to build confidence in my skills.”
His experiences at the 2010 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter and at the 2010 PG/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) in Phoenix a month earlier stand out to Goodman as the highlights.
He played at the PG/EvoShield tournament with Iowa Select Red, a team that included right-hander Brad Chelleen, now a freshman at Kansas State, and lefty Andrew Hedrick, now at Iowa. Class of 2012 left-handers JD Nielsen and Sam Norman – who have signed with Illinois and Creighton, respectively – were also on that team. Those prospects also joined Goodman in the 2011 PG Spring Wood Bat League.
“That was really interesting to see all the sights and sounds of what high school baseball could actually be like in the United States. When I was there, it was just a blast,” he said of his time in Phoenix. “It’s not only just meeting everybody but just going out there and seeing all the talent that comes in from around the country.”
Goodman didn’t enjoy the college recruiting process at all, calling it “a very stressful situation” that seemed to demand a lot of his attention during his senior year at Gilbert High. Despite that, he said his final decision to attend HPU turned out to be an easy one.
“The campus is really nice, and the coaching staff and the athletic facilities and just how the people are around here, it’s hard to not want to come here,” said Goodman, an Education major. “When I first saw the (baseball) field and when I first saw the campus, it just absolutely blew me away. There is an amazing ‘WOW’ factor at High Point.”
The High Point Panthers are winding down a sub-par season by their standards, with a 23-24 overall record (8-10 Big South) heading into the game with Virginia. They still have three-game BSC series remaining at Liberty and Winthrop and a final non-conference game at East Carolina on their regular-season schedule before hosting the Big South Conference Tournament at beautiful Williard Stadium on their campus May 22-26.
That challenging schedule Goodman looked at last fall is winding down, and High Point will have to win the BSC Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament. Goodman will enjoy at least two more springs on the eye-catching High Point campus and if things continue to click, he might even allow himself to think about the 2014 MLB draft.
“Right now it’s really about trying to help the team and find more ways I can help the team when I’m not out on the field,” Goodman said. “But professional baseball – that would just be amazing to be able to say you got the opportunity to do that, and you get that opportunity when you’re at a place like this. I like the spot I’m in, and now it’s just a matter of progressing each year.”