“See you in the big leagues.”
Those six little words, inscribed onto an MVP trophy by a Candlelight Plaza t-ball instructional coach, can now be deemed prophetic as the 4-year-old they were directed towards continues on a journey seemingly destined since birth.
“He gave Justin’s trophy last, and wrote [that inscription] on it. We thought it was sweet, and it makes any little kid happy – so we held onto it, and it’s still at home somewhere. He continued on with his journey, and he made it,” Karen Anderson said.
April 23, 2018 would have been a special day for any young player. But for Anderson’s son Justin – a St. Pius X alumnus – it’s difficult to imagine a more perfect scenario. The right-handed reliever was called up to the Angels’ active roster. He would be joining the club in his hometown, less than 10 miles from where he starred off West Donovan Street.
Those written words may have been on “just” a little league trophy at the time — but for those who watched Anderson through the years, it now stands as a monumental, defining moment that prophesied his rise to the sport’s premier stage.
“Justin’s ascent to the major leagues has been phenomenal to watch. He worked his tail off every step of the way,” St. Pius X Athletic Director Jason Kimball said.
Those first six words were just the beginning of the story.
A blessed mistake
According to a 2017 study by the NCAA, barely 2 percent of high school baseball players earn their ticket to play Division 1; less than 10 percent of all college players get that draft call. But from Candlelight Plaza all the way to Hollywood, Anderson has defied the odds.
Though the ink on that trophy has faded in the 21 years since the day it was written, the keepsake rings prophetic, and Anderson’s success has locals abuzz. Growing up in Candlelight Plaza, Anderson was like any young player, Karen said. From his exploits in a Candlelight Plaza little league from ages 4-7 and Baseball USA in the following years, he was simply a kid with a dream.
But it wasn’t without a hiccup, or some divine intervention.
“Tryouts happened – but then two weeks went by, and nobody called to tell us what team he was on,” Karen said of Justin’s initial Little League experience. “So they just put him on this team, with this particular coach, and it was just such a blessing.”
And Anderson has made him a prophet.
Following a storied career at St. Pius X, Anderson signed with the University of Texas at San Antonio, where a breakout junior season spurred the Angels to select him in the 14th round of the 2014 MLB first-year player draft.
After three seasons showcasing mixed results, Anderson began the 2018 season by hurling 8 2/3 scoreless innings between Class AA Mobile and Class AAA Salt Lake City with 14 strikeouts and just two walks – prompting a much swifter call-up than anyone in the family ever anticipated.
“It was just such a miracle this happened this way, that so many friends and family could be there to see him. There are no words to explain how happy we were for our family and for him. That was so special to him, and when he called we were in tears,” Karen said.
That showing was one of two scoreless appearances the native Houstonian treated about 50 friends and family members to during the series in a surreal debut that transpired in a fashion not even his new home could script. Anderson and her husband John have watched hundreds of Justin’s outings, from little league to the MLB – but nothing could have prepared them for the moment of truth.
“My husband was a bundle of nerves on the inside, and I kept trying to tell myself he was simply pitching another game – just in front of a bigger crowd,” Karen said. “But Justin said he was telling himself to keep doing what he’d done to get here.”
St. Pius on the map
And the results have been just as glowing since leaving the Bayou City – Anderson recently threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings during the Angels’ series against the New York Yankees, striking out four hitters in the process.
“To actually see Justin fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the major leagues has been inspirational,” Kimball said. “He is a great representation of SPX, St. Ambrose, and everyone else. We are all proud of everything that he has accomplished so far both on and off the diamond. ”
Using a heater that has touched triple digits and a power slider – which he used to strike out Carlos Correa and quash an eighth-inning threat during his debut – the 25-year-old has already punched out nine hitters in just 6 1/3 MLB innings, hurling scoreless frames in six of his seven appearances.
“Every kid that took the field that night at ODC believed ‘I am going to be the next Justin Anderson!’ It was a memorable night for me as an Athletic Director, but an even better night for me as a dad,” Kimball said.
All of that, 21 years later, stemmed from one man’s willingness to step beyond his bounds.
“He’s worked so hard; and there’s just been so much faith and a lot of prayers [to get him to this point], so hopefully he gets to stay and continue the journey he’s on. We’re so grateful [to Richard] for taking Justin on his team, when he probably already had his team picked,” Karen said. “[Justin] just had a great time playing – he was happy to get on a field and play ball with a bunch of little boys – he didn’t know any better, he just wanted to get out there and play.”
On April 23, Anderson showcased that same zeal, coupled with a quiet confidence, as he punched out of baseball’s best young hitters to quash a threat. And it seems to be just the beginning of a special story, as the local kid continues etching his name in the annals of MLB history under Hollywood’s lights.