Jon Egan had the talent, but lost his fire

 

 

When Jon Egan stepped to the plate during his days at Cross Creek, his chances of doing damage were always high.

High school coaches praised him as the best hitter they had ever seen. Scouts and crosscheckers requested private batting practice sessions after games.

He was drafted in the second round by the Boston Red Sox as the highest Augusta-area pick ever. He was highly ranked as a prospect.

Nine years later, Egan sits at his home in Augusta, and those memories creep back into his mind. They give him chills.

“It’s unexplainable,” Egan said. “I could almost feel, when I got up to the plate, that I would hit a home run. It’s almost like I knew. It wasn’t like I was cocky. I was a humble person. It was just crazy.”

Egan said he first tried the sport when he was 11, and “it clicked.” He began playing on travel teams and became a force by the time he reached high school.

The legend grew with each season at Cross Creek. Egan entered his senior year in 2005 with 26 career home runs. He earned Aflac All-America honors and garnered every high school baseball award the area could offer.

Despite often getting pitched around, Egan hit .597 with 17 homers his senior season. He showed tremendous bat speed from strong hands. Despite being listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, his defense at catcher nearly matched the loud offensive tools.

He quickly drew the attention of scouts.

 

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES OFFICIALS asked Egan to hit batting practice after a game his senior year. They said the turtle cage used to protect those behind the plate would not be necessary. The Phillies officials stood no more than a few feet away as Egan hit homer after homer.

Ted Miller, a former professional player who assisted Cross Creek at the time, threw to Egan for that session. Miller said Egan was the greatest high school position player he had ever seen from the Augusta area.

Long-time Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis said at the time that Egan was one of the best high school hitters he had ever seen.

“I only know four things to stop him: Four balls and a pass to first,” Lewis said in 2005. “I’ve seen one other high school player I wanted to get some balls signed by for my kids. I wish I had some from Egan. They’ll be worth something some day.”

 

BOB POLEWSKI, WHO coached Egan at Cross Creek and is now head coach at South Aiken, said what impressed him most was the time Egan put into his game.

“I’ve seen him a lot, and I saw a lot of things people didn’t see,” Polewski said. “The one-on-one things, hitting off a tee and in the cage. Those things stood out and made him special player.”

The opinion that mattered most came from Red Sox scout Rob English. He developed the connection with Egan that led to his 57th-overall selection in 2005. He passed on a commitment to Georgia and received a $625,000 bonus.

“He had all the tools,” English said. “He had the arm, power, defense, he could catch. Everybody was in on him at that time.

“The power was impressive at that age. Usually, that’s one of the last things to develop for a young player, but he could show it to you. During BP, he could put on a show.”

Egan was destined for stardom. English felt he was such a sure bet, he cited Boston starting catcher Jason Varitek’s contract in relation to Egan’s development time. English said in 2005 that Egan should be knocking on the door to the major leagues within four years as the future guardian of Fenway Park’s home plate.

English’s timeline for Egan never happened.

“Imagine how much better a player I could have been if I actually devoted myself 100 percent,” Egan said. “I think about things like that all the time.”

 

THREE MONTHS AFTER he was drafted, Egan was stopped at a roadblock near Millen, Ga. He was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance, driving while intoxicated, possession of alcohol by a minor, underage possession of alcohol in a vehicle he was operating, and possession of a fraudulent identification card.

The controlled substance was less than a gram of cocaine.

He remained in the Red Sox system and took a step forward with a strong season in the Rookie Gulf Coast League in 2006, hitting .339 with four home runs in 37 games. He said he took that season seriously, and his natural talent took control.

Whatever was gained that year was lost in 2007, as he hit .206 with nine home runs in 63 games for the South Atlantic League’s Greenville Drive.

Egan retired after the season.

“It was sad to think of the opportunity I had, that I kind of didn’t take advantage of,” Egan said. “The last year I played, halfway through the season I got to the point of, ‘Whatever.’ I wouldn’t say burned out, but that fire wasn’t there anymore.

“I let things off the field get in the way of on the field. If I could go back and separate that stuff, I’d still be playing.”

 

EGAN SAID HE struggled adjusting to the professional game. He experienced struggles for the first time as a player and didn’t understand why failing seven times out of 10 is still considered successful.

He also struggled with the daily grind of the game.

“It’s a lot, and people don’t see that,” he said. “They don’t understand what it really is. As far as physically or mentally, it takes a lot. Not everybody can do it.”

Egan then struggled adjusting to life after baseball. He was arrested in Richmond County in 2008 for possession of marijuana and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. In 2010 he was arrested for possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute.

He now works for a lawn care company cutting grass in the Augusta area. He recently had his first child, Jonathan Egan Jr. Egan said he wouldn’t trade being a father for anything.

English, who will be inducted into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame in August, predicted in 2005 that Egan could hit 35 home runs in the major leagues. He stands by his evaluation.

“At this stage, he should be in the major leagues,” English said. “That was the kind of talent he had. If he stuck with it, there is no doubt.”

 

POLEWSKI SAID HE spent so much time with Egan during his high school days that the two had a strong relationship. Polewski’s care and concern for Egan as a person continues.

“I still care a lot about him as a person more than a player,” Polewski said. “I don’t judge him. I know Jon has as good a heart as anybody. We all make decisions we wish we could do over.”

Egan said he has only picked up a baseball once or twice since retiring. He sometimes sits at home by himself and thinks back to his playing days and what could have been. But those thoughts always stop short of a comeback attempt.

“I guess I was scared,” he said. “It took all that work. I haven’t played this long. There’s no way I could jump back in that fast. I don’t say I couldn’t do it, but it would take a ton of work.”

Egan patiently struggles
2005: Egan faces drug charge
2005: Cross Creek star's dream comes true
2005: Area standouts swing for fences
2004: Egan surpassed everything thrown at him throughout 2004 season
 

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