BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - “It’s been six years since I’ve been able to play an actual game in Mississippi.”
Justin Steele had Thursday night (May 30) circled on his calendar for a long time.
The former George County standout finally returned to South Mississippi, but this time as a professional baseball player.
“As soon as Biloxi opened up a field here and I noticed they were in the Southern League, ever since then I was like I can’t wait to get to Biloxi and play in front of my friends and family again,” Steele told WLOX.
Starting for the Tennessee Smokies against the Shuckers at MGM Park, Steele threw five strikeouts but gave up three runs on five hits in four innings pitched. It may not have been the homecoming performance the George County product hoped for, but it’s still an experience he’ll never forget.
“Growing up, it’s your dream to play professional baseball one day and make it to the big leagues. Even playing here, I know it’s Double-A, but still," Steele said. "Your friends and family that haven’t seen you play in so long get to watch you again, see how you’ve progressed and stuff. It’s really cool.”
Just two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Steele has seen some struggles in his first full year in Double-A, sporting an 0-5 record and a 7.57 ERA (through June 2). However, the Chicago Cubs’ No. 8 prospect is taking everything in stride.
“It’s definitely been a learning experience," Steele said about this season. "Every level you go to, there’s something you gotta learn. I would say it’s just been learning every start, taking something from every single start and learning from it.”
It wasn’t long ago the Cubs spent a 5th round draft pick on the kid from George County with a powerful arm, and this year, some current Rebels could be following in his footsteps.
“Trevor McDonald, he’s supposed to be getting drafted out of George County High School right now, and I’ve had some conversations with him," Steele said. "It’s a strenuous process, a lot of things are coming at you at once. I just told him, I was like hey, if you ever have any kind of questions, anything at all, just let me know.”
Fellow George County Rebel Logan Tanner could also possibly hear his name called in this year’s MLB Draft, which runs Monday, June 3 through Wednesday, June 5.