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Scrappers’ Agassi takes odd route to baseball

NILES — To suggest that Jaden Agassi has taken an unconventional and unique journey on his way to becoming a starting pitcher for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers would be an understatement.

For starters, unlike the majority of his counterparts, Agassi didn’t enter college with a dazzling high school baseball resume. In fact, his high school stat sheet was a blank page. Still, he showed enough potential that he was offered a scholarship to USC prior to the start of his sophomore year.

Then there is the fact that from an athletic standpoint, Agassi knows that no matter what he achieves on the baseball diamond, it will pale in comparison to the athletic exploits of other family members.

Agassi is the son of tennis legends Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf.

Agassi’s parents have 39 combined grand slam wins. Steffi has 22 major titles and was the No. 1 ranked player in August 1987. Andre has 60 career titles and was ranked No. 1 in April 1995. Both are regarded among the top tennis players of all-time.

First, the baseball side of Agassi.

“It’s always been my sport, I just love being on the field, I love being on the mound,” Agassi said. “I’ve always been a pitcher. I kind of hit a growth spurt going into high school and I began throwing harder, and it was around that time when coaches started taking notice. I felt like maybe I had a future in the game.”

Agassi didn’t play on his high school team during his freshman and sophomore years, opting for travel ball. Then, during his first outing of his junior year at Palo Verde High School (Las Vegas, NV), Agassi suffered an injury which required Tommy John surgery.

Agassi spent the rest of 2019 rehabbing for what he hoped would be a strong senior year, only to have that entire season of baseball wiped out due to the COVID pandemic.

“It was crazy, not being able to play the game for two entire years,” Agassi said. “Looking back, COVID really helped me out in that I didn’t rush back, I had that extra time to get healthy and to fully recover. It was probably a blessing.”

“It paid off because it ended up where I was throwing better post-surgery. I became a better pitcher during that time frame. But in the moment, it was a crazy and frustrating time not being able to compete.”

Beginning in 2021, Agassi pitched three years at USC, where he was 5-4. He made 40 appearances with 19 starts, working 117 innings.

Last summer Agassi played for the Santa Barbara Foresters in the California Collegiate League, then opted for a “gap year” at USC this past spring while continuing his studies.

Agassi has one remaining year of athletic eligibility, and he is two classes shy of earning a degree in economics.

“I feel like I’ve really come a long way over the past three years, I’ve had so much catching up to do,” Agassi said. “There is so much to learn about pitching. It’s much more complicated than just going out on the mound and throwing hard. Every day I go out on the mound it’s a different journey, a new lesson.”

“I entered college with the ability to be a decent pitcher, but I was a thrower. And because of lost time I was behind the eight ball. But at USC I was blessed with some great coaches who began teaching me the art of pitching.”

The beginning of Agassi’s latest journey proved to be a success. In his first start with the Scrappers last Thursday, he worked three scoreless innings, giving up two hits while recording five strikeouts.

“It was my first outing in eight months, so there was some anxious excitement,” Agassi said. “But once I got out there and settled on the mound, I felt comfortable. I felt like I was where I wanted to be at this point of my baseball career.”

As for living in the shadows of tennis royalty?

Agassi wouldn’t have it any other way.

“You know, as a really young kid you’re kind of naive and blind to things like that,” Agassi said of his parents’ international fame. “To me, they were just mom and dad. They did a wonderful job of separating their public life from who they are at home.”

“There’s a really cool video of me running onto the court and into my dad’s arms after he won a match at the US Open. That’s about the only connection I have to my parents’ tennis careers, and I don’t even personally remember that happening.”

Agassi was born in 2001, two years after his mom retired from tennis. His dad retired in 2006.

While it would be logical to assume that Agassi might have been swayed toward tennis, just the opposite was true. He says his parents went out of their way to allow him and his younger sister Jaz to pursue their own interests.

In Andre’s best-selling autobiography “Open,” he reveals a hatred of tennis at an early age due to the high expectations and demands that went along with being a budding superstar.

“Both of my parents were very much pushed into the sport by their dads, who were very strong and intense with their beliefs in how they should train,” Agassi said. “The 10-hour-a-day workouts took their toll. I know my dad despised tennis while growing up. He didn’t enjoy what he was doing. He didn’t fall in love with the sport until later in life.

“Because of that, both my mom and dad did an incredible job of always being there for me and my sister while not pushing us in any direction. I love and respect them to no end for what they’ve done for me, and how they’ve been there every step of the way.”

Agassi noted that his parents continue to provide guidance on a daily basis.

“From an athletic standpoint, they’ve been through it all,” Agassi said. “I know I can pick up the phone at any time and get great advice on anything I might be going through. I always call my dad from the clubhouse, whether it’s just to say hello or to lean on him when I need some mental support leading up to a game.”

While Agassi owns baseball superiority in the family, he notes that he is “the bottom of the barrel” when it comes to tennis. Jaz “dabbles in the sport” and often works with the UNLV tennis team. Agassi says that Mom rules the family on the tennis court, while Dad is the better pickleball player.

“Dad always jokes that he never thought he’d live in a house where he was the second-best tennis player,” Agassi said. “I have no problem acknowledging I am the fourth-best player in our family, and it isn’t even close.”

Agassi is expected to be with the Scrappers throughout the first half of the season, which runs until July 13.

Have an interesting story? Contact the Sports Department by email at sports@tribtoday.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribChronSports.

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