Lots of kids in Philadelphia dream of growing up to play for the Phillies.
Pitching prospect Jesse Biddle is doing more than dreaming. He’s on his way to making the leap from Mt. Airy to Citizens Bank Park.
The southpaw starting pitcher is wrapping up his first full season of professional baseball with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws in the South Atlantic League, a team at the Class A (lowest) level of the minor leagues. Last year, the Phillies made this hometown hero their number one pick in the amateur draft.
This summer, with all the pressure that comes with such a draft rating on his back, he’s advanced his quest to don those red and white pinstripes, which he’s been after since the age of 12.
So far, Biddle has started 22 games for the Blue Claws, pitched 123.2 innings and has a 6-8 record. He has also has 121 strikeouts and an earned run average of 3.02. Any ERA of under 3.50 is considered very good, and striking out nearly a batter an inning is considered a promising sign for a young pitcher.
Chuck Lamar, the head of the Phillies minor league operation, recently told the Philadelphia Inquirer about Jesse Biddle, “We’re pleased with how he’s competed.”
Raised in Mt. Airy
Those competitive fires were first stoked in leafy Northwest Philadelphia. Jesse Biddle was born at Chestnut Hill Hospital and his family has lived in Mt. Airy his entire life, according to his father, David.
The proud dad said that he doesn’t think that he and his wife Marion have missed any of Jesse’s home games, given that Lakewood is only an hour or so drive away in central New Jersey.
Watching away games on the Interent can be tricky. David Biddle said, saying the experience can be “eerie” because the only sound he heard during the broadcast was the announcer.
“There were no crowd noises,” he said. “It was very strange.”
Clearly, he prefers watching his son pitch in person over anything else.
“In the last 5 years, I’ve seen Jesse play probably 200 to 300 games, and I’ve been to all of three Phillies games,” he said. “Given the choice between the two, I’ll take the minor league game any day.”
Plenty of others in the old neighborhood are following Biddle’s progress closely, cheering all the way. Biddle is alum of both Mt. Airy Baseball and Germantown Friends School.
High school years
Katie Bergstrom, the athletics director for Germantown Friends School (GFS), from which Biddle graduated last year, said Biddle continues to stay true to his roots. He even dropped by his alma mater recently, she said.
“I think he’s stayed really focused,” Bergstrom said. “He’s very family-oriented.”
As a senior at GFS, Jesse’s record was 9-2 with a 1.06 ERA and an eye-popping 140 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings. That means three out of every four batters Biddle got out never even put the ball in play.
Bergstrom also said that in addition to being a great baseball player and student, Biddle was always willing to help his teammates out.
“The one thing that stood out about him was that he’d take the time to help the younger players,” she said. “He was always open to lending a hand.”
Biddle’s high school coach, Bob Bergholtz, said that Biddle was one of the best players he ever coached.
“Not only is he a tremendous baseball player, but he had other characteristics that made him such a commodity for the Phillies to draft,” he said. “He has a tremendous passion for the game, an outstanding work ethic and was a great leader for the baseball program [at GFS].”
Bergholtz said that Biddle always worked hard to make sure that he and his teammates played well.
“I think there’s a lot of athletes out there that have a tremendous amount of talent, but very few work hard enough to maximize that talent, and he certainly did that,” Bergholtz said. What’s more, Bergholtz said, “He’s twice as good as a person as he is a baseball player.”
David Biddle said that he is very proud of the way his son has matured in the past year.
“[Jesse] will never ever forget where he came from,” David Biddle said. “He is a Philly boy all the way. He is a Mt. Airy kid and a Germantown Friends School kid. He knows that when he goes out there he’s representing us.”
Season ends this weekend
The Blue Claws wrap up their regular season on Labor Day. Jesse Biddle is targeted for more developmental work this fall. Next season, the Biddles’ quest to see their son pitch in person might get a little more complicated: Jesse likely will be assigned to the Phils’ farm team in Clearwater, Fla.