What's it take to be a pro baseball player? How these 4 former Streaks impressed scouts

Matthew Wheaton
Galesburg Register-Mail
Jim Sundberg (top), Barry Cheesman, Jeremy Pickrel and Chad Johnson are among the baseball players from or born in Galesburg who have experienced Major League Baseball's draft.

At least 18 Galesburg High School grads or those born in Galesburg have experienced Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft, which began in 1965.

Did those individuals know they were going to be chosen? Most saw plenty of MLB scouts at their games when they were still considered amateurs.

As a high schooler, Jim Sundberg, Galesburg’s most successful professional ballplayer, didn't speak to any, however.

"There was a game I played in Canton and there was like 30 scouts in the stands," said Sundberg, a 1969 GHS grad who was drafted on three different occasions — by the Oakland Athletics in 1969, by the Texas Rangers in June 1972 and by the Rangers again in the January "winter" draft in 1973. "I’m not sure back then they could talk to you. They talked to my dad but I never really talked to any of them."

Check outHere's how 4 all-time Galesburg baseball stars handled their selection in the MLB Draft

Sundberg, 71, now resides in Arlington, Texas, and he retired as a player at the end of the 1989 season after a 16-year MLB career with the Rangers, Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Chicago Cubs. The former backstop is a member of the Rangers' Hall of Fame, has a World Series ring with the 1985 Royals and won six Gold Glove awards in his playing career.

'I just played like a normal kid'

Like Sundberg, Chad Johnson served as a catcher for the Silver Streaks. Johnson, a 2012 GHS grad, jumped on the radar of MLB teams before his final season repping Galesburg. He was selected by the Royals in the fifth round and was the 163rd overall pick in 2012. Leading up to the draft, four or five teams were interested in Johnson, but Kansas City was his top choice.

“It all started the fall of my senior year. I went to Florida to play for the Cincinnati Reds fall ball team, and the Royals scout said he was going to come to my house that winter before my senior season," said Johnson, who played five seasons of minor league ball. "I had about 20 scouts come to my house that winter. They basically just kind of interviewed me to see if I was mature enough to come watch us play in the spring.

"The season came around, and I just played like a normal kid."

Johnson officially retired from baseball in April 2020, and he's been focused on agronomy since then but it's always been a passion. Johnson is a fifth generation farmer, who helps maintain his family's corn and soybean operation.

More:Ex-Streak Johnson aids Legends victory

“I’ve always been kind of disappointed with what I experienced and went through," Johnson said. "If I didn’t have that one issue I think I would still be playing right now. I had the yips throwing the ball. I couldn't get it back to the pitcher. It’s never gone away. It’s the damnedest thing. It’s crazy. 

"I don’t know what happened with my throwing. I guess I will talk to God about that when the time comes," Johnson added. "I haven’t picked up a baseball in probably four years but in saying that a lot of blessings happened when I got out of baseball. My stress went away. I went back to school, and I got to spend time with family.

"It was truly a blessing that I was able to go play, and I went out of high school because I knew I might not get that chance again. But I’m really happy with my life right now."

'Might be a few teams in the mix'

Jeremy Pickrel took the diamond — and the hardwood — for the Streaks. The 2001 GHS grad continued his academic and baseball career at Illinois State University, and Pickrel, an outfielder, was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 10th round of the 2004 draft, as a college junior.

And Pickrel had an idea his phone would ring at some point.

More:Former pro baseball player, now coach is new radio analyst for Galesburg boys basketball

“The scouts reach out and want to know draft-ability. They don’t want to waste a pick on someone who is unsure and not ready to sign. They’re in contact with you, and they don’t really let you know where you could fall," Pickrel said. "They ask you what you think and that kind of it helps them form their decision, too.

"I had an idea there might be a few teams in the mix," added Pickrel. "The day I got drafted, it was like I would assume anyone else would feel. At some point you get it in your head this is what I want to do for a living and to get the opportunity to do that is just awesome — not many people get to do it.

"I continue to try to use those experiences for anyone who has any questions."

Dedication to his craft is how Pickrel ended up as a member of the Twins organization for three seasons before he was released in the spring of 2007. Pickrel then played two seasons of indy ball for three different teams in the Can Am League before calling it a career. 

"It’s crazy to think it was almost 20 years ago since I was drafted," Pickrel said. "Some things have changed but it still takes hard work. I wasn’t even the best player on my high school team. I continued to work and broke out in the summer after high school. I kind of made myself a name that was synonymous with ISU.

"I continued to work and I had coaches there at ISU that reminded me that I could have the opportunity so that kind helped keep me motivated while I was there."

More:They got the call: Here are 17 all-time Galesburg players who were selected in the MLB Draft

Over five seasons as a pro, Pickrel played in 394 games, and he had a .265 batting average with 362 hits, 41 home runs and 212 RBIs.

"There are things that aren’t in your control that can factor into if you make it to the Big Leagues or not," said Pickrel, who was named Galesburg's baseball coach before the 2018 season. "Once you put that name on paper things change a little bit. You just have to continue to work and see if you can end up being one of the few that make it.”

'They kind of stayed back away'

Barry Cheesman, a catcher, was taken by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 25th round in June 1977 and played four years of minor league baseball.

The 1977 GHS grad went on to become a professional golfer for 20 years, and Cheesman currently resides in Sarasota, Florida, where he gives golf lessons and hits the links. Back when he threw on catcher's gear, Cheesman didn't see scouts watching often, if at all.

"They kind of stayed back away," Cheesman said. "I couldn’t even tell you if they were at any of the games when I was there."

Cheesman, 62, has seen baseball from both sides, as a player and a scout, and he would rather be drafted nowadays and it's not strictly because Cheesman would have made more money.

“I think the instruction and everything is different now," Cheesman said. "We had one coach back then. Today, every team has three or four coaches. It is a lot different instruction wise. I assume that you would learn more but baseball is still the same.

"The more money you got in the draft the more attention you got and that hasn’t changed a bit," Cheesman added. "I think today’s draft is based more on potential than what you are at the time, so in that regard the draft has changed.

"There was more players back then than now. They cut minor league teams. It’s a lot of independent ball."

Too many coaches a bad thing?

Cheesman is correct there are more baseball coaches in dugouts these days, and that might not always be a good thing, according to Pickrel.

“When you get to professional baseball it’s easy to try to please everybody, and you can be consumed with trying to please everybody because you know you have to perform or you get cut," Pickrel said. "You have to remember that you did something right to get there. It’s your career, and you have to be your own person. You can’t be what they want you to try to be. If what you have is enough then it is, and that’s part of the game.

"I don’t do that to any players. I try to figure out what they have to work with and try to maximize that," Pickrel added. "With analytics and all that I think that has changed a little but you have to trust who you are, and know you have the ability.

"You have to apply the knowledge to what you do, and try to use it instead of being a cookie cutter.”

MLB draftees from Galesburg, IL

1965: Michael Davis, SS: St. Louis Cardinals; Galesburg High School (June draft, 13th round pick No. 253)

1966: Robert Darrah, LHP: New York Yankees; Tulane University (June draft, 25th round, pick No. 490)

1969: Fred "Willie" Mims, OF: Chicago Cubs; Spoon River College (Jan. draft, 5th round, pick No. 103).

1969: Jim Sundberg, C: Oakland Athletics; GHS (June draft, sixth round pick No. 127)

1971: Fred "Willie" Mims, OF: San Diego Padres; University of Iowa (June draft, 13th round, pick No. 288)

1972: Jim Sundberg, C: Texas Rangers; University of Iowa (June draft, 8th round pick No. 172)

1972: Fred "Willie" Mims, OF: Milwaukee Brewers; University of Iowa (Jan. secondary draft, third round pick No. 62)

1973: Jim Sundberg, C: Texas Rangers; University of Iowa (Jan. secondary draft, first round pick No. 2)

1973: Stephen Ballard, 1B: St. Louis Cardinals; University of Arizona (June draft, 48th round pick No. 739)

1975: Gary Purcell, OF: Boston Red Sox; University of New Orleans (June draft, 11th round pick No. 255) 

1975: Richard McCarthy, SS: Baltimore Orioles; University of New Orleans (June draft, 17th round pick No. 407)

1976: Mark Thiel, C: New York Yankees; University of Missouri (June draft, 10th round, pick No. 232)

1977: Barry Cheesman, C: St. Louis Cardinals; GHS (June draft, 25th round pick No. 613)

1983: Paul DeJaynes, P: New York Yankees; GHS (June draft, 11th round pick No. 275)

1985: Robert "Bobby" Jackson, 3B: San Francisco Giants; GHS (June draft, 4th round pick No. 82)

1986: Paul DeJaynes, P: Minnesota Twins; Bradley University (June draft, 12th round pick No. 299)

1993: Jeremy Lee, P: Toronto Blue Jays; GHS (June draft, first round pick No. 40).

2003: Andrew Swanson, P: Tampa Bay Rays; GHS (June draft, 28th round pick No. 818)

2004: Jeremy Pickrel, OF: Minnesota Twins; Illinois State University (June draft, 10th round, pick No. 301)

2008: Kyle Hunter, LHP: Tampa Bay Rays; GHS (June draft, 33rd round, pick No. 983)

2010: Kyle Hunter, LHP: New York Yankees; Kansas State University (June draft, 43 round, pick No. 1,315) 

2011: Kyle Hunter, LHP: Seattle Mariners; Kansas State (June draft, 31 round, pick No. 933)

2011: Tyler Farrell, RHP: New York Yankees; GHS (June draft, 43rd round, pick No. 1,319)

2012: Chad Johnson, C: Kansas City Royals; GHS (June draft, 5th round, pick No. 163)

2018: Cody Hawthorne, LHP: Texas Rangers; Parkland College (June draft, 21st round, pick No. 629)

Matthew Wheaton can be reached at (309) 315-6073 or at mwheaton@register-mail.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewlwheaton