When one normally thinks of “speed guys” there is the image of a small-statured individual the scampers around the field. Eric Jenkins is not Lewis Brinson tall, but at 6-1, 170, he’s not a runt either. In chasing down balls in the gap, Jenkins has the appearance of a cheetah – a fast and sleek cat of prey that can quickly adjust its route if needed and take down its victim. In the games I’ve seen him play last summer and so far this year, I don’t recall seeing him dive. He’s just there, and if not, the wouldn’t be caught anyway.
Jenkins is an athlete. He was played some football and soccer at West Columbus High in Cerro Gordo, N.C., and can dunk a basketball.
He’s smart and learns quickly as takes in what is around him. In my time seeing him, Jenkins will make a mistake, but rarely the same one twice. Jenkins is also a humble kid. With a foundation instilled by his father Eric, Sr.- a man who spent 12 years in the Navy – one gets the idea that young Eric will not get too full of himself as he moves up into the majors– which he will some day.
I spoke to Eric just after the team arrived from spring training. Here is the feature article in the Hickory Daily Record that came from that interview. Below are other excerpts of that interview during which he talks about his first spring training, his expectations for the season, and adjusting to a faster pace of life in Charlotte.
Well how was your first Spring Training?
Jenkins: It was pretty good – got a chance to play with some of the big league guys in a big league game. I’m just glad to be back in baseball play with some of my friends – I haven’t seen them in months. It’s been a pretty good Spring Training.
What was it like playing with the big league guys?
Jenkins: I mean I loved it – Big league guys are so nice, they treat you like their own kids and stuff. They pay you with respect and that’s what I like about them. And I learned a lot from them from asking questions about what to do and not to do in the big leagues – it was a pretty cool experience.
What did you learn most in your first, as far as what to do & not do in the big leagues?
Jenkins: Be yourself. Don’t do nothing that you’re not capable of doing. Just play to your strengths and you’ll be fine.
Who did you connect with big league wise?
Jenkins: I talked with Delino DeShields and James Jones – the centerfielders. Mostly the fast guys, cause I’m fast.
What did they teach you as far as speed and using that maybe in your game?
Jenkins: Use your speed to your advantage. They told me to practice on bunting –that’s going to play a huge role in my career as I move up in the big leagues-move up in the affiliates and just be yourself and play to your advantage.
Did you get to play for Banister?
Jenkins: Yes, sir
How was he to play for?
Jenkins: It was pretty cool. There was one game that I got in the seventh inning and we were down 11-9 and I came up and hit a lead-off triple. And then Ryan Strausborger came behind me and hit another triple and then Bobby Wilson came and hit a walk-off home run that won the game. That’s probably my best moment in Spring Training.
Is this all heady stuff from this time last year where you’re in West Columbus?
Jenkins: Not really. Coming from high school, I kind of know what to expect having to make a big adjustment to the competition, because when I was younger I used to always play above myself and my competition. So it’s kind of the way it got me now today, so it’s pretty cool.
What’s been the biggest adjustment?
Jenkins: Probably the pitch speed is the biggest adjustment and learning how to play in the outfield in different situations, where to be at with two strikes or whatever. Know your hitters.
But now everybody is as good as you – you’re a little bit on par now. How did you make that adjustment to now there are people who can hit as hard as you – and run as fast as you?
Jenkins: It comes from practicing a lot and you got to practice to your strength and your weakness in the off-season, and that’s what I did. I practiced speed work – practiced the little things because that’s what gets you big in life – practicing the really small things and that’s what I did.
Give me an example of a small thing that you had to work on in the off-season.
Jenkins: Learn how to be mentally strong in different situations – know when to go or not at different strike/ball counts – learn how to help your teammates in the outfield; move them, shift them wherever they be at – small things like that.
What is your expectation for this year?
Jenkins: I expect us to be a winning team like last year. I mean I know we gonna be young and good. The thing is, we got speed this year, like half of the lineup can steal bases and we can use that to our advantage this year. And its gonna be pretty cool coming off of winning a championship into the season.
Did you get your ring?
Jenkins: Yes, sir.
How was it?
Jenkins: It’s cool – it’s big, fat, shiny.
It’s got your name on it?
Jenkins: Yes sir – Jenkins.
Does that make you hungry for bigger and better things?
Jenkins: Yes, sir. I want another one.
It’s going to be a different team this year where a lot more speed this year and maybe not the big boppers that you had last year in with Tendler & Trevino – talk about how that’s going to be different this year.
Jenkins: This year we don’t have any big power hitters like that. But as long as we execute lines, execute your plays we’ll be fine and play as a team.
How are you maybe more attuned to the game now even than when you were here last August and September?
Jenkins; Last year when I caught up it made me a more humble person into the game right now, made me stay calm and become a man on my own in life. That’s probably it.
You moved to Charlotte
Jenkins: Yes, sir
What was the purpose of moving to Charlotte?
Jenkins: My family wanted to be around more things like Carolina Panthers football and Charlotte Knights – they want to see Charlotte baseball , more festivities around there.
Maybe for you to grow up a little bit, maybe?
Jenkins: Yes, sir. See what it’s like to be a city boy. I have always been a little country boy in a small town.
What have you learned so far being in the city versus being in the country?
Jenkins; I really didn’t learn anything because I only stayed there two days and then had to fly to Arizona for spring training. So I only stayed there one day, so I haven’t been home lately. I get to go home tomorrow because it’s an off-day get to be with family and the new house.
Now is your family moving out with you or did you just move here by yourself?
Jenkins: My family moved out with me
Do you still have to take out the trash at home and do the chores at home?
Jenkins: Yes, sir – have to do all that. I’ve got to clean my room, clean the bathroom. Just the same things I did as a little kid.
So it doesn’t matter that you are a second round draft – you still have to do that?
Jenkins: Yes, sir – can’t get big headed. Still respect my parents.
Now I’ve met your dad and he seems like the kind of guy that’s gonna keep you humble.
Jenkins: Yes, I think by him being in the military for 12 years he’s kind of hard on me and stuff all the time. He was 12 years in the Navy. I think that played a huge role in my life where I’m at today. That’s what I love about him – he’s always hard on me – sometimes I don’t like it, but it’ll pay off in the long run.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve learned so far as a pro?
Jenkins: I’ve learned how to be more professional on the field and off the field – represent yourself as a professional – do professional things – that’s about it.
So what does that mean, “do professional things”? So give me something that you do that’s a professional thing versus something you might do in high school.
Jenkins: Like help the elderly people out – do good things, not bad things, because growing up I never did bad things. I thank my dad for that. Always do the right thing at home and everything will be all right and put God first.
Do you have to take care of yourself more now than when you did in high school?
Jenkins: Yes, now I’m in pro ball I’m kind of on my own now, because back when I was in high school I had my high school coach and friends, my family behind my back. But now I’m kind of on my own right now, but still have support from my family and friends
Do you have to go to bed at a decent hour?
Jenkins: Decent hour about 10:30 or 11:00.
No video games at all night now?
Jenkins: Yes, I still play video games (one of my pet peeves right there-ha,ha) I never really got a chance to watch TV in Arizona cause I’m always busy at spring training, but now I can do that.