Interview conducted by todd starowitz
In this installment of “My Baseball Journey,” NPA introduces Joey Steele. Joey began working with Tom House more than fifteen years ago. After pitching collegiately at the University of San Francisco, the Miami Marlins drafted him in the 30th round of the 2019 draft by the Miami Marlins.
In 67 career minor league games, he notched an 8-2 record, a 2.79 earned run average, 0.97 WHIP, and a remarkable 138 strikeouts in 93.2 innings pitched. In 2023, Joey pitched for the Lexington Counter Clocks of the independent Atlantic League, Joey struck out 98 batters and only walked 16 in 62.1 innings pitched (14.1 strikeouts per nine innings).
As of November 2023, Joey plays for the Melbourne Aces in the Australian Baseball League. He’s yet to allow a run in three appearances and has struck out 10 in six innings pitched.
When did you start working with Tom House?: “I began working with Tom when I was nine years old. When he became the pitching coach at USC, my dad, Bill, started bringing me to pitching lessons. When I was a sophomore at St. Francis High School in La Cañada Flintridge, Tom invited me to begin working with his summer group at USC. To this day, it was the most influential part of my life.
I was working with big leaguers like Barry Zito, Tom Brady, Tim Tebow, Joe Flacco, Terrell Pryor, Matt Barkley, and others, and I was just a young kid. Tom always made me feel I was a part of it, and it was really fun to go out to USC and work out with these guys five days a week. I always had a passion for baseball but never really started taking it seriously until I started working with this group.
From the beginning, Tom told me I would pitch in college and pro ball. I’m not sure if he believed it, but because I was working out with professional athletes, it changed my mindset to think that I could eventually play at that level. Having someone like Tom in my corner completely changed my thinking. I figured if Tom thought I could do this, I probably could.”
Were you heavily
recruited in high school?: “No one recruited me out of high school, and I took a
postgrad year at IMG Academy in Florida. It was good for me, but I learned to
do that with Tom’s knowledge. I took what I learned from Tom and did it daily
at IMG because I had the freedom to do it. I did all of the NPA protocols and
was very diligent with them, and I was improving. I began to think that I could
play in college. There was only one postgrad team when I was at IMG. It’s a
massive place, essentially Disneyland, for athletes. I continued to call Tom;
it was the year I felt things were coming together, and I knew I could play
Division I baseball.”
How did you land at the University of San Francisco?: “IMG hosted a big showcase, and USF (University of San Francisco) saw me pitch. Troy Nakamura, an assistant coach at USF, knew my coach at IMG very well. He watched, and the rest was history.
I called Tom, and he said, ‘I told you so.’ The funny thing about Tom is that it’s hard to impress him because he’s seen it all. I’ll say, ‘Tom, that pitch was nasty, right?’ He’ll answer, ‘It was good.’ He might say that even if I threw 118 miles per hour.”
How was your college baseball experience?: “The lowest point of college ultimately became one of the most impactful of my baseball career. It was 2018, my junior year, and I know I must have been struggling because I wasn’t pitching in games. I told myself I would play the game in my head if I didn’t pitch.
I wasn’t just going to sit around and give up. I began to play the game before the game, but in this case, I was playing it mentally even though I wasn’t appearing in the actual game. Tom taught me that. I said, screw it, I’m just going to face hitters in my head. I was doing towel drills in the bullpen and imagining striking out hitters.
That low point turned into a high point because of the mental preparation I did. I hadn’t pitched in about two weeks and didn’t think I’d ever pitch again, but at least I was punching the world out in my head. When I finally appeared in a game, I threw two innings, gave up two hits, and punched out six. I began to think that this play-the-game-in-my-head stuff might work and have validity. I could play the game before the game. My physical work was solid, but this mental and emotional process was new. Tom talked about it constantly, but implementing it took me a long time. I didn’t have an alternative because I wasn’t playing.”
Did you expect to get drafted? “After my college career at the University of San Francisco ended in 2019, I had no expectations of getting drafted. I didn’t talk to a scout, and I never received a questionnaire to fill out from a team. However, I always really wanted one. We’d have scout days, and I’d tell myself that I would get a letter and, in four years, never did.
I closed out one game against Pepperdine, and when I was rewatching the game, I noticed one guy videotaping, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, someone took a video. This is incredible.’ Then the draft came, and I had no expectations of hearing my name called.
I had a backup plan: I would play a season of golf at USF and go to grad school. I’m a six handicap, so the golf coach told me I could come practice and see what happened. I was excited because they practiced at the Olympic Club and TPC Harding Park, and I was super stoked about being able to play those courses.
On the third day of the draft, I told myself I would be on the golf course if anything good happened. My dad’s a member of a country club about five minutes from my house, so I drove to the course. A women’s tournament was happening, so I had to wait to play. I went to the range, ate breakfast, and waited. I then received a text from Nino Giarratano, my head coach at USF, telling me to stay hopeful because the Rays had called twice. I was like, ‘Oh my God, are you kidding me?’ I couldn’t believe it. I teed off on number one, and duck hooked it into the trees. As I went to get my ball, I thought, I’ll take my phone.
I was about to address my ball when I got another text from my head coach. He texted, ‘You did it, Joe. You did it!’ I texted back, ‘I did what?’
I went on Twitter and saw the tweet that the freaking Marlins had drafted me. I immediately called Tom to tell him I got drafted, and his response was, ‘I told you so. I told you!’
My whole career had been up and down, but Tom continued telling me I could play in college and professional baseball if I trusted the process. He was right. Tom is very good at making you believe you can be a big leaguer, and he began making me believe in myself when I was nine.
I couldn’t help but believe it, especially when I was training with pros. Tom makes people feel good for who they are and makes them think they have a chance because he knows it better than anybody.”
How was your experience with the Marlins organization?: “When different coaches present new offerings, I’ll add these things to my repertoire while continuing to do something Tom espouses, like towel drills and weighted balls. During my first year in the minors, playing in Batavia, New York, I had just played an entire college season and went immediately into games that summer, so I just needed to get warm. In my second and third seasons of pro ball, I did all of Tom’s training program blocks because I didn’t feel I was getting everything from the team to perform at my best.
I had it down pat in Jupiter, Florida, playing for the Hammerheads. I’d get to the field at one o’clock, put my headphones on, and go through the training blocks alone on one of the back fields before anyone was around. I then found someone who wanted to throw the football with me. I’d throw the football in front of the coaches, but that’s become universally accepted. When I finished, I’d have about ninety minutes before the game, so I’d eat, meditate, and visualize, and then I’d be ready to go.
If a coach gave me something, and I could put it through the Tom translator, and it lined up, I’d give it a shot and reframe it, so it made sense. If it didn’t line up, I’d talk with the coach. The Marlins did a good job identifying that what I was doing was working, and they weren’t on my butt about making many changes. I’ve never really had a coach who wanted to make changes solely to make changes. I know some coaches want to put their stamp on you, but that’s something I have yet to encounter. I found this to be the case with the college guys. They left most of us alone unless things were off track.
It was very outcome-driven, and when the organization’s pitching director showed up, the anxiety heightened even more for everyone. It’s tough to maneuver through that and pretend it’s not present. I struggled the most when performing very well but hadn’t been promoted from Single-A to High-A for three months. I was dominating, but the organization didn’t promote me, so I thought, ‘What the heck?’ I was striking out a ton of guys (13.50 strikeouts per nine innings pitched), but I wasn’t throwing as hard as they wanted to see.”
What makes Tom House different than most coaches: “The thing that makes Tom an excellent coach is that he presents the information, and if you take it and are passionate about implementing it, you’ll put the pieces together yourself.
There are a lot of details, but there is ownership in the process. When I started working with Tom, I just wanted the answer; I wanted the ‘Why?’ Tom is excellent at not giving you the ‘Why?’ but having you figure it out yourself. But he’s also going to be there if you have questions. That continues to this day. I wanted the answer to a question, and he said, ‘I can’t do that for you.
You’ll have more ownership in your process if you do it yourself.’ If you are a little leaguer or a major leaguer, Tom has given you enough information and allowed you to learn and grow so that you’ll either wear your failures or own your successes.
There will never be another Tom House. He’s one of a kind. There are people Tom has mentored whom he probably has no idea the impact he has made in their lives. After the Marlins released me and I wasn’t receiving interest from other major league organizations, I started to pursue independent ball opportunities. I told the coach of the Lexington Counter Clocks of the Atlantic League that I was working with Tom House. He said, ‘You work with Tom House? That’s the smartest guy on the planet.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I know.’
Tom has his footprints everywhere. It’s fun to be with him at a clinic or convention, watching people flock to him and want to spend time with him. I know former World Series MVP Cole Hamels and former Rangers general manager Tom Grieve were at one of the recent NPA clinics in Dallas. Tom’s grandson was pitching at the clinic. The people Tom has touched live in The Land of the Lost Toys, and I say that with the most affection. We’re the misfits, but we take pride in it.”