EUGENE, Ore. — For Eugene Emeralds pitcher Justin Livengood, a career in professional baseball wasn’t always the plan.
“I’ve always grown up hunting and fishing,” Livengood said. “And I thought as an 18-year-old kid that hunting and fishing was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
After graduating from high school in 2008, Livengood put down his glove and walked away from the game.
“I would have been wasting another coach and another team’s time if I had gone and played baseball out of high school,” Livengood said. “You know, I didn’t give up on baseball, but I just knew that it wasn’t fair to the game to go at it and not be one-hundred and ten percent for it.”
He enrolled at Cape Fear Community College, found work at a marina seafood restaurant and spent a lot of time hunting and fishing. The Wallberg, North Carolina native went nearly three years without a lick of baseball when an invitation to watch an old high school teammate play brought him back to the ballpark.
“The amount of fun he was having as a 21, 22-year-old kid out there still playing baseball like it was the first time he’d played baseball,” Livengood said. “Right then at that point I was sitting there and told myself ‘if Patrick is still playing baseball, why can’t I?'”
Livengood got back into playing shape, and in the fall of 2011 he earned a spot as a walk-on at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
“You could tell he was raw but he had all the talent in the world,” Ems infielder and former UNCW teammate Michael Bass said.
Bass recalls Livengood’s strong and surprising first impression on his Seahawk teammates.
“I faced him one of the first days he was in our fall practice just in an inner-squad scrimmage,” Bass said. “I was thinking ‘hey, we got a walk-on guy this is gonna be a perfect day.’ It took me about three pitches to realize that was not gonna be the case at all.”
Livengood played sparingly as a junior, but was a key cog in the UNCW bullpen as a senior. The right-hander struck out 48 batters in just 33 and two-thirds innings. With a mid-90s fastball, Livengood had gone from off the map to on the radar of major league scouts.
“Before I knew it, I was on the phone with Adam Barajas for the San Diego Padres and talking to the general manager and they said they wanted me to be a part of the Padres organization,” Livengood said. “I’ll never forget that.”
Just five years after Livengood had seemingly hung up his cleats for good, the San Diego Padres drafted him the tenth round of the 2013 draft.
“I still feel like I’ve got buddies of mine that are gonna call me and snap their fingers and wake me up and say ‘Livey, it’s all a joke, man, we’ve just been messing with you,'” Livengood said. “But luckily they haven’t.”
Most ball players can’t fathom a life without baseball. Livengood has lived it, and has a better perspective because of it.
“He gave up baseball and basically just because he didn’t want to play,” Bass said. “It wasn’t because he didn’t have the talent, he just was tired of it and then realized once he was gone how much he missed it. I think it’s even more special now because he knows one-hundred percent this is what he wants to do.”
“It took three years for me to realize exactly how much baseball was, and it wasn’t just a baseball game,” Livengood said. “It was far more than just a game to me, and it always will be.”