GENEVA – Kane County Cougars relief pitcher Matt Peacock walked away from baseball two years ago.
So yes, he's ready to get started this spring.
It's been a long road to tonight's Midwest League season opener for Peacock, a roughly 912-mile drive from home.
The 24-year-old Saraland, Ala. native turned one year off for his redshirt junior year at the University of South Alabama in 2016 into a 23rd round (682 overall) selection by the Arizona Diamondbacks one year later.
Heading into the summer of his redshirt junior year, Peacock had a "flexor mass injury", and a bone spur was surgically removed in his pitching arm. Come the fall, returning to full-speed proved slow. Peacock had difficulty competing at the Division I Sun Belt Conference level.
Peacock told a coach "Hey, I know you're going to put me on the team anyways, but I can't compete at this level. I want to give somebody who wants to play college ball a chance. Give my spot away, because I'm not gonna be able to compete."
"Sometimes these kids just need to see where they fit in this game," South Alabama pitching coach Bob Keller said. "It can be a real humbling game, whether it's through injuries or through circumstance...he learned you gotta work while you're waiting to find your purpose and get healthy."
Peacock traded in his leather glove for working at his family's saw mill installation company and other areas. He went to school, but after the summer into his senior year, the itch to return to baseball – a sport since he had played since he was a toddler – came roaring back.
"I was like, 'Man, working is not fun. I want to give baseball another shot,'" Peacock said.
He'd been throwing and preparing for another crack. Peacock walked into his former coach's office hoping to get that chance.
"He was thinking about just giving up and going into his family's business full-time," Keller said. "[When] kids are young, sometimes they're not quite sure what they want to do...I just felt like with him, if someone's patient enough, they're going to get somebody that's pretty good."
Keller, who has been a Division I college pitching coach for 25 years, says Peacock has one of the better breaking balls he's had on a college pitching staff.
Peacock, a 6-foot-1, 180-pounder, earned his spot back and tossed 56 strikeouts over 51 innings and a team-high 26 appearances. Peacock also had 10 saves in his final college season en route to an NCAA regional appearance in June.
A short time later, he was in New York for some pre-MLB Draft workouts. But he couldn't fly home in case he got the phone call that would change his life. Instead, his family drove back to Alabama. Peacock doesn't remember what state he was in once the call came from the Diamondbacks, but his family immediately pulled over at a steakhouse to eat.
"This is the coolest organization, I think, in all of baseball," Peacock said.
Peacock pitched in 22 games for the Short-Season Class A Hillsboro Hops season, posting a 2.45 ERA with 23 strikeouts. He has since developed a sinker this past spring training – a pitch that tops out between 94 and 95 miles per hour. Peacock projects to only throw the sinker and a slider moving forward.
"One outing, I threw 27 pitches and I only threw sinkers," Peacock said of the pitch he learned just by warming up in the outfield.
The Cougars open the regular season at 6:30 p.m. tonight against the Clinton LumberKings at Northwestern Medicine Field.