ABINGTON SUBURBAN WRITER
Jacke Healey spent his youth learning the game of baseball from the likes of David Wright, Brandon Phillips and Justin Morneau, to name a few.
Working in the visitors' club house at the former Lackawanna County Stadium, now PNC Field, Healey got to meet a wealth of triple-A-level ball players who at the time were just one phone call away from the major leagues, where they're now dominating.
Back then, the home team wasn't the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees. It was the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Red Barons, the triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Healey also got to spend time with many of the home players, who are now stars in the bigs, including Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino.
Since he was 8, Healey was regularly an honorary bat boy before moving on to working in the visitors' club house at age 13. Later, he'd go from school at Lackawanna Trail to his own baseball practice and then to the stadium.
"I was just always there, always around it," Healey said. "The guys down there took me under their wing and made me feel like I was part of the team."
That felt amazing for the youngster with big-league dreams. He learned quite a bit just from being in that atmosphere.
"I may have not learned baseball but picked up on little things," Healey said. "The guys train you how to be a professional, how to be humble. Some of my jobs were cleaning spikes after games and they'd say 'You don't have to do that for me, I'll clean my own spikes.'"
Now Healey will have his own opportunity to make an impact on aspiring young players working in stadiums.
Last week, the infielder was drafted in the 26th round, 813th overall, by the Houston Astros organization.
Right now Healey, who is two weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, sits at his Tunkhannock home relaxing, staying in shape and waiting for the phone call that will take him to Florida for a physical, and then let him know where he'll be playing.
"It's a dream come true," said Healey, who is primarily a shortstop but comfortable anywhere in the infield. "Ever since I could remember, I've always wanted to play under the lights at 7 o'clock at a big-time stadium. Now I have a chance to do that."
After graduating from Trail in 2006, the standout player didn't think he'd gain a big-league opportunity. Still, he loved the game and went to Potomac State College, a Division l junior college in West Virginia.
"I went to Potomac with the intention of getting better at baseball," Healey said. "It's pro style in a college atmosphere. They give you an opportunity to show your stuff. They just show you how good you could be and give you the chance to do it. I went down there as a boy and I came home as a man."
Healey pushed himself at Potomac, working hard, hoping to crack the lineup and by the end of his freshman year, he did. He began by hitting ninth but gradually started to move his way up.
As a sophomore he played every game while hitting .456 with 11 homers as well as being named second-team All-American.
When his two years at Potomac came to an end, he earned a scholarship to Division l Youngstown State in Ohio. He was named first-team All-Horizon League in both his years there. As a junior, he hit .293 with 17 doubles and eight home runs. This year, he batted regularly out of the number three and four spots until injuries hampered the team's speed. Due to his quick feet and bunting ability he couples with his power, Healey saw some time in the No. 2 hole.
He had arguably the most productive season in Youngstown State history, setting new school single-season records with 12 home runs, 63 runs scored and 59 RBIs while batting .356. He also led the Penguins with 14 steals. Meanwhile, he was a slick and consistent defensive threat, starting 39 games at shortstop and filling in 16 at third base.
Not bad for a kid who didn't think Northeastern Pennsylvania was a heavily scouted area for baseball or that he'd ever get the chance to play pro ball.
"It's just a matter of getting out of this area and going to play somewhere else on a larger scale," Healey said.
He's certainly playing on a larger scale now.