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Chaparral’s Chance Adams ready for new journey with Royals

Chance Adams turned to his Arizona baseball roots this spring and hopes to turn that into his first full major league season. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

SURPRISE – During his sophomore year at Chaparral High School, pitcher Chance Adams was in line to earn a spot on the varsity team. However, he injured himself in an off-field incident, relinquishing his hard-earned opportunity to play at a higher level that season.

“He pulled a bonehead stunt and broke his thumb on a longboard hanging onto a car,” said Jerry Dawson, Adams’ coach at the time. “When he came back after the injury and I found out about it, I handed him his nameplate and told him, ‘May as well hang onto it for another year.’ That was when I think he really got sick of that stuff.”

“(Dawson) said some words that I probably can’t repeat,” Adams recalled. “He just told me to be smarter.”

A decade later, the right-hander got his first chance to pitch in his home state of Arizona as a professional baseball player. Pushing for a spot on the Kansas City Royals as a relief pitcher in his first year with the team, Adams trained and played at their spring training facility in Surprise, Ariz., only 30 miles west of his high school in Scottsdale.

Before MLB shut down spring training due to the coronavirus pandemic, Adams was relishing the opportunity to return to his home state.

“I had never pitched here professionally,” Adams said. “I love playing catch and warming up and seeing mountains in the background. Playing where you’re from means a lot, and you got to play with a good intensity. I don’t know, it’s great being home.

“It’s nice because you’ve gone so much during the season, you know, I’m never here … you feel a little more relaxed.”

More than any other coaches, Dawson got to oversee key years of Adams’ development. First, it was as the head coach at Chaparral during Adams’ underclassman years. Then, after graduating in 2012, Adams followed Dawson to Yavapai Community College in Prescott, Ariz., where Dawson had become the pitching coach in 2010 after 37 years as Chaparral’s head coach.

“He was pretty influential,” Adams said of his former coach. “Dawson just has, you know, he’s older, so he’s got more knowledge, like the Yoda factor.”

Adams played at Yavapai for two years before transferring to a Division I program in Dallas Baptist University, playing one season there before the New York Yankees drafted him in 2015. Adams was one of only two players to play under Dawson at the high school and college level, so it’s no surprise that they’ve kept in contact.

“I try to stay in touch with former players as best as I can,” Dawson said. “Certainly with (Adams), not just because of the success he had, because of the person he was … that was a little more in-depth connection.

“I’ve watched him grow up … he’s a good young man.”

Neither Dawson nor Adams’ coach for his final two seasons of high school baseball, Sam Messina, got the chance to see Adams pitch at spring training, even though both remain local. Each one was invited and had hoped to make it out, but their own baseball schedules didn’t allow it.

Even though Messina hasn’t seen Adams since high school graduation, he has followed him from a distance, and both said that they text occasionally.

“He’s got a real good sense of humor. He likes to joke around a little bit,” Messina said. “He’s a great competitor, but he’s also very loose in what he does and how he goes about it.”

Messina recalls the pitcher’s growth, even as Adams also played third base throughout high school and his first year of college.

“The velocity continued to pick up each year he was in high school, and then continued to do that through his first couple years in college,” Messina said.

“I think that was the biggest jump for him. He was always a tremendous strike-thrower, incredibly accurate arm when he threw across the infield from third base.

“The strength of the arm, the ability to throw strikes and throw a secondary pitch — the slider really developed for him — that was able to take him really to where he is now.”

Although the coaches who saw Adams develop as an athlete and person throughout his teenage years couldn’t see any of his five spring training appearances, there was no shortage of support for the local pitcher.

“Teammates, good friends of mine,” Adams said of people who saw him pitch, in addition to family members. “My best man from my wedding has been here a few times, his brother and some other people. It goes from Florida (with the Yankees) when I’m leaving maybe just a ticket for my wife, to leaving like 10 tickets a game.

“It feels better to have people that love and care about you here watching you. They watched you when you were young, when I was here playing Super Series and stuff, so it’s cool that way.”

For Adams, his fifth season of professional baseball has started much differently than all prior ones with a trip back to his baseball roots. He certainly hopes it will play out differently, too, as the 25-year-old looks to finally stick on a major league roster.

“It kind of seems they’re just going to use me in a relief role, which is what I feel like I would be best at, just how my arm works,” Adams said. “I don’t think it’ll be a big deal because I’ve done it in the past. But I’ve never done it in a 162-game season, and I would say that’s probably going to be big. I just want to stay consistent, just want to be someone the team can rely on.”

After being drafted by the Yankees in 2015, he worked his way up to opportunities at the big league level, pitching in three games for them in 2018 and 13 more in 2019. However, a combined 8.18 earned run average over 33 total innings pitched made him expendable in their eyes.

Now, after being traded to the Royals in December, Adams is relishing in the opportunity to make a new impression with a new ballclub.

“This past season was definitely my worst season I’ve had,” Adams said. “You got to kind of bounce back. In baseball, you have to have a short memory. If you have a long memory and just start dwelling on the past, I mean that’s just going to kill you.

“As one of my coaches said, (Yankees high-A affiliate Tampa Tarpons pitching coach) José Rosado, if you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you’re (expletive) on the present. So, you got to kind of be here, locked in and focused on what’s happening and kind of be able to flush things, and not look too far to the future and just focus on what you have to do today.”


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