Harvard University has never been a pipeline for Major League baseball, or any other pro sport.
So when Pacific Palisades teenager Jake Suddleson, a talented right fielder with professional aspirations, was accepted to Harvard in 2016, he went for “the unparalleled academic opportunity.” But, he knew that “if you are good enough, scouts will find you no matter where you play.”
And that indeed is what happened. In Suddleson’s junior year, Harvard won the Ivy League baseball championship and advanced to the NCAA regional playoffs, losing to Oklahoma State (2-0) and the University of Connecticut (10-2). Oklahoma State defeated UConn in the regional final and advanced to play Texas Tech in the Super Regional.
Suddleson was named Ivy League Player of the Year, ending league play with a .416 batting average against conference opponents. He led the conference with 37 hits, eight home runs, 36 RBI’s and an on-base percentage of .758. He finished the year with 53 RBIs, a Harvard record, and batted .382.
Earlier this year, Suddleson played five games as a senior, opening the season with a three-hit game, including a home run, a double and two RBIs against Alabama on February 28, before the season was cancelled because of Covid-19.
The 6’3” 195-pound right hander, who majored in history with a minor in economics, graduated from Harvard in May and hoped to sign with a Major League team. The draft was cut from 40 rounds to 5 and he adopted the attitude, “If it’s meant to happen, it will.”
And then it did.
“I was ecstatic. I was hoping it would happen. I just wanted to keep playing,” he told Circling the News. But on June 30, Minor League Baseball cancelled the 2020 season because of Covid-19.
Jake went to Arizona for a few days for testing, but then came back to the Palisades, where he’s staying with his parents, Eric and Anna, and his younger siblings, Joe and Olivia.
“I’m working out, just trying to stay in shape,” he said, noting that he’s hopeful there may be an instructional league in the fall. In addition to running around the Palisades, he’s lifting weights, conditioning and has access to a batting cage. “I can get as many swings as I want,” he said.
“In baseball, so much is out of your control,” Suddleson said. “You have to focus on the things you can control. I’ll be in good shape, and you have to be okay with what happens.”
Suddleson’s baseball career began on the Field of Dreams at the Palisades Recreation Center.
“Other than my dad, I’d say the two coaches who had the biggest impact on me were Rick McGeagh and Mike Desantis,” he told Circling the News. McGeagh was his first PPBA coach and DeSantis coached Suddleson’s all-star team from Pinto through Bronco divisions. “Both played a huge role in my development as a young player and my development as a person.”
Suddleson was a member of the Pacific Palisades team that traveled one summer to play in a week-long tournament at Cooperstown, New York. “I have amazing memories from that time,” he said.
After attending elementary school at Brentwood School, Suddleson transferred to Harvard-Westlake. He played AYSO soccer though middle school in addition to baseball, before deciding to focus on baseball in high school, where it becomes a year-round sport. “I always knew that if I ever had to pick one sport, it would hands down be baseball.”
In his senior year, Suddleson’s team lost 3-2 in 10 innings to Murrieta Mesa in the CIF-SS Division I Championship game in San Manuel Stadium (San Bernardino). He made the MaxPreps All-State team.
L.A. Times Eric Sondheimer selected him for the high school baseball all-star team, noting “The Harvard signee batted .422 with 12 home runs and 36 RBIs for a Division 1 finalist.”
Meanwhile, Suddleson continued to play on several club and scout teams (the SGV Arsenal, Pacific Baseball Academy, and SoCal Giants) that traveled to Arizona, Texas, Virginia and Florida for various tournaments.
He was recruited by several colleges in the Pac-12 and the Ivy League, but “I felt that the opportunities Harvard offered me were unmatched by any other school,” he said.
His baseball dream never died. “I have been singularly focused and worked hard most of my life to do whatever I could to put myself in a position to play professionally, because baseball is what I love to do,” Suddleson said.
During summers at Harvard, he played collegiate summer ball in the Cape Cod League, the New England Collegiate Baseball League and West Coast League where “I had the opportunity to play against the best college players in the country.”
Harvard, one of the most challenging academic colleges in the country, does not offer any accommodation for student athletes. “Trying to balance academics and athletics was difficult at times,” he said. “However, that balancing act forced me to really hone my time management skills and efficiency in doing work. That meant less time for socializing and relaxing, but so long as you remain focused it’s not too hard to keep under control.”
MLB and MiLB were supposed to reach a new contract agreement by September—with public and political pressure on MLB negotiators to reach an accord with MiLB that did not involve cutting minor league teams. That was prior to Covid-19.
Now some experts predict there will be a reduced list of affiliated (minor league) teams next season, a shuffling of affiliations and a restructuring of the leagues. The prediction is that Double-A and Triple-A levels will survive.
In an essay for the Harvard Crimson (“Senior Perspective: Jake Suddleson”–https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2020/5/29/Jake-Suddleson-Comm-Senior-Perspective/), he writes: “In baseball, the two biggest things you can control are preparation and frame of mind. Preparation, putting in the work, gets you into the best possible position to succeed at any given moment. In the physical sense, this means pushing yourself to the limit in the weight room, putting in extra time in the batting cage, and taking care of your body. It also means getting your schoolwork done efficiently so you have extra time to study as much game film as possible.
“Then, you have to trust that preparation will support you in the moment, that the physical and mental preparation will manifest cohesively come game time. You cannot control what pitch a pitcher will throw, or where he throws it, or the outcome. But you can control your preparation for that at-bat and therefore how you react in the moment. All of this is easier said than done, but I’m a firm believer in the idea that hard work pays off.”
Circling the News doesn’t usually bet on sports, but in this case, we’re betting on a player – Jake Suddleson.