Prep baseball: Jeff Mack relies on his late brother’s lessons to become a pitching star

First Published      Last Updated May 25 2016 09:55 am

Prep baseball » Jeff Mack nearly quit baseball after his older brother’s death. Instead, he continues to play at Maple Mountain to honor Arik’s memory.

Mapleton • Fastball, curveball, change-up, splitter. Each time he steps to the mound, Jeff Mack uses a combination of four pitches developed through years of sacrifice and tutelage from his father, Jeff Sr., and older brother, Arik, both of whom pitched in college.

Rather than overpowering batters, Mack works the corners with precision, tricking opponents into taking the bait. "I worked a lot, ever since I grew up, just learned how to work with the grips," Mack explains.

He's already evolved into a fixture in Maple Mountain's rotation as a junior, and his influence in the dugout has helped turn around the Golden Eagle's poor start into an appearance in the Class 4A quarterfinals on Tuesday before Maple Mountain lost and fell into Wednesday's elimination bracket play.

However, baseball this season, more so than ever, has been cathartic for Mack after he contemplated leaving the game following Arik's death.

"I thought, 'If he comes back, it will be on his terms,' " said Jeff Sr. "He's endured more than anyone I know. When these demons come knocking — it's just you. It's an invisible enemy, and to see him battle and continue moving forward, I'm excited to see the man he's going to be."

In the blood

Jeff Jr. chuckles when asked if there was any possibility of playing any position other than pitcher.

Pitching runs in the Mack bloodline. Jeff Sr. pitched for BYU in the late 1970s and Arik, four years Jeff Jr.'s elder, donned the Cougars' uniform before transferring to Salt Lake Community College after high school.

"It's the perfect game. I love everything about it," Jeff Jr. says. "There's something about being on the mound and the game is in your hands."

The passion burns hot nowadays, but it was an acquired taste in the beginning. Embarrassed after running the wrong direction in tee-ball, Jeff Jr. decided he was done with baseball.

"We say he retired after the first year," Jeff Sr. quips.

The game didn't come easy for Arik either, but he continued to tailor his craft. The dedication paid dividends. As a left-handed ace, Arik transformed into one of the most dominant pitchers in Utah prep history at Maple Mountain. He led the state in strikeouts in 2012 and 2013, finishing second all-time in career K's, while compiling 20 straight wins to end his high school career.

Always supportive, Arik encouraged Jeff Jr. to return to the diamond, and eventually was successful. The affinity for the game bonded the brothers together, as the two spent countless hours planting the roots to their "special relationship."

"He was the person who made me the man I am today," Jeff Jr. says. "He was the biggest role model in my life. He seemed invincible."

No manual for heartbreak

Jeff Jr. describes pitching the worst game of his life. Everything felt amiss. Starting the JV game at Wasatch as a sophomore in March 2015, Mack walked "10 batters," and looked for his missing cellphone in the dugout afterward.

Unbeknown to him, coaches confiscated it while both of Jeff's parents were en route to Spanish Fork Canyon. "I got a text from the highway patrol," Jeff Sr. recalls. "We were at the game, and they wouldn't tell me anything, but your gut starts churning."

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